I’m in a bit of a Second World War binge at the moment. Just before I read Goodnight Mister Tom I sped through another favourite from when I was younger: Jackie French’s Hitler’s Daughter. A short book, only 135 pages long, it tells the story of three kids waiting at a bus stop every morning in rural Australia, listening to their schoolmate Anna tell them a story. This time, she is telling the story of the imaginary character of Hitler’s daughter.
When I read this as a child, what I found most interesting is the story that Anna tells, her imagination colouring the story with details of life during World War Two in Germany. But now, it is the parts in between that I like best. The book is told from the point of view of Mark, who cannot get the story that Anna is telling out of her head, and raises all sorts of questions, such as ‘If my Dad did something wrong, would I know it was wrong?’ or ‘If your parent does something wrong, is it your fault?’ and ‘If you think something is wrong, but everyone else thinks it is right, what should you do about it?’
Mark’s contemplations are so interesting, not only because it shows how he is digesting the information he has heard about Hilter ad his regime, but also because of the lack of responses he gets from the adults he asks these questions to. He talks to his parents, to his teacher, even his school bus driver, but none of them can really give him any answers. Most of them dismiss his concerns, and don’t want to talk about it. Don’t they realise that they could be answering some of Mark’s most important questions, and forming how he sees the world? Instead, the questions are too hard, and they brush them away.
Perhaps this goes to show how we all (myself included) don’t want to think about these things. We all think that we are good people, and that if someone came into power, like Hitler, we would of course do the right thing, but I think what Mark discovers is that we do what is easiest, and what we don’t have to think about.
Mark keeps telling himself, ‘It’s just a story, Mark,’ but even if it is just a story, it can tell us a lot. Stories, even if they aren’t true, can be powerful things.