Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge
Ann Bausum, Author
National Geographic Kids, Nonfiction, Jan. 12, 2021
Suitable for Ages: 10 – 14 and adults
Themes: Hitler, Resistance, Operation Valkyrie, Revenge, Ghost Children, WW II
During the summer of 1944, a secretive network of German officers and civilians conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler. But their plot to attack the dictator at his Wolf’s Lair compound failed, and an enraged Hitler demanded revenge. The result was a systematic rampage of punishment that ensnared not only those who had tried to topple the regime but their far-flung family members too.
Within weeks, Gestapo agents had taken as many as 200 relatives from their homes, separating adults and children in retaliation — the German word Sippenhaft means “family punishment.” They took 46 children from 19 high-ranking Nazi families to a retreat in a tourist town in central Germany called Bad Sachsa. They were housed together, isolated and forbidden to speak their last names. They feared their parents were dead, but didn’t know why. They created their own sign language to communicate with each other. Observers near the retreat called them the “ghost children.”
Using rare photographs and personal interviews with survivors, award-winning author Ann Bausum presents the spine-chilling little-known story of the failed Operation Valkyrie plot, the revenge it triggered, and the families caught in the fray.
Why I like this book:
When Greg Pattridge reviewed Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair last April, I was eager to read about an event during WWII I knew nothing about. Ann Bausum’s book is the most compelling piece of nonfiction I’ve read this year. The book reveals historical details that came to light in recent decades — a reason why we didn’t learn about it in school.
German’s feared Hitler’s revenge. Yet there was a group of courageous high-level military and civilian officials who loved their country so much that they were willing to sacrifice their own lives to stop Hitler’s deadly regime. Even though the Allies were advancing, these heroes wanted to show the world that Germans could stop Hitler and reclaim their country.
Christa von Hofacker was one of the children at Bad Sachsa. Her only solace was to write daily in her diary about her fears and life there so that she might make sense of what was happening. She wondered if her father was dead. And why? Years after her release, she wrote the diary into a book for her daughter as a Christmas gift. Her diary is the only documentation of that period.
The book is 143 pages with seven chapters and is filled with photographs. The first chapter gives readers a good understanding of Hitler’s rise to power — he connected with people on an emotional level using fear and lies to ignite unrest, The following chapters focus on the growing resistance to the regime, Operation Valkyrie, Hitler’s revenge, the “ghost children” and Hitler’s demise. The book is for older middle grade and high school students, as well as adults.
Ann Bausum’s book is a well-researched and detailed account of a part of World War II that remains unknown to many people today. She spent hours with Christa and four other child survivors listening to their stories. Make sure you check out the research included in the backmatter: a Timeline, Names of the Sippenhaft Families, A Note from the Author, Research Notes and other resources. There is also a photograph of German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressing the Sippenhaft survivors, their families In 2019 on the 75th commemoration of the Valkyrie coup attempt and excerpts of her speech.
Ann Bausum brings history to life by connecting readers to stories from the past that echo into present times. She traveled twice to Europe in pursuit of the people and places intertwined with Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair, her eleventh work for National Geographic Kids and her fourth about international history. Many of Bausum’s titles highlight themes of social justice, including The March Against Fear (National Geographic). Her books have earned numerous honors, and her body of work was recognized for distinction in 2017 by the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C. Bausum writes from her home in southern Wisconsin. Visit her at her website and on Twitter @AnnBausum.
*Reviewed from a library copy.