Thursday, November 17, 2016

Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz

Alan Gratz's novel centers around Projekt 1065 which had begun prior to World War II. Projekt 1065 was a real program undertaken by Germany to build an aircraft that used a turbojet engine, meaning it could fly faster than propeller craft currently in use. But the Germans were not the only ones working on development of a jet engine and they weren't the first either.

In the 1920s British Royal Air Force engineer Frank Whittle designed a turbojet engine. Seven years later, German physicist, Hans von Ohain came up with his design.

Eventually under Projekt 1065, the Germans developed a jet airplane, the Messerschmitt Me 262 was developed. It's first flight using a jet engine was in 1942, but recurring various problems meant it did not see real action until 1944 - too late to really have a significant impact on the outcome of World War II.

In this novel, a young boy is tasked with gaining knowledge of the German plans for construction of a jet plane in the hope of giving the Allies the edge in the war.

Thirteen year old Michael O'Shaunessy lives with his parents Davin and Megan in Berlin, Germany. Michael's father is the Irish ambassador to Nazi Germany, a post he was given in 1937. Ireland has remained neutral in the war and so maintains an embassy in Berlin. Like all youth in Germany, Michael is a member of the Nazi Youth but he is no Nazi. Instead he pretends to like the Nazis, pretends to hate Jews and pretends to want them to win the war.

Since 1937 Berlin has changed dramatically. When Michael and his family first arrived Berlin was a city wrapped in the red Nazi flags and with streets filled with happy people and plenty of parades. But in November of 1938 Berlin changed forever. On their way home from viewing a film about the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Michael and his family were caught up in Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass". On this infamous night the windows of Jewish businesses were smashed and any Jews in the streets were viciously attacked. Michael's parents reveal to him that they cannot stop to help anyone because they are not only ambassadors but they are also on a mission for the Allies. On that now involves Michael. Berlin is now a suspicious city, where "people kept their eyes down, whispered if they had to talk, crossed the street to avoid having to give the Hitler salute to someone they knew in case they didn't say 'Heil Hitler!'"

At a dinner at the house of a man who is connected to Daimler-Benz, the German automobile company that makes engines for the Nazi military, Michael is tasked with hunting down information about the location of a new engine factory. He finds the information he needs in their host's study and with his photographic memory is able to remember it and pass it along to his parents.

Michael's teacher is Herr Professor Doktor Major Melcher an elderly man with white hair who had fought in the First World War and who used to be a college professor. He's not friendly to the students whom he doesn't really want to teach. Herr Melcher informs them that Berlin is now officially "Jew-free" and secondly that all seventeen-year old boys will be called up to serve in the German army. Unlike his classmates who only know the propaganda that the Nazi regime is feeding them, Michael knows that this is due to the surrender of the German Sixth Army to the Russians at Stalingrad. This means that Michael and the rest Jungvolk will graduate a year earlier to the Hitler Youth.

Not really understanding how badly Germany is doing now in the war, the boys celebrate.  Hitler Youth Leader Horst has the boys burn books but a short, timid boy who doesn't fit in well, Fritz Brendler refuses to burn his. Michael goes to Fritz's defense although both he and Fritz are beaten up. But Michael vows that one day he will "teach Horst how to take a beating." The Junkvolk are called away from their book burning by the SRD -Hitler's Youth's "Patrol Force" to help search for  the pilot of a British plant that has been shot down outside Berlin. Michael knows he must find the pilot before the German's do or he will be tortured and killed.

While searching the barn for the downed pilot, Michael reveals to Fritz his overwhelming fear of heights. Fritz tells Michel he won't tell anyone as both boys know that "In Nazi Germany every weakness was punished." Michael discovers the wounded pilot hiding in a hedgerow but manages to lead the search party away from his hiding place. He then hides the pilot After first searching the haystack in the barn near where the plane was shot down, Michael manages to locate the pilot who is injured, before the other boys find him. He hides the British airman in the barn but the pilot tells Michael he needs to find the camera he hid in one of the haystacks as it contains important reconnaissance photographs. Later that night Michael and his parents return to the farm and pick up the British pilot who identifies himself a Lieutenant Simon Cohen, a Jew.

Messerschmitt ME 262
Although taking Simon back to Berlin is extremely risky, Michael's parents have no other recourse. They hide him in a secret room off of da's study. Simon tells them that he was flying in daylight because the Nazis are "developing some kind of airplane...Works without propellers...Super fast...Caught it on the runway during testing...They call it...Projekt 1065." Unbelievably the next day in class, an exhausted Michael is shown the first page of the blueprints for the secret plane the Nazi's are developing by Fritz.  Fritz tells Michael that this is a new plane with two jet engines that can "go twice as fast as any other airplane in the world!" Fritz reveals that his father works on the design team for the plane. He shows Michael because he tried to save Fritz from being beaten up by the rest of the troop.Michael races home during an air raid and informs his parents and Simon about the blueprint he has just seen.

In order to gain access to all twelve pages of the plans, Michael decides to befriend Fritz. However, Michael's decision to get close to Fritz means he will have to make choices and do things he knows are wrong. It also may mean sacrificing everything he holds dear for the greater cause of helping to defeat the Nazis.


Projekt 1065 is a well written historical novel set in 1943 Berlin. The son of the Irish diplomat joins the Hitler Youth and is drawn ever deeper into spying when he learns a member of his Jungvolk troop has access to the blueprints of a top secret jet plane the Nazis are working on.

Author Alan Gratz has done a good job of recreating life in World War II Berlin. Set in 1943, the German army has suffered a catastrophic loss on the Eastern Front with the surrender of the German Sixth Army and the loss of almost 300,000 soldiers. Berlin is being constantly bombed by the British at night and the Americans by day. People work for the Nazis because resistance will mean arrest and deportation to a concentration camp. Children are heavily indoctrinated in Nazi ideology about race and the superiority of Germany.  Gratz's focus is on the Nazi indoctrination of the youth. Their lives revolve around the Hitler Youth which takes precedence over both family and school. The are taught that it is honorable to die for the Fuhrer and the Fatherland. Any sign of weakness is seized upon, meaning the children often bully and fight one another.

What happens to the young people of Germany is best demonstrated by the character, Fritz Brendler, a thirteen year old boy who "was so small he looked like he was ten years old..." At first Fritz doesn't want to burn books, he's timid and he doesn't fit in. He is attacked by Horst the cruel leader of the Hitler Youth and beaten up by the other boys.  Horst spews the rhetoric and Nazi belief telling the boys that "Compassion is a weakness,". Horst tells Fritz that someday when he becomes a real Nazi he will turn in his parents, burn books and give your life for Germany. It is a foreshadowing of what's to come for Fritz as he gradually transforms from young boy into a ruthless member of the junior Gestapo.

Despite the fact that's he's considered weak, Fritz is determined to join the SRD, the Hitler Youth's "Patrol Force" - the junior equivalent of the dreaded Gestapo. At first Michael is doubtful that Fritz believes everything the Nazis have taught him. Fritz tells Michael he wants to join the SRD "For Germany" "For the Fuher" "Everything I do is for the greater good of the Fatherland." Michael doesn't know if Fritz really believes what he is saying. The day of the Hitler Youth tests, Michael passes the different events easily while Fritz struggles but Michael notes "He had a wild look in his eyes, like he refused to fail." The second part of the test involves boxing and Michael is horrified to learn that he must fight Fritz who is no match for the experienced Irish boy. So determined is Fritz to make the SRD, that their brutal match results in Michael being forced to beat Fritz senseless. Both boys make it into the SRD.

At first Fritz still retains some of his innocence. He shows Michael his secret collection of British and American mystery novels and the two boys spend an hour enjoying them. However their first assignment is a raid on the Edelweiss pirates - a resistance group of young Germans. Astonishingly Fritz volunteers to lead the raid. Fritz's eagerness results in SS-Obersturmfuhrer Trumbauer giving him the nickname of Quex, the same nickname given to one of the most famous Hitler Youth ever, Herbert Norkus. He tells Fritz to report to him for assignment to a special team which turns out to be a group of SRD assigned to assassinate a famous scientist. It is this assignment that begins Fritz's complete transformation into an increasingly cruel boy.

Emboldened by his new rank, Fritz tells Michael that Herr Professor Doktor Major Melcher is a "doddering old man who serves no purpose to the war effort," Instead of obeying his teacher, Fritz refuses in a cold showdown that is only ended by an air raid. Michael notes, "Whatever it was Fritz was doing before and after school for the SRD with Max, it was changing him. He was harder now. Colder. Meaner." Fritz returns with the other SRD boys and they beat Melcher before taking him to the Gestapo. Later on, Michael finds Fritz burning his collection of mystery books. When he tries to stop him, Fritz punches him in the face. Michael tells him, "You'd burn something you love just to be on top for once in your life. Even if it means turning your back on who you are." Fritz tells Michael, "This is who I am. I'm going to lead Germany into the future. I'm going to help Hitler rule the world.  Even as he fights Fritz on the roof of the cable car, Michael still struggles to believe that Fritz is who he says he has become.

As Michael is drawn deeper in the workings of the junior Gestapo he must deal with the intense conflict between his actions and his beliefs. Repeatedly he must participate in Nazi cruelty so that he does not blow his cover and he can finish his mission to obtain the remaining pages of the jet plane blueprints. When Herr Professor Doktor Major Melchor is attacked by Fritz and the other SRD boys, Michael knows he has to participate. "I was about to say something, stand up to the SRD bullies, tell the police about Melchor's son, tell them how Fritz and the other boys were wrong. If I said something, I might save Melcher's life. But I would ruin everything else Simon and my parents and I had worked for..." Likewise he has to help man the anti-aircraft guns and the thought that he has shot down a British plane makes him sick. But the greatest conflict Michael must face is the possibility that, in order to be placed on the science team that's being sent to Switzerland to kill a scientist, he must turn in Simon, endangering both the British pilot's life and that of his parents too.

Overall Projekt 1065 is a thrilling, engaging novel that conveys to readers a good sense of what it was like to be a young person in Germany under the Nazis. Michael O'Shaunessey is a classic hero who shows great courage under pressure and who is willing to fight for what is right. Michael also demonstrates maturity in being able to wait until the time is right to get his revenge on Horst instead of acting on impulse. Despite admitting to having a hatred of the English, he forms a strong bond with the British pilot, Simon and is devastated at his cold-blooded murder.

Gratz provides a detailed Author's Note at the back which puts into perspective some of the events that occur in the novel.Projekt 1065 is highly recommended to readers who enjoy historical fiction with a bit of action and adventure.

Book Details:

Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz
New York: Scholastic Press     2016
303 pp.

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