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Literature / Caging Skies

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Caging Skies is a 2004 novel written by Christine Leunens that chronicles Hitlerjugend member Johannes Beltzer finding out that his parents are hiding a Jewish girl named Elsa under the floorboards. Though a Nazi, Johannes is intrigued by Elsa, and secretly forms a friendship with her. This blossoms into love, and he wants to be one with Elsa forever.

Johannes wasn't always a Nazi - he used to be a little boy who loved playing with his best friend Kippi. But he learns that he's full of potential, a hidden gem in a sea of stones - being told this by none other than Adolf Hitler. His father, an antifascist who's working against the Nazi party, refuses to accept Hitler as his leader and calls him a joke. This in turn fuels Johannes to be even more loyal to the man, no matter the cost.

When the tides of the war turn and the Nazis are driven out, Johannes clings to the fleeting power he has left to make sure that he doesn't lose the prestige he's accumulated as Hitler's "zunkuft"note  - and more importantly, to make sure he doesn't lose Elsa.

The novel is a criticsm of bigotry, hatred and toxic masculinity, exploring how these ideas are spread and why they resonate with people.

It was very loosely adapted into a film called Jojo Rabbit which was directed by Taika Watiti.

Tropes in Caging Skies

  • Affectionate Nickname:
    We called my grandfather from my father's side 'Pimbo' and my grandmother 'Pimmi' followed by the suffix 'chen' which signifies 'Dear little' in German - affection having the curious side-effect of shrinking her some.
  • There's also Kippi, who's real name is never told.
  • Anyone Can Die: Not Johannes or Elsa, but by the end of the novel, most named characters are either dead or missing.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Elsa escapes Johannes, but she's in a whole new world with no money or resources, and Johannes grieves her loss alone. On the plus side, she is a talented young lady that demonstrates great calmness in times of desperation, and it's not far off to assume she'll make her own happy ending.
  • Black Comedy: Johannes is a petty, vindictive, attention-whoring asshole, and many jokes are made at his expense.
  • Book Burning: Johannes does this after Fraulein Rahm orders the Hitlerjugend to.
  • Cats Are Mean: Averted, as Elsa's cat is a very friendly ginger tom. He's mean to Johannes, but everybody hates Johannes.
  • Child Soldiers: Being set in Nazi Germany, young children forced into becoming soldiers is a reccurring theme.
  • Evil Redhead: Madeleine, who is a Manipulative Bitch and exploits Wilhelm Beltzher.
  • Fauxreigner: Johannes and Pimmichen, post Soviet occupation, are told to house two men from Poland named Krzysztof Powszechny and Janusz Kwasniewski. They are actually Russians.
    The facts were that their real names were Sergey Karganov and Fedor Kalinin; they were Russians, not Poles; and this document had been forged by an underground organisation helping them to obtain freedom. The bottom line was that the Soviets were claiming back their soldiers...
  • Greedy Jew: Johannes is taught that Jews are this. He's also taught that black people are apes.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Johannes and Kippie murder baby chicks as their initiation test into the Hitlerjugend. They're also unrepetant racists.
  • Imaginary Love Triangle: When Johannes learns of Nathan, Elsa's fiancée, it's one between him, Elsa and Nathan. But later it's revealed that he died in the Holocaust.
  • Kill the Cutie: Kippie, Johannes' best friend, dies in an air raid. Karl the cat too.
  • Loose Floorboard Hiding Spot: Johannes' parents hide Elsa under the floorboards. Johannes finds her out.
  • Propaganda Machine:
    • The Austrian schools after Der Führer takes over:
      We learned new, frightening facts. Life was a constant warfare, a struggle of each race against the others for territory, food, supremacy. Our race, the purest, didn't have enough land many of our race were living in exile. Other races were having more children than we were, and were mixing in with our race to weaken us. We were in great danger, but the Fuhrer had trust in us, the children; we were his future. How surprised I was to think that the Fuhrer I saw at Heldenplatz, cheered by masses, the giant on billboards all over Vienna, who even spoke on the wireless, needed someone little like me. Before then, I'd never felt indispensable. I'd felt like a child, something akin to an inferior form of an adult, a defect only time and patience could heal.
    • And this:
      We were made to look at a chart of the evolutionary scale of the higher species. The monkeys, chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas were on the lowest level, and worked their way up. Man was at the top. When Fräulein Rahm began to lecture to us, I realised that some of what I'd taken to be primates were human races drawn in such a way that certain traits were accentuated so we could comprehend their relationship with the simians. She taught us a Negroid woman was closer to the ape than to mankind. Removing the hairs of the ape had proven to scientists to what extent. She told us it was our duty to rid ourselves of the dangerous races halfway between man and monkey. Besides being sexually overactive and brutal, they didn't share the higher sentiments of love or courtship. They were inferior parasites who would weaken us, bring our race down.
  • Racist Grandma: Inverted, it is the young Johannes who parrots and spreads Nazi propaganda, which makes his father very angry and causes debates to spark between them and worries his mother. Pimmi, on the other hand, is very racist.
  • Recognition Failure: Johannes fails to identify Adolf Hitler during his inauguration. Justified as he was 10 at the time.
  • Sensual Slavs: Madeleine's mother falls in love with a Czech man and leaves her life behind in Germany for him.
  • The Social Darwinist: After the Nazi annexation of Austria, the school system begins to teach what they believe: all life is a struggle for existence, theirs is the highest race, with most being "semi-apes" who must be wiped out as a threat, while mixing with them is the worst of all, since it diminishes this "superiority". Everyone has to do their part as a soldier in the struggle, not only through fighting, but breeding since the Aryans' birth rate has fallen.
  • Villain Protagonist: One who's a Nazi who lies to a Jewish girl he's in love with to manipulate her. It doesn't end well for him.