Title: Playing With Matches
Author: Lee Strauss
Series: Playing With Matches #1
Release Date: November 16th 2012
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Heinz Schultz’s word could send a man to prison. Though only a youth of fifteen, he was strong, tall, and blond. The boys in his Deutsches Jungvolk unit esteemed him and feared him.
And they wanted to be just like him.
Emil Radle wanted to be just like him.
A dedicated member of Hitler Youth, Emil was loyal to the Fuehrer before family, a champion for the cause and a fan of the famous Luftwaffe Air force.
Emil’s friends Moritz and Johann discover a shortwave radio and everything changes. Now they listen to the forbidden BBC broadcast of news reports that tell both sides. Now they know the truth.
The boys along with Johann’s sister Katharina, band together to write out the reports and covertly distribute flyers through their city. It’s an act of high treason that could have them arrested–or worse.
As the war progresses, so does Emil’s affection for Katharina. He’d do anything to have a normal life and to stay in Passau by her side. But when Germany’s losses become immense, even their greatest resistance can’t prevent the boys from being sent to the Eastern Front.
In my opinion, Playing With Matches is a story that has been waiting to be told. Books about the Jewish experience of World War Two, whether fiction or non-fiction, are well-known and I am sure that the majority of people reading this review have come across The Diary of Anne Frank or Schindler’s Ark. I think because of this there is an assumption that the lives of ordinary German people were full of unicorns and rainbows – until this book.
Lee Strauss writes Playing With Matches with so much realism that we can believe that the Radles, Schwarzes and Ackermanns actually existed. We are constantly reminded that Passau is only a small community, set apart from Berlin and Munich, yet the town is still progressively torn apart by Hitler and his Lebensraum objective.
The novel is initially an uncomfortable read. The story’s main character, Emil, is a member of Deutsches Jungvolk; unknowing pawns in Hitler’s plan to spread his hatred for anyone outside his ideal human model,
“all important accomplishments in art, science and technology have been made by the Nordic or Aryan race. Therefore, this is clearly the only race of culture founders.”
Though I think we want to despise Emil and his reproduced chants, there are moments at which he redeems himself, particularly when he goes against everything he has been told and helps his friends Anne. Emil’s character develops greatly over the course of the story and he shows us that duty is different than acceptance.
Lee Strauss helps us to understand how Germany’s citizens were controlled by the propaganda fed to them by Joseph Goebbels. It is not until Emil and his friends, Moritz and Johann hear an illegal BBC broadcast that they realise the damage the war is causing to their country.
Playing With Matches is a sometimes difficult journey in which Lee Strauss effectively reveals the horrors of the Second World War. Although it is told in third-person narrative, concentrating on Emil and those close to him, the author does not ignore the appalling treatment of the Jews and non-Aryans. Playing With Matches often led me speechless and sobbing, but I think this is a very important text which can teach readers, no matter their age, about hatred, prejudice, corruption of power and suffering.