The Swastika Tattoo

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
314 Pages
Reviewed on 11/08/2012
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Author Biography

Writing has always been second nature to me. I really began writing stories when I was ten years old, typing them out on my mom's old Remington typewriter.

Writing "hard" news stories (investigative reporting) appealed to me as I grew older. I became editor of my junior high, high school and college newspapers, always looking for the facts behind the facts. After a long stint as a journalist, I decided I wanted to write fiction.

The idea for "The Swastika Tattoo" came while I was doing research in the Phoenix public library. I happened to come across a story about a German POW camp located in Phoenix during WW II. I was stunned, having never heard there were German POW camps in America. After much investigation--and a trip to Germany--the result was my novel.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Alice DiNizo for Readers' Favorite

The year was 1944 and twenty year old Rudolph Meier was a Nazi POW working in local cotton fields while he was held at Camp Papago Park near Phoenix, Arizona. He was serving as a radio operator on a German submarine stationed near the eastern coast of the United States. After it was bombed the survivors were taken captive. Rudolph, or Rudi, still believes in Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich of Germany; he was convinced that Hitler had put food on the Germans' tables, given them work, and made life better for them than it was under the Wiemar Republic and the injustice it brought Germany from the Treaty of Versailles. Rudi was a twelve year old boy when he became a willing member of the Hitler Youth, despite the unspoken caution of his grandparents with whom he lived. He even had a swastika tattooed on his right arm. As a POW, Rudi met Bob Feller and his mother and sickly father Vern who owned the cotton farm where he worked. Rudi was adamant in his beliefs that America is a country of mixed races with a foolish love of individual freedom. Then, he got to know the Fellers, who were Jewish, and watched the American guards at Papago Park. Will Rudolph Meier rethink his hardened beliefs and the intolerance of other people and their cultures?

"The Swastika Tattoo" by Geraldine Birch is a brilliant, extremely well-written book that demonstrates how a young German POW, indoctrinated by his school teachers and leaders came to question the intolerance of other people and cultures. The characters and dialogue are fine. Rudolph, Bob Feller and his mother, Ruth, Rudi's friends, his grandfather and grandmother and all the other characters are all believable and highly relevant in the story. The plot proceeds realistically to the story's end. The author's glossary of German words and their meaning is a terrific asset to readers. The essay questions help reinforce the message behind this book. This book is a potential classic, for it portrays the world so accurately.

Betsy Billings

Geraldine Birch’s "The Swastika Tattoo" is a story about how experiences can change a person’s principles. It centers around a young member of the German Navy named Rudolf. When the story opens, Rudolf is a prisoner of war on American soil, forced to work on an American cotton farm after the destruction of his U boat. From the beginning of the novel it is clear that Rudolf dislikes Americans and strongly believes in German superiority. The author takes readers through Rudi’s personal being raised by his grandparents (and the secret reasons why), his indoctrination in German secondary school, his fervent desire to join the Hitler Youth and prove himself to his leaders, and his service on a submarine in the German Navy. While imprisoned on a farm belonging to the Feller family, Rudi and Bob Feller form a friendship that results in the exchange of ideas, which causes Rudi to question almost everything he has ever believed in.

This novel works as a piece of young adult fiction. In my experience young readers are often fascinated with the topic of World War II, and the fact that the narrator is a young German male might make the book appealing to young men. The novel has many strengths, such as the way it stays interesting by changing from Rudi’s story as a P.O.W. and his youth in Germany, and strong, powerful writing. What makes the story so interesting, however, are the bits of history included in the story, and the many circumstances that move Rudi to question his Nazi ideology. The battle scenes on the submarine are also especially gripping. Overall, this book is a well-written piece of fiction that will engage those interested in a war story.

Bernadette Acocella

The Swastika Tattoo is a young adult historical novel that tells the story of German soldier Rudolf Meier. Rudolf is a fervent believer in Nazi ideology and has become a POW on an American cotton farm after the sinking of his submarine. The story meanders between the years of Rudolf’s youth before the war began and his imprisonment. The reader learns of Rudi's experience being raised by his grandparents, his time in the Hitler Youth, and his work as a radio operator on a German U-boat. It is during his time as a prisoner of war that Rudi has time to reflect on his own staunch belief in Nazi propaganda, and many circumstances coalesce that allow Rudi to re-examine all he has ever believed to be true. Can his contact with banned literature and an accepting Jewish family allow Rudi to change his long-held convictions?

The Swastika Tattoo was an engaging read. The author uses vivid imagery and a rich vocabulary to transport the reader to the diverse worlds of Germany before the beginning of World War II and a cotton farm in Arizona. Also, the inclusion of German words in the characters’ speech made the story feel more authentic. However, though the author warns the reader of the offensive language used in the novel and cautions that these words were, in fact, historically accurate, these terms feel like a slap in the face to a modern reader who now has a grasp of the consequences of such bigotry. Young readers under the age of 17 may not have the maturity to view these words in their historical context. In spite of this flaw, I can see how this book would add a human element to the study of World War II and would be a good addition to a high school history class of juniors or seniors studying that topic.

Anna del C. Dye

From the name of this book, I deduced it to be based in the sixties, maybe about drugs and free life. I was relieved to discover as I read it that it was about a WWII German POW at camp Papago Park in Arizona. I also learned that a swastika is the name given to the Nazi symbol.

It portrays time in history that many would like to forget; yet it is embedded in our roots and will be forever. This book relives some of the most important scenes through the eyes of a Nazi POW who becomes a fascist at age 12. This is quite a refreshing point of view, different from the always-American side of the war. It is well written and will keep your attention to the last page. Geraldine did a great job.

Rudolf Meier is a radio operator on a German submarine patrolling the American side of the sea. His job is to keep tabs on movements behind the American lines and confront any American vessel that crosses their path. All works beautifully until they attack a certain American ship, and later a bomber finds them with his submarine up for air. Now he and many of his men find themselves in the horrible desert plains of Arizona, working on a cotton farm. It is here that his view of the war and his enemy rises up to a new level as he meets a Jew.

In this book you will find accounts of many situations and things that were concocted by Germany before and during the war. The Swastika Tattoo has the now and the past well-intertwined throughout the tale, and it works very well. The history is very well researched and the writing made it interesting. I really enjoyed this tale and the history behind. I believe that this book will be liked by many war veterans, and those who enjoy WWII stories, especially about POWs.

Stephanie Dagg

"The Swastika Tattoo" by Geraldine Birch is a work of historical fiction for young adults upwards. It is a well-researched and convincingly written novel that raises many interesting political and cultural issues. Rudolf Meier, a young German Prisoner of War in a prison camp in Arizona, loathes Americans. And what is worse is that he is working on a cotton farm owned by a Jewish family, the Fellers. He is a seething bundle of bigoted rage but gradually, through his friendship with Bob Feller, he learns to open his eyes and mind and realise that the intolerance he has grown up with as a member of the Hitler Youth is wrong. However, some of his compatriots in the prison camp are still blinkered by indoctrination and don’t accept any other approach. A brutal murder in the camp leads Rudolph to fear that he may be the next victim.

There is a lot of attention to detail in this novel. Rudolph’s experiences while growing up with his grandparents and then as a radio operator on a U-boat are carefully related and give a rare insight into Nazi Germany. It is as important that every generation understands the enormity of the Second World War, the reasons for it, the suffering it brought and the sacrifices people made, even though it becomes ever more distant. This book is a valuable educational tool as well as an extremely exciting, gripping read for younger people. Coming from the enemy’s point of view makes it even more effective and adds complexity and interest. The book is peopled by rounded characters, some sympathetic, others less so, but all realistic and memorable. Add an authentic sense of setting and this is an extremely accomplished, sensitive work of fiction.

Anne Boling

The Swastika Tattoo centers on Rudolf Meier, a German prisoner of war who proudly sported a swastika tattoo. He was being held in Arizona, where he found the heat unbearable. He and the other Nazi POWs labored on a farm working in a field of cotton. The farmer’s wife and son were friendly and kind toward the POWs. When Helmet lost a small Bible his grandmother had given him, the farmer’s son searched until he found it and returned it. It was difficult for the hardened German to understand why the Feller family was nice to him. They even invited him and Helmet to Thanksgiving Dinner.

Rudolf thought back on his days at the gymnasium, a secondary school. He remembered one student in particular. Lothar was very bright and made high scores, yet the teacher was hard on him because of his social standing. Herr Bauer felt it was beneath him to teach a baker’s son. Rudolf remembered listening to Der Führer speak. Hitler stirred the people with his words. Rudi eagerly joined the Hitler Youth. He thought back on his time on the U-Boat and his capture by the Americans. It was only when tragedy struck someone he cared about that Rudi began to question the way of the Nazis. When Rudi joined in the war, he never expected to end up in America, and he certainly never expected it to change his life.

Swastika Tattoo by Geraldine Birch is a tale of change. Her story closely follows Rudolf during his time of internment and the reader is allowed to share his memories. When I first began this book, I was a bit concerned; Rudi was an angry Nazi and the tale was being told from his perspective. Was this a book supporting Hitler and the Nazis? I could not have been more wrong. Birch has written a story that is filled with compassion. The Fellers did not look at Rudi as a Nazi but as a human being. They were polite to him and took his feelings into consideration; they showed him respect. Their attitude shocked Rudi but not nearly as much as discovering they were Jewish...the hated Jews. I believe Birch skillfully allowed her story to play out. It wasn’t preachy. It flowed smoothly showing what can happen when we stop labeling each other. I would consider this story appropriate for upper elementary, middle school and young adult. Most adults may find the plot a little juvenile. The relationship that developed between the characters of Rudi, Ruth and Bob was remarkable. Well done, MS Birch.