“Playing with Matches” by Lee Strauss is a novel about the youth who were a part of Youth Organizations that were started by Hitler in Nazi Germany. It is about their families. This was an excellent story of the other side of Germany in World War II. We always read or hear about the Nazi’s and the atrocities that were committed by command of the Feuhrer. “Playing with Matches” gives us a view of those in Germany who did not want war and who were not fans of Hitler.
This story is about Emil Radle, his family and friends living in Passau, Germany, during the war. Emil was a dedicated member of the Hitler Youth, as were his friends. He was impassioned about the role of Germany in the world at the beginning. But then, he and his friends found a shortwave radio. Although it was forbidden to listen to any broadcasts except from the Nazi stations, they listened to the BBC and found that the German people were not being told the truth. Their losses were much more severe than was being reported. They began clandestinely distributing hand-lettered leaflets during the night to spread the truth.
Even though their allegiance to Germany had waned, they were still forced to join the Hitler Youth; even encouraged to spy on their families and turn in their parents if they were not in tune with Hitler’s propaganda. Everyone looked over their shoulders because you never knew whom you could trust. The German people who refused to join the Nazi party were especially watched closely by their Nazi neighbors. Rations were low, Allied bombers wreaked havoc on the German cities, Jewish neighbors and friends disappeared. Fear was the prevailing way of life among those left in the cities. Even young boys, fourteen and sixteen years old were sent to the Russian front when troops were sorely depleted. We don’t realize in times of war about the citizens of those countries who are not part of the conflict. There are those who do not subscribe to any of the warring factions, but who nonetheless become those damaged by the proximity of the fighting.
This book brought these peoples’ plight to mind. I was glad I read this book, even though it is a fictional work. I gained a lot of insight as to what it must have been to live in Germany during this time of war. I also gained a new respect for those whose lives were torn apart through no fault of their own. Their only mission was to survive. I think this book is a great novel for young adults to read as well.