an unlikely group of WWII heroes

the boys who challenged hitler cover imageThe Boys who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club, by Phillip M. Hoose
published in 2015 by Farrar Straus Giroux

I finally read this riveting non-fiction book about a group of WWII-era Danish schoolboys who intrepidly wreaked havoc on the occupying Nazi army while the rest of their countrymen meekly acquiesced. It’s a fabulous read, deeply-researched and strongly-written by an award-winning author.

Knud Pedersen was one of the leaders of the secret Churchill Club formed by a group of boys who admired the Norwegians for resisting the Germans and writhed in shame that their own Danish people did not likewise defy them. Pedersen was alive

Phillip Hoose and Knud Pedersen

Phillip Hoose and Knud Pedersen

when Hoose began researching this book. Their lengthy interviews provide much of the dramatic, insider information about the bold, dangerous actions the boys took against the Nazi occupiers which ultimately led to their arrest.

It’s a page-turner, and nearly unbelievable. The commitment of these guys is stunning, and the support of their parents after their arrest — the first they knew of their sons’ activity — is deeply thought-provoking for me as a parent.

Members of The Churchill Club

Members of The Churchill Club

Standing up for one’s beliefs and values, with a willingness to suffer dire consequences, is a heady notion. In this case, the boys’ actions were heroically brave, and eventually it was they who inspired the wider Danish resistance movement to arise. Today, though, I wonder if we would be appalled at this level of covert, risky, literally-explosive behavior by self-directed teenage boys. Certainly we would bitterly condemn these actions by some groups, in pursuit of some causes. That leads to some provocative questions, of course, and makes this an ideal choice for book club discussions.

It’s no secret that teens can play monumentally-decisive, the boys who challenged hitler photo illustrationhonorable, and impressive roles in society. To what lengths are we willing to let them go to accomplish this? How does our infatuation with safety affect roles teens are allowed to play? How do we encourage kids to act on their own consciences, without sanctioning utterly foolhardy, impulsive, or wrong-headed thinking? Those are a few of the questions that rattled around my mind as I read this amazing account.

Rest assured, the narrative in the book does not touch on these issues at all. Rather, Hoose gives us 165 gripping pages of high-stakes espionage, audacious sabotage, and shocking imprisonment, introducing us to an inspiring, cool-headed, determined set of boys who left an indelible mark on the world. Knud and his compatriots are definitely worth meeting.

Ages 13 through adult.