As World War I draws to a close in 1918, German citizens are starving and suffering under a repressive regime. Sixteen-year-old Moritz is torn. His father died in the war and his older brother still risks his life in the trenches, but his mother does not support the patriotic cause and attends subversive socialist meetings. While his mother participates in the revolution to sweep away the monarchy, Moritz falls in love with a Jewish girl who also is a socialist. When Moritz's brother returns home a bitter, maimed war veteran, ready to blame Germany's defeat on everything but the old order, Moritz must choose between his allegiance to his dangerously radicalized brother and those who usher in the new democracy.
About the Author
Monika Schröder grew up in Germany and has worked as an elementary school teacher and librarian in American international schools in Egypt, Oman, Chile and India. She now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with her husband and their dog, Frank. My Brother's Shadow is her third novel.
Read an Excerpt
My Brother's Shadow
By Monika Schroder
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)Copyright © 2011 Monika Schroder
All right reserved.
I still hear the rhythmic drumming of the rotation press in the printing room of the Berliner Daily where I just finished my shift. It’s already September, but late summer’s humid heat has returned; it clings to me like a hot, wet towel as I walk to the small park across the street and sit in the shade of a linden tree to read the paper I just helped to print. Today’s Berliner Daily headline boasts “Masterful Retreat at the Ailette Front,” announcing the “successful detachment from the enemy.” Some people are saying the war is not going as well as the government is trying to make it sound. The newspapers have to print the official armed forces war bulletin so it’s hard to know what really is going on, but I am sure the German Reich will achieve final victory.
A woman walks by with a small child on each hand. All three of them look gaunt, their eyes underlined by purplish rings, their cheeks hollow. I’m always hungry myself. After four years of war and the British navy’s blockade of German harbors, there is not much left of anything. Printing paper is rationed since last week and the Berliner Daily is published on only half the usual number of pages.
On the bottom of the first page I study an advertisement for nerve tonic. It reminds me of Papa, who died at Verdun two years ago. At first his letters proudly described the devastating impact of the German flamethrowers on the enemy’s morale, but as the battle dragged on he openly expressed his despair. When my mother read one of those sad letters to us, my older brother, Hans, turned red in the face and yelled, “Maybe we should send him a nerve tonic to build up his strength if he is such a weakling.” Hans can get angry like that. It hurt to hear him talk about Papa this way, but I didn’t dare say anything.
Soon after, we got the letter informing us that Papa had died. Because he also worked for the Berliner Daily the paper paid for his obituary. His name appeared in one of the many black-framed boxes under an Iron Cross, announcing his heroic death on the battlefield for “People, Kaiser, and Fatherland.” When I showed it to Mama she threw the paper across the kitchen table and said, “People, Kaiser, and Fatherland? My husband didn’t die for me or for his country. He only died for our foolish Kaiser, who loves his uniforms and his yachts. He and his military cronies brought us all this misery.” Hans argued with her even then, and I wondered how he could make it sound like it was Papa’s fault to have been shot dead by the enemy’s artillery fire. But I kept quiet. Later I cut out the obituary, folded it neatly, and placed it in the cigar box, the one that shows a picture of the Kaiser in his uniform on the lid.
Now, for more than a year, Hans has been fighting in the trenches on the Western Front. His last letter arrived two weeks ago, asking us to send him lice powder. How awful to be pestered by the little nits while burrowed in the earth, expecting enemy fire or a gas attack at any moment. But Hans was always stronger than me and not afraid of anything. The day Hans left to meet his battalion at the train station, he got angry with Mama for swearing at the “damn war.” Hans said it was an honor to serve the Kaiser, and when Mama saw that he really meant it she cried even more.
On the second page a poetry contest calls readers to “Support the War Effort! Write a patriotic poem to encourage Berliners to give money for the 9th War Bond, 1918.” A patriotic poem is about all I can contribute to the war effort. I am only sixteen, too young to enlist. The winner of the contest will receive 500 Marks. I know I won’t win, but even if my poem comes in third I will get 200 Marks, enough to buy back my mother’s sewing machine. It is still with the fat man in the pawnshop at the corner of Charlottenstrasse.
Mama used to sit under the window in our living room, altering dresses or sewing sailor suits for children, while my little sister, Louise, played with her doll on the floor. Last winter, when Louise started to cough, Mama sold the machine to buy medicine and meat. But then Louise spat blood and two days later she died. Shortly after, my mother went to work in the ammunition factory and began to attend socialist party meetings, talking badly about the Kaiser, blaming him for everything.
During my lunch break I had already composed a few lines: The Kaiser needs us, the Kaiser leads us. Let’s give what we … When I read what I have written out loud, the words leave the hollow sound of an empty can rolling over cobblestones. A good poem expresses the true emotion of the author, my former schoolteacher Professor Blum used to say. There is no doubt that I love the Kaiser and my fatherland, but my feelings don’t come across in these sentences. I rip the page from the notebook, crumple it into a tight ball, and throw it in the metal waste bin next to the park bench.
Hans would have already found a way to make enough money to buy back the sewing machine. On Sundays he often returned home with lentils, eggs, or other items you couldn’t get even with ration cards. He never told me what he and his friend Otto were up to, but I knew he hadn’t bought these things with his salary as a watchmaker at Hoffmann & Nolte. He always made sure I didn’t follow him when he met with Otto and the gang. In several letters I’ve asked Hans if he could put in a good word for me with Otto, and explained why I needed the money. But Hans has never responded. I know that Otto’s gang still makes money and finds food since I overheard Emil bragging about it. Emil and his older brother, Robert, another friend of Hans’s, are both in the gang.
A voice startles me out of my thoughts. “Moritz, what are you doing out here in the heat?”
Herr Goldmann’s lanky body jerks with each step as he pulls his right leg in a stiff limp toward my bench. In spite of the heat he wears a suit. Its jacket seems two sizes too big, and the waistline of his pants is bunched together with a belt.
“Just resting after work, Herr Goldmann.”
“Resting sounds like a good idea.” He sits down next to me and pulls out a handkerchief from his pocket to dab his forehead. “Air as thick as jelly,” he sighs, and shakes his head, sending tiny drops of sweat flying from his dark curls. Herr Goldmann is the only younger journalist left at the Berliner Daily. Because of his leg he has not been drafted.
“I was too late this time,” he says, and holds up a sheet of paper. “You weren’t there, so Old Moser sent me right back out.” Herr Goldmann often brings his drafts to the printing room after the deadline. If Old Moser, my boss, isn’t paying attention, I squeeze the article into the next edition and Herr Goldmann gives me real cigarettes that I sell on the black market. Old Moser thinks they should have found something for Herr Goldmann to do in the war.
“I didn’t know you were also a scribbler.” He points to my notebook.
“I’m not, really.” I like to write my observations in my journal, but I’m not a good writer. After I finished middle school Papa wanted me to start an apprenticeship in the same printshop he worked in. I had dreamed of being a journalist, but there was no money for further schooling once Papa was drafted. The closest I could get to a career in journalism was at the printing press.
“May I?” Without waiting for my answer he takes the notebook and flips through the pages. “You participated in the contest to replace foreign words?”
“Yes, I did. But I didn’t win.” Last spring, newspapers had asked their readers to help clean the German language of foreign vocabulary. I had suggested “Holland Gravy” to replace “Hollandaise Sauce.” But the person who sent in “Dutch Dip” had won.
“You don’t like French words? What about ci-ga-rette?” He widens his dark eyes, giving his birdlike face a comical expression, as he pronounces each syllable with the soft vowels that Berliners usually don’t have. I wonder how he can make the foreign words sound this way.
“Tobacco roll sounds just fine to me.” I shrug.
“You appear to be very interested in politics,” he says, turning another page in my notebook with his tapered fingers.
“I like reading the papers.”
“But you also write, yourself. This is a vivid description of the parade at Tempelhof Field last March.”
I look down and draw a line in the gravel with the tip of my shoe.
“And you copied parts of the Kaiser’s speech celebrating his thirty years as emperor last summer.” Herr Goldmann reads the excerpt out loud, perfectly imitating the Kaiser’s diction. “This war is not fought around a strategic campaign; this war concerns the struggle between two worldviews: Do we uphold the Prussian-German worldview of justice, freedom, and honor? Or do we succumb to the Anglo-Saxon way of doing things, which means the worship of money?”
“You’re good with accents,” I say.
“Thanks. That’s because my mother was an actress.”
“She’s not acting anymore?”
“Oh, no! She’s dead,” Herr Goldmann says.
“She died a long time ago, but thank you.” He nods and reads another of my short descriptions of the Kaiser’s appearances. “You pay attention to detail. That’s important for a good writer!”
“I’m not a good writer.”
“Maybe not yet,” Herr Goldmann says. “But you know what you have to do to become one. That’s the first step!”
I’m not sure how to respond. No one has ever called me a good writer.
“Would you like to come with me?” Herr Goldmann gives the notebook back to me. “I’m on my way to report on a social democratic workers’ meeting for tomorrow’s edition. Have you been to a socialist gathering?”
“No. I don’t care for them,” I say.
“The meeting is supposed to be disturbed by the police. We might see some action,” he says, and winks an eye. “Or do you need to get home?”
I’m not really interested in a political meeting, but it’s still too early to go home and maybe Herr Goldmann will give me another cigarette. I pack up my notebook and follow him as he limps toward the park gate.
“Aren’t these meetings illegal?” I ask as we pass a long line of women waiting in front of a butcher’s shop on Louisenstrasse.
“They are,” Herr Goldmann says. “Since the government has made it illegal to gather and talk about the war, which is what the social democrats mostly do, their meetings are illegal.”
We turn onto Lindenstrasse, and I am about to ask Herr Goldmann how he learned about this gathering when he stops in front of a pub. “Here it is”—he points at the sign above the entrance—“the Hot Corner. What a fitting name. It’s going to be stifling in there.”
We walk past the bar and Herr Goldmann speaks briefly to an older man who sits next to the back door. The man nods and lets us enter. All the windows are closed, most of the net curtains drawn. It is almost too hot to breathe. Clouds of smoke hover over the long tables. I recognize the smell of ersatz cigarettes, made from nettles and dried beech leaves, which most people now have to smoke for lack of real tobacco. The benches are filled with middle-aged men in working clothes, but there are also many women in the audience. A short man with thinning hair and a looping black mustache is speaking from the podium. I follow Herr Goldmann as he makes his way closer to the front. The man at the podium raises his voice when he calls out, “The people are paying the price while the bosses of the war industry are profiteering. It’s the little man who suffers the most.”
“And the little woman,” a female voice shouts from the back of the room.
“Yes, you are right,” he continues. “The women are suffering here at home. They are the ones who have to feed their families, while the capitalists exploit them in their ammunition factories. Four years of slaughter, misery, and hunger are enough.”
“That is Hugo Haase,” Herr Goldmann says. “The leader of the Independent Social Democrats. He’s a member of the Reichstag.”
When Haase finishes his speech, he introduces the next speaker as a courageous leader of the movement. A woman steps behind the podium and I hold my breath.
“Workers,” she addresses the audience, “we are gathered here today to express, once again, our discontent with this war. I have already lost my husband to the war. My oldest son is in the trenches on the Western Front. Many of you have lost husbands, sons, or brothers or soon will if this slaughter doesn’t come to an end. We have been tricked into believing in the final victory of our beloved country. But now it is time to end this war!” Some people in the audience cheer.
“This woman has guts,” Herr Goldmann says approvingly. He scribbles something on his notepad. I don’t respond. I can’t tell Herr Goldmann that the woman is my mother.
Copyright © 2011 by Monika Schröder
Excerpted from My Brother's Shadow by Monika Schroder Copyright © 2011 by Monika Schroder. Excerpted by permission.
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Reading Group Guide
"ere are names and terms in the story with which readers are unlikely to be familiar. Have students use print and electronic resources to research the following: abdication, armistice, Bolshevik, Hugo
Haase, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa
Luxemburg, Reichstag, Social Democratic Party,
Spartacus Group, and Weimar Republic.
Ask students what facts they know about World
War I. Fill in whatever gaps they have in their knowledge in order to have a basic understanding of the who, when, where, why, and how of the conflict.
Locate maps of Europe before and after the war and compare and contrast them with contemporary
maps of the continent.
How has the British blockade of German harbors affected civilians like Moritz and his family?
What has become of Moritz's father? Where is his brother Hans?
Why does Moritz want to win the patriotic poem contest?
How did the war affect Moritz's career plans?
What secret does Moritz keep from Herr
How does Moritz's view of the war contrast with those of his mother and Hedwig?
How does Moritz feel about stealing food with
Robert and Otto?
What is Moritz's response when Herr Goldmann says he believes Germany will lose the war? Do you think it's cowardly or unpatriotic for Herr
Goldmann to speak that way? Why do you think it's so difficult for Moritz to accept the possibility of Germany's defeat?
What happened to Herr Goldmann's brother in the war? What might be a contemporary diagnosis for the "nerve condition" doctors say Herr Goldmann's brother has?
Why is Moritz's mother accused of treason? Do
you think her actions are treasonous?
Do you agree with Moritz when he tells his mother she is "betraying Hans and Papa by not believing in our victory"? (p. 45)
What do Moritz, Otto, and Robert find when they break into the villa? What does Otto observe about rich people?
How does what Moritz sees on the food line and at the Food Administration office affect his view of the war?
What is Moritz's response to Herr Goldmann's comment that he should be proud of his mother?
What is the reaction of Mortiz's mother and aunt to his buying back the sewing machine? What do their reactions make Moritz realize about himself?
On the train to Metz when Moritz and Rebecca are talking about Karl May's books, Moritz says he doesn't "want to read anything right now that takes place in America." (p. 92) Why does he immediately regret saying that to Rebecca?
In what condition does Moritz find Hans at the army hospital?
What do Otto and Robert want Moritz to do for them? Why does Moritz choose not to help them?
Why does Moritz warn Rebecca about Otto's threat? How is this an example of how he has changed?
Why is Moritz embarrassed at what Herr
Goldmann says about his mother?
How is Hans's homecoming different from how
Moritz imagined it would be?
Who does Hans say are responsible for the downfall of Germany?
Why does Hans accuse Moritz of betraying him?
What does Hans say about the conditions of the armistice? Do you agree with him?
What prompts Moritz's outburst at Hans?
What does Moritz see Hans doing in the street with the major he met at the hospital?
When Moritz sees Hans plastering posters, why do
you think he chooses not to acknowledge him?
What do you think will become of Moritz and
Rebecca? What do you think will become of Hans?
What are some examples in the story of how the
German government was oppressive to its citizens?
"ere are several discussions of what constitutes patriotism and treason in the story. Do you think it's unpatriotic to not support a war your country is fighting? What do you think are actions a person would have to do to be considered treasonous to his or her country?
Discuss the meaning of the book's title.
In the story, mention is made of two weapons never before used in warfare: flame throwers and tanks. "e First World War is known for the first use of barbed wire and many new weapons,
including airplanes, dirigibles, long range artillery,
grenades, machine guns, and poison gas. In pairs or small groups, use online and print resources to research and report who invented these weapons,
how they were developed, and how they were used in World War I.
Many historians believe the harsh terms against
Germany in the Treaty of Versailles directly led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and World War II. In pairs or small groups, have students research what conditions Germany had to meet in the treaty and decide whether or not they were unfair.
Before becoming dictator of Germany in 1933,
Adolf Hitler served in the German Army during
World War I. Ask readers to research what Hitler did in the war and what his reaction was to signing of the Treaty of Versailles. An excellent source on
Hitler's life is James Cross Giblin's !e Life and
Death of Adolf Hitler (Clarion, 2002).
When Hans returns home, he makes many disparaging remarks about Jews. Aunt Martha remarks that "the Jews are now scapegoats for everything." (p. 183) In pairs or small groups, have students research how Adolf Hitler and the Nazi
Party used anti-Semitism in their rise to power and how it eventually led to the Holocaust during
World War II.
"e Great War inspired writers of all generations and classes, most notably among combatants.
Particularly memorable is the poetry written by soldiers who served in the war. John McCrae's In
Flanders Fields is perhaps the best known example of World War I poetry, but other poets such as
Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried
Sassoon are notable. World War I poetry is included in many literature anthologies. Two good anthologies are The Penguin Book of World
War I Poetry and First World War Poems (Faber
& Faber). Another anthology that includes World
War I poetry is Neil Philip's War and the Pity of
War (Clarion, 1998).
Online sources of World War I poems include http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/ and http://www.firstworldwar.com/poetsandprose/.
Ask readers to research these sources, select a poem that resonates with them, and share it with the group.
Web Sites on World War I
First World War.com: A Multimedia History of
World War I
World War I
World War I Document Archive
Reading on World War I
Breslin, "eresa. Remembrance. Delacorte, 2002.
Frost, Helen. Crossing Stones. Frances Foster
Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009.
Lawrence, Iain. Lord of the Nutcracker Men.
Morpurgo, Michael. Private Peaceful. Scholastic,
Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western
Front. Little, Brown, 1929.
Slade, Arthur. Megiddo's Shadow. Wendy Lamb/
Random House, 2006.
Spillbeen, Geert. Kipling's Choice. Trans. Terese
Edelstein. Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
Spillbeen, Geert. Age 14. Trans. Terese Edelstein.
Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
Trumbo, Dalton. Johnny Got His Gun.
J.B. Lippincott, 1939.
Adams, Simon. World War I (Eyewitness Books)
Bausum, Ann. Unraveling Freedom: !e Battle for
Democracy on the Home Front
During World War I. National Geographic, 2010.
Brocklehurst, Ruth. Usborne Introduction to the
First World War. Usborne, 2007.
Freedman, Russell. !e War to End All Wars:
World War I. Clarion, 2010.
Granfield, Linda. In Flanders Fields: !e Story of the Poem by John McCrae. Illus. Janet
Wilson. Doubleday, 1996.
Granfield, Linda. Where Poppies Grow: A World
War I Companion. Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2001.
Murphy, Jim. Truce: !e Day the Soldiers Stopped
Fighting. Scholastic, 2009.
Myers, Walter Dean and Bill Miles. !e Harlem
Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage. Amistad/
Harper Collins, 2005.
Philip, Neil, ed. War and the Pity of War. Illus.
Michael McCurdy. Clarion, 1998.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am not sure what it is about German history that I love but I enjoy reading books about it. My father was stationed there after the wall went up. He used to talk about the beauty of the country and the Black Forest. I have been real interested in anything to do with Berlin as well. This is the first book I have read that occurred before Hitler. I learned a lot. If you want to read something about German History then you need to pick up books by this author. She is able to take history and craft a story based on historical events that will stay with you a long time.I could not imagine what Hans' life must have been like. He was raised to believe in his Kaiser. His father fought for the Kaiser and lost his life. His brother was such a staunch supporter that he would listen to no one. Hans works for a printer. His country is changing. The Kaiser had made a statement that the boys would be home from the war before the leaves changed color and then four years had gone by. Poor people were starving while the wealthy could buy what they wanted. Gangs constantly stole from the rich. Women had to work in ammunition factories. The general public decided they'd had enough. Women wanted the right to vote and so socialist parties popped up everywhere. Hans' mother and sister have joined. Not only has his mother joined she is considered a leader in these illegal activities. The police are after her. Hans has always sided with the Kaiser. As he sees the injustice of a wealthy man eating a sandwich in front of a starving child he begins to agree with his mother. He doesn't really make his decision until he goes to visit his brother who has returned from the war an injured and bitter soldier. He now blames all of the countries problems on the Socialists and the Jews. Of course you knew there had to be a twist here. Hans has fallen in love with a young girl who is a supporter of the Socialist party and she is a Jew on top of all of that. The author's notes explain how the events of this time set things up for the rise of Hitler. There is so much suspense here. This is a perfect book for kids in middle school and up to learn about this time period. It is an excellent book to have discussions about consequences of our decisions and how those decisions can have life altering consequences.I would recommend you check out Monika's other books. This will make the third one I've added to my shelves at school. I have several of her others on my wish list. This is a must read book.