Daniel Half Human and the Good Nazi by David Chotjewitz has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
The year is 1945, and World War II has just ended. Daniel Kaushaar, a U.S. Army soldier, is in Hamburg, Germany, on assignment. He grew up in Hamburg and is flooded with memories as he drives his jeep through the rubble. His mind flashes back to 1933, when he was a boy.
Daniel and his best friend, Armin, venture out in the cold to paint a swastika on a wall in the socialist part of town. They are arrested and spend a night in jail. While in the cell, they find a piece of broken glass and make cuts on their wrists to mingle their blood together. By doing so, they become blood brothers.
Many people anticipate that Hitler is about to seize power, and both boys want to join the Hitler Jugend (HJ or Hitler Youth). Armin’s dad, an unemployed communist sympathizer, refuses to sign for him to join. Armin joins anyway. Daniel’s father, Rheinhard, a well-respected lawyer, also refuses to sign the papers that would allow Daniel to join. Daniel stubbornly pushes the issue and is dumbfounded to learn that the reason his father won’t relent is because Daniel’s mother, Sophie, is a German Jew. Daniel reacts bitterly and temporarily hates his mother. He shuns her by not talking to her and locking himself in his room.
Hitler becomes chancellor and changes are immediately felt in Germany. Rheinhard is pressured to divorce Sophie for the sake of his career, but he refuses. At school, Daniel and the other students are taught that the Aryan race is superior and that Jews are the lowest group of humans imaginable. Teachers measure the boys’ heads as an indicator of their race, and Jewish boys are kicked out of school. Daniel is allowed to stay because his father was a medal-winning World War I hero. Moreover, Rheinhard is a friend of the headmaster.
In 1935, Sophie’s brother, Sebastian, is sent to a work camp, and his daughter, Miriam, comes to live with the Kraushaars. At first, Daniel despises her presence, thinking she will draw the Nazis’ attention to their family, but he soon grows fond of her.
Germany continues to change. Jews are persecuted, and Daniel is picked on at school and at soccer practice. His teammates call him names and threaten violence, but Armin steps in and won’t let things come to actual violence. Daniel realizes he wants nothing to do with the HJ or the Nazis. Armin remains in the HJ and becomes a troop leader. He is in the group to better himself and his social standing, but he is disgusted by some of the actions of his superiors.
Because Rheinhard refuses to divorce Sophie, he is forced to give up his law practice. Sophie begs him to move them out of the country, but Rheinhard spurns her advice, believing that — when everyone comes to their senses — things in Germany will return to the way they were before Hitler took power.
Armin is attracted to Miriam and initiates a relationship with her, unbeknownst to Daniel. Miriam leaves shortly thereafter to attend a Zionist training camp that prepares Jews to emigrate to Palestine.
Armin’s superiors find out about his relationship with Miriam and force him to lead them to the Kraushaars’ house with the implied goal of finding Miriam and either killing her or sending her to a concentration camp. The soldiers trash the apartment and physically assault Rheinhard, but neither Miriam nor Daniel can be found. Armin had warned Daniel about the visit earlier in the day.
Rheinhard is finally convinced that he must take Sophie and Daniel out of Germany. The family secures the necessary affidavit that allows them to relocate to the United States.
The last scene flashes to 1945, when Daniel is interviewing captured German soldiers. If soldiers answer ‘no’ to the questions about being members of the Nazi party and the SS, they are freed and provided with a small stipend of cash. Daniel overhears a soldier being interviewed at a table nearby and instantly recognizes the voice. It’s Armin. They have not seen each other for years. Daniel approaches him and they chat for a minute, then Daniel crosses out both answers of ‘no’ on Armin’s interview sheet, writes ‘yes’ and walks away.
Although Sophie is Jewish and Daniel is half-Jewish, the term ‘Jewish’ is used to describe the Kraushaars’ race only. It is never mentioned that they practice any religion. Miriam takes Hebrew lessons and eventually moves from Hamburg to a Zionist training camp.
Daniel’s parents care a great deal about Daniel and want what is best for him. Rheinhard refuses to divorce Sophie even though his career is ruined because he is married to her. They become somewhat distant and short-tempered as a result of the persecution they have endured.
Armin’s father is unemployed and drinks alcohol frequently. He seems to have no real authority over Armin. He is rarely home (he spends most of his time in the local bar), and Armin doesn’t want to be like him.
The HJ leaders are committed to the Nazi cause. Armin is in the HJ primarily because he wants to further himself, not because he respects the HJ leaders or their philosophy.
One of Daniel’s teachers, nicknamed ‘the Ape’ by students, is a racist and is filled with hate for the Jews.
The word sh– is scattered throughout the book. One of Daniel’s soccer teammates says that the Jews will have their ‘a–es ripped open.’ Daniel is called a b–tard. D–ned is used occasionally. Several slang terms for breasts are used.
The narrator mentions a story of a socialist journalist who is jailed, tortured and beaten so hard that blood spurts from his head. He passes out from the violence, and the guards kick him in the scrotum to wake him up. He eventually hangs himself.
The soldiers repeatedly and violently slap Rheinhard in the head and eventually punch him in the face. Daniel and Miriam witness Jews being kicked and beaten on the street. One old man has his beard plucked out.
Daniel and his pals talk about girls’ figures, particularly their breasts. The boys make up their own lyrics to hit songs, and they sing about getting bloody fingers when groping a girl’s underwear. Armin recites a crass poem to Daniel that refers to sex and masturbation.
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