Under the Iron Bridge

By – January 31, 2022

Paul Rit­ter is under intense pres­sure; his friends, class­mates, and teach­ers are pres­sur­ing him to join the new­ly orga­nized Hitler Youth. They say ter­ri­ble things about the Jews, den­i­grat­ing their char­ac­ters, mock­ing their facial fea­tures, and pro­mul­gat­ing stereo­types that shock and hor­ri­fy Paul. He knows these alle­ga­tions can­not be true; his Jew­ish friend, Ana­lia, does not fit this descrip­tion at all. Paul likes Ana­lia — more than likes. In truth, he cares for her deeply.

Nev­er­the­less, teach­ers and pow­er­ful bul­lies among his school­mates hold great sway, and they are backed up by new­ly enact­ed laws. Paul begins to feel as if he has no choice but to par­tic­i­pate. He is wor­ried about what may hap­pen to his fam­i­ly if he con­tin­ues to refuse. He has seen a class­mate turn his own par­ents in to Hitler’s hench­men for refus­ing to par­rot the Nazi par­ty line, and he wants to pro­tect his own par­ents from a sim­i­lar fate. He ten­ta­tive­ly joins Hitler Youth, hop­ing to par­tic­i­pate as lit­tle as possible.

Then Paul meets a group of young peo­ple, called the Edel­weiss Pirates, who are resist­ing the Nazi regime, and he feels moved to join in their activ­i­ties. Their mis­sion is to protest and dis­rupt the Nazis’ actions in any way they pos­si­bly can. When he glimpses Ana­lia and her fam­i­ly being forced to scrub the pave­ment amid a jeer­ing group of spec­ta­tors and sees the look in her eyes when she takes note of his Hitler Youth uni­form, his resolve to resist grows even stronger. Paul joins the Edel­weiss Pirates and accom­pa­nies the group on their mis­sions of sab­o­tage. When an oppor­tu­ni­ty comes to hide Ana­lia, Paul and his fam­i­ly brave­ly risk their lives. The dan­gers they face are extreme, but Paul knows he is doing what is right.

An author’s note explains that the sto­ry’s char­ac­ters are fic­tion­al, but the events depict­ed are very real. She sum­ma­rizes the his­to­ry of the time in a man­ner the read­er can under­stand, focus­ing on such issues as Nazi pro­pa­gan­da, the Hitler Youth, and the Edel­weiss Pirates, includ­ing a black-and-white pho­to­graph of the real Edel­weiss Pirates and anoth­er pic­ture of one of their mem­bers who was hanged in 1944 for par­tic­i­pat­ing in a plot to blow up Gestapo headquarters.

The author, not­ed for her many books for chil­dren about the Holo­caust, has once again edi­fied and enlight­ened today’s youth about the events of the time and their impli­ca­tions for today.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Kathy Kacer

  1. When you heard that the book was writ­ten from the per­spec­tive of a Ger­man boy who joins the Hitler Youth dur­ing the Nazi era, what did you think?

  2. Why do you think Paul was able to resist the lure of the Hitler Youth when so many oth­ers were drawn into it?

  3. Right­eous among the Nations” is the phrase used for those gen­tiles (non-Jews) who risked their lives to help their Jew­ish friends and neigh­bors dur­ing the Holo­caust. Many of these indi­vid­u­als have been hon­ored at the Yad Vashem muse­um in Jerusalem. Do you think that the Edel­weiss Pirates would deserve the des­ig­na­tion of Right­eous Among the Nations? Why? Why not?

  4. Of the three main mail char­ac­ters, each one looks at Hitler’s direc­tives in a dif­fer­ent way. Paul hates Nazi ide­ol­o­gy; Ernst is a huge sup­port­er of Hitler; and Harold starts out believ­ing in Hitler and then turns away. Talk about what you learned about Ger­man youth from these three characters.

  5. Ernst turns on his own par­ents at one point when he sus­pects they may be betray­ing Nazi think­ing. What would com­pel a young Ger­man boy to do some­thing like that? What did you think of his actions?

  6. Talk about the epi­logue. What is sug­gest­ed might hap­pen with Paul and Ana­lia? Or Paul and Kiki? Will they or won’t they get togeth­er? What do you think about that end­ing and what did you hope would happen?

  7. What do you think is the sig­nif­i­cance of the title of the book: Under the Iron Bridge?

  8. Who was your most favorite and least favorite char­ac­ter? Why?

  9. Which scene in the book stuck with you the most? Why?

  10. What if any are the lin­ger­ing ques­tions that you still have about the sto­ry? If you could ask the author, Kathy Kac­er, a ques­tion about the sto­ry, what would it be?