Promise by Alexandra Alt
Omnibus, 2019. ISBN: 9781742991986.
(Age: Secondary students) Recommended. It is 1942 and 15 year old Lene lives with her mother in a Berlin apartment block, her father is away at the war. Above them are the Schlucks and she walks to school each day with their son Ludwig. Since they were squeezed together in the cellar during an air raid Lene feels they are becoming more than friends. Life is difficult with shortages, bombings and fear of being denounced as unpatriotic. League of German Girls (BDM) meetings are compulsory; they pack parcels for soldiers and mend uniforms. At 16 they are drafted for Flak duty, operating searchlights during raids. Hitler Youth is compulsory for boys. Both hate being part of the brutal organisations and Ludwig has been secretly listening to allied radio broadcasts, which is considered treason. Bullying and intimidation escalate. Kurt, one of the Hitler Youth harasses Lene. When her mother goes to Hanover to meet Lene's dad on leave she and Ludwig go to the cinema together but when they come out they are chased by Kurt and his friend Horst who have been promoted to the dreaded SS-Sturmscharfuhrer. They are dragged to headquarters where a gallows is set up and they are made to watch a boy their age hang 'that's what happens to boys who wag Hitler Youth drills, who lie and deceive and don't prepare for their heroic duties' p101
Ludwig decides it is not safe for them to be seen together and soon after Kurt comes to the apartment and forces himself on Lene, her mother comes home just in time and Kurt is posted to the front. The war is not going well and younger boys are being called up. Ludwig is called up at 17 on the same day his mother gets a letter informing them that Herr Schluck has died. 'What power do we, two kids, have against an overwhelming war machine? All we can do is refuse to be part of it and bear the consequences: a certain death.'p139. Before he leaves Ludwig tells Lene 'I want to stay alive and come back. I want to come back to you and Berlin, it's all I want.' p142. The second part of the book is after the war in 1946. In all the devastation people try to rebuild their lives. Lene has survived and come back to Berlin. 'I had to come back. To delve into the past in order to go on with my life . . . The past is never just about the past, it's also about the present, and the future too' p 153. In our uncertain times it is important to remember how prejudice and propaganda were used in wartime and this book neatly wraps the difficult moral choices of the time in a sensitive love story. Not only a useful addition to WW2 teaching material but an engaging coming of age story for a wide range of high school students.