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Hardcover ISBN: 0-595-67342-2 | Paperback ISBN:1-58348-072-2 |

269 pages text | 10 pages pictures | Published Oct. 2005 | rated teen to adult



This study guide is copyrighted March 2005 by Lorna Collier










"Tilli's Story: My Thoughts Are Free" by Lorna Collier and Tilli Schulze, is the true story of a young German girl's life growing up in eastern Germany during and after World War II, before her escape to freedom at age 16. The book is unusual in its depiction of life for ordinary, non-Jewish Germans living in rural areas, many of whom were powerless against the Nazi regime. It also is unusual in showing what life was like for eastern Germans after the Soviets imposed the Iron Curtain.


"Tilli's Story" is rated teen through adult. Due to its depictions of rape and other war violence, it is not appropriate in its entirety for elementary schoolchildren. The authors recommend it for high school and college students, although some middle-school students also will be mature enough for its content. Teacher discretion is advised.


The book is not intended to be a historical guide to the war, but rather a personal story, used as a textbook adjunct. Its strongest message for readers is that democratic freedoms must not be taken for granted.  "Tilli's Story" will show students:






Because  "Tilli's Story" is told through the eyes of a child, beginning when she is 5 and continuing through age 18, it has special appeal to teenage readers. The authors hope it will make WW II history come alive for them, and demonstrate its relevance to modern-day concerns.



Here are comments the authors have received from readers that mention using the book in schools.


• "This book is absolutely wonderful! It is so interesting to get a different perspective on this time in history. Anyone who has read Anne Frank or seen/read Schindler's List needs to read this too. I would suggest this as a great cross-curriculum novel for high school/college."


• "This is a story that must be read by everyone - especially our young people! In a nation where we take our freedoms for granted, this is a fresh reminder that things can change in a heartbeat. This was truly a story of great faith in the face of horrific tragedies - and incredible sacrifice. A truly inspirational read!"


• "I could not put the book down. I felt as if I were standing beside Tilli in Germany 60 years ago. The book was so well written. What a riveting intense and interesting. It is unbelievable that such horrible things happened to so many innocent people. I applaud Tilli's courage and convictions. Everyone should read this book. I also think it would be a magnificent educational tool for students learning about Europe during that time period."


• "What an amazing story. I was crying with Tilli and her family, smiling when Tilli went to the dance, scared when Tilli was in the attic and walking alone to and from school, every emotion Tilli had is how I felt reading this book. This story ought to be in our school systems.  I think our kids could learn a lot from Tilli."


• "I find the point of view of a child to be very unique. I could see my [fifth-grade] students relating to it."








Although the authors recommend  "Tilli's Story" for older students, the book can be used in elementary classrooms. We have heard from third grade and fifth grade teachers who plan to read portions of the book to their students. Both teachers say they will use the book to show students:


* what daily life was like for a child their age, living in another country and another time: walking to school in another city (no bus or parents with cars), wearing the same dress to school every day, doing daily chores.


* how 'bad people' can take over a country's government and make rules that affect all the people in the country, even when many of the people in the country don't believe in these rules


One third-grade teacher in Rockford had this to say about the book: "I'm planning to use it when we do a unit on immigration. A lot of third grade level kids don't realize that there are differences between countries. That's how I would use this. I thought I'd read excerpts showing what school was like for Tilli. Also, when Hitler came to power, how the family was forced to do so many things. A lot of our children can't relate to being forced and not to make their own decisions."


A fifth-grade teacher in Belvidere said she would "read snatches of the book when we are studying WW II in the spring." To her, one of the unique qualities of the book is the way it "dispels the belief that everybody in Germany was behind Hitler."


Since the book was recently published and most classrooms don't get to the World War II part of their curriculum until later in the year, we don't have feedback yet from teachers  concerning the use of the book. However, here are two chapters that would be good to read (at least in part) to younger children:


* Chapter 3: This chapter shows what Christmas was like for Tilli's farm family, and can prompt a discussion of Christmas traditions in other cultures and time periods. How would modern-day children like to receive only a pair of handmade mittens, and no toys?


* Chapter 5: Tilli starts first grade at a one-room schoolhouse in her village, then is promoted to a more challenging school in a nearby town. The chapter describes what the children are forced to do to celebrate Hitler's birthday. Students can discuss the differences between their school and Tilli's, as well as what their government asks of them compared with the demands the Nazis placed on children in Germany.







Students should have familiarity with:


* World War II (especially Germany's role)


* Hitler and the Nazi Party


* The post-war division of Germany by the Allied powers


* Stalin, Soviet Communism and the Iron Curtain


See the end of this guide for a map showing Germany's post-war borders and a list of other personal stories from World War II survivors.







* The importance of freedom -- what people are willing to do to acquire it and to defend it


* That most people, in a crisis, will come together to help each other out, often in selfless ways. Not only family members, but also strangers (including war prisoners) helped Tilli and her family; similarly, Tilli's mother helped not only her fellow villagers, but even enemy soldiers who were starving


* The suffering of the innocent that occurs in any war. (Just because Tilli's family was German, they didn't support the Nazi Party or its military actions, yet they suffered the effects of the war and its aftermath.)








* Tilli Horn: Age 5 when WWII begins. Lives in a small farming village in eastern Germany with her family. Loves to read and use her imagination in daydreams. Not particularly good at farm chores, such as milking cows, or domestic tasks, such as sewing. Good student who is promoted to a higher-level school than most other farmchildren. Longs to live in America some day. Very brave and strong; is not destroyed by traumatic experiences, but moves past them to achieve her goals.


* "Mami," Regina Horn: Tilli's mother, whom she calls "Mami." Strong woman whose first loyalty is to her family. She makes pragmatic choices in order to ensure her family's safety, rather than engaging in futile protests of Nazi policies that will only serve to endanger her and her loved ones. She helps anybody who needs it -- whether it's a starving Russian prisoner of war, a refugee family that needs a home, a neighbor girl dying of typhoid, a little orphan boy who needs a home. She arranges her daughter's escape, even though it means she might never see her again.


* Tilli's siblings, all older than she is: Hugo (her deaf brother, who lives most of the time in a faraway town in order to attend deaf school); Helmut (her biological brother); Heinz (her adopted brother); Paula (her sister).


* Tilli's friends: Klara, who lives next door; Henni, who warns her of the Communist threat against her; Ilse, her school friend from Gnoien.


* Tilli's father: A distant and unpleasant man. Not a good father. Does not want her to continue her education. Protests loudly against Hitler, but at a cost to his family  -- he is drafted early in the war. Joins forbidden Seventh Day Adventist Church, has affair with church woman. Eventually deserts the family.


* Jan: French prisoner of war who helps the family farm their land during the war, and also ensures the girls' safety by creating a secret attic in the family home. Though brusque and prickly, he works hard for the family when he did not need to do so.


* Maria: Russian prisoner of war who arrives at the Horn home as a teenager, and who also works hard to help them, teaching them how to spin wool and trying to protect them when the Russian soldiers invaded the village.















It is fall 1944 in eastern Germany. A 10-year-old girl named Tilli Horn lies in bed next to her mother, listening in horror as bombs fall nearby. There are no bomb shelters in her small farming village. Their house has no basement. All she can do is hope the bombs don't hit her home. She retreats into her memories.



Part I


Chapters 1 - 4: Early war years


Chapter 1


World War II begins in 1939, with Hitler's invasion of Poland. Tilli learns about the war while playing in a kindergarten sandbox, at age five. She sees how concerned her parents are and wonders what war will bring, but is not terribly worried. The chapter introduces Tilli's parents and her siblings (her sister, Paula, and brothers Heinz and Helmut; Hugo, who is deaf, lives at a special school in another town).


Chapter 2


Tilli's godfather, Wilhelm, who works on their farm, is drafted. The entire village of Doelitz, where she lives, turns out to say good-bye to him as he walks to the train. He is the first man drafted to fight in the war; later, as more men from the tiny village are called to serve, the leave-takings become more commonplace.


Chapter 3


Christmas in 1939 is tinged with sadness, but still rich with tradition. The children leave their shoes outside for St. Nicholas earlier in December; if they've been good, they receive treats, but if they've been bad, they get coal or a switch. The Christmas tree is decorated with fruit, nuts and candles. Families celebrate on Christmas Eve, singing carols and reading the Bible together. Presents are modest: socks, mittens (hand-made), and are believed to be left by the "Christkindl," or Christ child. Shortly after Christmas, Tilli's family learns Wilhelm has been killed in the war.


Chapter 4


Tilli's mother begins attending Nazi Party women's meetings. She is given a silver cross to wear and also gets a Hitler picture to put on the wall at home. Tilli's father disagrees with these encroachments and tells her to stop going to meetings and to remove the picture, which she at first does. But then the Nazi Party officials threaten Tilli's mother by telling her that Hugo (Tilli's deaf brother) will be castrated if Tilli's mother does not join this Nazi organization. So the Hitler picture goes back up and Tilli's mother resumes her Nazi Party attendance.



Chapters 5 - 7: War -- and propaganda -- intensify


Chapter 5


Tilli starts school in Doelitz, but advances so quickly that her teacher recommends she go to a more challenging school in the nearby town of Gnoien. Tilli is nervous and at first resists going, but once she starts, enjoys it. She loves learning and makes new friends. Because Gnoien is a bigger city than Doelitz, Nazi policies are enforced, so she learns to do the "Heil Hitler" salute and endures long hours at an official Hitler birthday celebration. She remembers when her Aunt Liesel took her for a shopping trip to Gnoien and encountered a Jewish shopkeeper, but was too frightened to make a purchase, having already realized that Jewish people were under suspicion by the Nazis.


Chapter 6


Tilli experiences her first air-raid drill while in school in Gnoien. She goes to her friend Ilse's house until it is over, since there are no bomb shelters in the town. She finds the experience frightening, but is assured no real bombs will fall, since the town is too small for enemies to care about.


Chapter 7


Tilli learns her new teacher's husband, a minister, was taken away by soldiers (probably to a concentration camp) after refusing to put out a Hitler flag or say "Heil Hitler." Her teacher ends religion lessons in school, on Hitler's orders. After a gypsy carnival comes to town, Tilli learns her father has been having an affair with a woman who is active in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, a denomination banned by Hitler. Tilli's father is drafted, which is unusual, since farmers typically were spared; Tilli's family assumes he is drafted as punishment for his Adventist beliefs and his anti-Hitler statements.



Chapters 8 - 11: Rationing, POWs, refugees


With Tilli's father gone to war, the work on the farm falls to her teen-aged brothers and her mother, until a new worker arrives: a French prisoner of war named Jan, who is assigned to work at their farm. Jan assumes command of the farm, which Tilli's mother allows. Tilli thinks Jan dislikes her. He disapproves of the way she loves to read, and can't understand her inability to milk cows. Tilli works hard at some chores, but can't resist escaping into a world of books whenever she can, despite Jan's disapproval.


Chapter 9


A rich girl named Margaret Timm first invites and then dis-invites Tilli to a birthday party. Tilli feels looked-down-upon due to being a farm girl; she wears the same clothes every day and can't help always feeling a bit dirty. Planes fly over Gnoien, prompting an air-raid warning. No bombs fall, but the planes drop "camouflage strips" to disguise their daytime presence.


Chapter 10


Jan tinkers with the family's radio so that they can receive "Germany Calling," an uncensored radio program forbidden by Hitler, which belies the lies Hitler's government is telling its people about the progress of the war. Tilli starts giving away her lunch to hungry children at her school in Gnoien, but doesn't tell her mother. A school friend finds ration tickets and treats Tilli to a bakery treat. The girls are discovered and punished; Tilli's mother also is told, so Tilli must deal with her anger and disappointment.


Chapter 11


Tilli turns 9 in April 1943 and has the first birthday party of her life, which she shares with her friend Klara, who turns 11 the same day. In June, a girl from Berlin comes to stay with Tilli's family, sent by the government, which is trying to provide safe havens for the children in that heavily bombed city; the girl is too traumatized to talk with them, and leaves after a few weeks. When school starts, Tilli learns she needs to prove she is not Jewish in order to be able to take the promotion exam, which will allow her to advance in school. Her mother scours court records, going back to the 14th century, and proves the family has no Jewish blood. Tilli is allowed to continue her education, which means she can keep learning English, which she wants to do in order to move to America some day.



Chapters 12 - 15: War worsens; Maria arrives


Chapter 12


The Nazi Party gives the Horns a prisoner to stay in their home and do whatever work they desire. The prisoner is a 16-year-old Russian girl, who is bruised, shaved bald, and arrives wearing all the clothes she owns, one dress on top of another. The girl's name is Maria.



Chapter 13


Maria teaches the family to spin yarn into wool, a valuable skill. Tilli passes her high school exam, meaning her education can continue. Paula, who had been working for a farmer in East Prussia, comes home, but quickly gets another job, with a rich count 15 miles away, sparing her from the draft (the Nazis are drafting women, too). Tilli's father is briefly furloughed and comes home to find Jan running the farm. The men dislike each other.


Chapter 14


Paula brings a young man named Erich home to visit, and tells her mother she is engaged. Paula and Mami argue. Paula storms off, back to the count's estate. Mami sends Tilli to visit Paula, bearing a peacekeeping gift of a ham. Tilli rides 15 miles on her bicycle, finally finding the count's estate. She spends the rest of the day and evening in a fabulous mansion with a wealthy, but lonely, girl named Victoria, before returning home to Doelitz -- wondering about the discrepancies between wealthy and poor that exist in Germany.


Chapter 15


Tilli turns 10 and must join the Hitler German Girls, a mandatory youth organization. Most of the meetings are spent singing songs glorifying Hitler. That summer, Tilli and her family go haymaking. It is one of the last happy days she has for a long time.



Part II



Chapters 16 - 19: War crumbles to its end


Chapter 16


Tilli joins her friend, Lori Pech, in meeting the train each day, hoping Lori's father, missing in the war, will be on it. One day they see a train car filled with injured German soldiers in bad shape. Tilli's mother gives them food to feed the soldiers. Another day, Lori's father is indeed on the train, and the two reunite. The Horns are assigned a refugee to house, named Frau Hoppe. She moves into Tilli's room; Tilli moves in with her mother. Tilli and Lori continue visiting the train station and one day discover a car full of starving Russian prisoners of war. Tilli's mother feeds them as well. Herr Pech returns to battle, never to be seen again.


Chapter 17


The harbor town of Rostock (30 miles away) is bombed. Tilli's family can see it from their windows, lighting up the sky. While huddled together in the dark, Tilli's mother tells her children the story of her life, and Tilli learns for the first time that her mother had a child before she married Tilli's father -- a girl, named Dora, who is Tilli's half-sister.




Chapter 18


The Horns' horse, Max, is very ill. The Russians "draft" the Horns' other horse, Moritz, and take him away. Then Max dies, leaving the Horns with no horses to work the farm. Helmut, age 16, is drafted, even though the war is going so badly everyone knows it will be finished soon. A refugee family is assigned to the Horns' already crowded home. Tilli learns Jan has built a secret attic in their house to store a cache of food. The Nazis give the Horns a new horse, Fox, who has a ripped tongue. Even so, the Horns are able to get one crop of potatoes planted.


Chapter 19


Gnoien -- less than two miles away -- is hit by a bomb. Tilli's old school, which had been converted to a Red Cross hospital for wounded German soldiers, is hit, killing patients, doctors and nurses. In the waning days of the war, injured soldiers wander the roads in the village, begging for food. Paula comes home. Jan fixes up a wagon for the Horns and packs it with supplies, so that the family can flee. However, the Americans decide not to come closer into eastern Germany, and the Horns know they can't make it to an American-protected zone safely, so they decide to stay in Doelitz.



Chapters 20 - 23: The Russian invasion


Chapter 20


The Russians invade Doelitz. Tilli and other girls in the village at first hide in hay bales in the barn, then the next day move to the secret attic Jan built to hide food. It is about three feet high, with no windows. Tilli's mother and Maria stay below. The Russians order the women of the village to go to a dance in their honor. The women dirty their faces with ashes and try to look old and undesirable. The Russians leave the women alone during the dance, but later, some soldiers come back to Tilli's house and rape Maria.


Chapter 21


More girls from the village make their way to Tilli's attic hide-out. They tell stories of Russian crimes and atrocities, including other rapes, as well as looting and pillaging. After a time, Tilli takes a break from the attic and comes downstairs to sit in the kitchen. She is spotted by a Russian soldier, who comes to get eggs. She hides again, but he comes back to the house that night, looking for her. Maria, who thinks she is pregnant, is forced to leave with the Russians. Russian soldiers shoot and kill the Horns' dog, Bello. Paula has a breakdown in the attic, thinking she hears her missing fiance, Erich, walking downstairs, when in fact it is Russian soldiers, invading the house yet again.


Chapter 22


The time in the attic passes slowly, with nothing for the girls to do. Weeks pass. Helmut arrives home. The village -- though still in Russian hands -- seems calmer. The girls leave the attic, but a typhoid epidemic hits. A girl Tilli knows dies and she attends the funeral. Tilli's mother nurses some of the sick people in the village. Then Tilli herself falls ill with typhoid.


Chapter 23


Tilli is delirious with typhoid, but survives. She returns to school in Doelitz, but has been educated beyond that school. She goes back to school in Gnoien. She must walk to it, since her bicycle was confiscated by the Russians. She finds the teachers mouthing new propaganda -- this time for Stalin, rather than Hitler. Residents must put up Stalin pictures to replace their Hitler pictures. One day walking home from school, Tilli is caught by three drunken soldiers and raped.



Part III



Chapters 24 - 26: Life in post-war E. Germany


Chapter 24


Tilli deals with post-rape trauma as best she can, telling only her mother and doctor of the attack. She returns to school, even more determined to leave Germany and go to America some day. She takes special English tutoring. The Russians require all residents to get identification cards. News about the Nazi concentration camps begins to be revealed and Tilil's family is shocked. Paula marries Willi, who lost an arm in the war.


Chapter 25


Tilli, age 14, is confirmed, which means she can finally take her hair out of her schoolgirl braids. She gets a fashionable shorter haircut. Because she is 14, the Russians demand she join the Communist Party. She refuses, thinking it could hurt her attempts to emigrate to America. Her father leaves the family, taking their horse, Astra.


Chapter 26


Tilli and her family visit Berlin to see Aunt Bertha, who has flown into the American (West German) side of the city. Bertha offers to bring Tilli to America. Tilli returns by herself, hoping to escape, but finds that she can't get the necessary papers to fly out of Berlin. She witnesses the American airlift at Templehof Airport, which saves Berliners from starvation. The sight impresses her greatly. She returns home to Doelitz, unable to escape.



Chapters 27 - 29: Preparing for her final escape


Chapter 27


Tilli has some happy times at home, being named Harvest Queen of 1950. But the Soviet rules are strictly enforced. Since she has refused to join the Communist Party, she is not allowed to continue her education or to get a job. Her mother sends her to secretarial school, but this doesn't help. Nobody dares hire a non-Communist. Then Henni warns Tilli that the local Communist Party officials discussed her at a meeting and are considering sending her to a "re-education" camp to force her to become a Communist. Tilli hides out at home while her mother comes up with a plan to help her flee the country.


Chapter 28


Tilli's mother gives her Western money, directions to a farmer's house, and food for the journey. Tilli leaves her family -- possibly forever -- and takes a train trip with her brother-in-law, Willi, to a border town called Wernigerode. Tilli is searched by Russians on the train, but they don't find her Western money, which is hidden inside sandwiches. After the train arrives, Willi is detained by Russian soldiers.


Chapter 29


Tilli continues her journey by herself, leaving Willi in custody. She eventually finds the farmer her mother has made arrangements with. She spends the night in his barn, then early the next morning, climbs into his wagon. He hides her inside a potato sack. When he crosses the border into West Germany, he is stopped by a Russian soldier, who examines his cargo and his papers. The soldier does not see Tilli. Once past the soldier, she rolls out of the wagon, continues walking, then meets a West German soldier, who tells her she is free.



Part IV



Chapters 30 - 33: Life in Kassel


Chapter 30


Tilli finds her way to Kassel, where her Aunt Liesel lives. The city has been heavily bombed and damaged. She arrives at Aunt Liesel's apartment and is reunited with her relatives. She cleans and cooks for her aunt and uncle and their boarders, while waiting to get papers that will allow her to get a job. Some officials say she needs to go to a refugee camp, which she doesn't want to do. She tastes some foods for the first time, such as chocolate and oranges.


Chapter 31


Progress on getting a work permit is slow. A year passes. Tilli gets sick and is depressed and homesick.


Chapter 32


Finally, the work permit is approved. Tilli gets a job as a waitress. Several men make passes at her, including her Aunt's boarder, Fritz. Tilli then finds out Liesel is having an affair with Fritz, a younger man. Her Uncle Paul leaves.


Chapter 33


Her application for emigration is being processed. Tilli goes to Hamburg for immunizations. Finally she is approved to leave. Her Aunt Bertha sends her a first-class ticket on a ship called the Italia (all the less-expensive fares are sold out). Tilli borrows clothes, including shoes made of paper, and travels to Cuxhaven, where she sees the Italia in port.



Chapters 34 - 36, Epilogue: Leaving Germany


Chapter 34


Tilli boards the ship, despite being very afraid. She has lunch and meets her tablemates, including a young West German man named Herbert. The band plays "Goodbye, Homeland, Goodbye," and everybody cries. As the ship sails past Cuxhaven, her relatives take a picture of her, with Herbert at her side.


Chapter 35


Tilli enjoys life on the ship: the fancy meals, with so many foods she has never had before, and the dancing parties in the lower berths. She feels uncomfortable with the first-class passengers, due to her poor clothes, but overall has a grand time, until the ship nears New York City, when she is beset by nerves.


Chapter 36


When it is time to leave the ship, Tilli learns she is supposed to tip the staff, but she has no money to give them. She sees the Statue of Liberty. When she starts to go through Customs, she realizes she has left the key to her suitcase in her room. She is able to go back and find the key, goes through Customs, then meets Bertha. She is finally free to begin her dream: life in America.




Tilli learns life in America is not quite the shiny ideal dream she had envisioned, but still is wonderful, despite its faults. She lives for a time in Chicago with her aunt, falls in love with Herbert through his letters to her, and then, after he moves to Illinois, marries him. She experiences some anti-German prejudice. She returns to Germany when she can to visit family and brings others over for visits or to live. When the Berlin Wall falls, she revisits Doelitz for the first time, and decides to write her story, so that it can never be forgotten.






"Tilli's Story" can be used in a variety of classes, especially history, government, and English. Here are some suggested discussion questions.


Chapters 1 - 4:


* Tilli's godfather Wilhelm is a farm worker, not a soldier, and doesn't seem particularly interested in participating in Hitler's aggression, yet he doesn't resist being drafted into the Nazi Party. Nor do other men in the village; everybody goes along when drafted to fight. We know today that the Nazis killed millions of Jews and other "undesirables" in concentration camps, and that Hitler's invasions of Poland and other countries were wrong. How much responsibility do average citizens like this have when going along with policies that are evil? What if the average citizens do not know what the government is doing? Do you think Wilhelm and the others should have refused to fight? If so, what would have happened to them?


* How do your Christmas traditions differ from those in 1939 Germany? For students with German descent, have you retained any of the German traditions?


* Tilli's mother joins the Nazi women's party. Do you think she should have put up more of a fight, like her husband wanted her to, and refused to go along with the Nazi policies (such as putting the Hitler picture on the wall)?


Chapters 5 - 7


* How were Tilli's schools (first in Doelitz, then in Gnoien) different from American first grade classrooms?


* Tilli dreams of going to America, and wants to learn English. Do you consider her images of America to be realistic?


* Consider Hitler's birthday celebration. Are there any American traditions at all similar to this? Do you think it would ever be possible for things like the Hitler salute and the long birthday celebrations to be instituted in the U.S.?


* Tilli's teacher ends religion lessons in school, on Hitler's orders. Hitler also forbids certain religious denominations, such as the Seventh Day Adventists. Do you think Hitler was right to ban religious lessons in public schools? (After all, this is our government's policy as well.) Was Hitler right to outlaw certain religions? Discuss the role of religion and government, both in our free society and in Nazi Germany.


Chapters 8 - 11


* Tilli's mother is kind to Jan, the French prisoner of war. Yet Jan is harsh with Tilli, disapproves of her reading books, and demands she do more work. He also dislikes Maria. Is Jan a "good guy" or a "bad guy"? Do you like Jan? Why does Tilli's mother allow him to sit at their dinner table, in violation of the Nazi rules, which could put her family in jeopardy if they are discovered?


* Tilli is "dis-invited" from a rich girl's birthday party. As a poor farm girl, she feels that most of the town kids look down upon her. Do you think such class distinctions exist in your school? Are there children from other backgrounds than your own who aren't treated with as much respect as others? Do you think Tilli should have told her mother about being rejected? What would you have done in this situation?


* Tilli never tells her mother that she has been secretly giving away her lunch to the town children, even after she is punished for misusing ration tickets to get bakery treats. Why does she keep this to herself?


Chapters 12 - 15


* Maria arrives in the Horns' home, another prisoner of war for them to use as they see fit. Do you think most families would be as kind to an "enemy" prisoner as the Horns were? How did Maria help the family, and why do you think she did so?


* Tilli visits her sister Paula at a rich count's estate and spends the day with a wealthy girl named Victoria. Did you envy Victoria or feel sorry for her? Were class differences -- and resentments between the haves and the have-nots -- a factor in fueling Hitler's rise to power?


* Tilli joins the Hitler German Girls when she is 10. What did you think of this group? Was it more service-oriented or was it a vehicle to brainwash children? Should governments ever force children to join service-oriented groups -- is that ever a good thing for society? Some legislators have suggested mandatory service for 18-year-olds in our country. How is that different from Hitler requiring youths of various ages to join Nazi groups?


Chapters 16 - 19


* Tilli's mother gives equal help to injured German soldiers and to starving Russian soldiers. Do you think she was unusual? Why do you think she was ready to help "enemy" Russian soldiers, who, after all, may possibly have been shooting at men from her village?


* Jan fixes up the Horns' wagon so they can leave Doelitz, in advance of the Russian troops. Were the Horns right not to flee the Russians in their wagon when they had the chance?


Chapters 20 - 23


* Discuss the Russian invasion and occupation of Tilli's village. Were you surprised by the looting, pillaging, and lawless behavior of the victorious Russian soldiers? Should the Allies have done anything to help the east Germans?


* Compare daily life in Doelitz (or in east Germany in general) under Stalin versus under Hitler. What were the differences and similarities?


* Consider what it must have been like for Tilli and other war victims to live with criminals in charge, so that if you are attacked, there is nobody to complain to, nobody to protect or avenge you.


Chapters 24 - 26


* How did Tilli cope in the aftermath of her attack? Do you think you could have continued on as she did?


* Tilli jeopardized her safety by refusing to go along with everybody else and get a Communist Party identification card. Why did she do this? Did the attack play a part in her defiance?


* Tilli tried to escape to America the first time when she was just 14. Why was it so important for Tilli to go to America? What did America represent to her?


Chapters 27 - 29


* Tilli is unable to get a job or continue in school, due to her refusal to join the Communist Party. Then she finds out the Communists might throw her in a concentration camp. Do you think you would have gone ahead and joined at that point?


* By refusing to do this, she has to leave behind her mother, her brothers and sister, and all her friends, knowing she might never see them again. Was her choice worth it?


Chapters 30 - 33


* Why is Tilli depressed in Kassel? Were you surprised that she couldn't simply get on a boat to America right away, as she had expected? Compare post-war Germany in the West and in the East, based on Tilli's experiences.


Chapters 34 - 36


* Discuss Tilli's feelings both before, during and then at the end of her voyage to America. The ship in some ways is like a microcosm of American society, given its class divisions (a fancy first class with an elegant selection of sophisticated food; a lower berth, where the cheaper-ticketed passengers enjoy beer and casual dances). In which section of the ship is Tilli most comfortable?




What most surprised you about Tilli's later experiences in the U.S.? Do you think America ultimately lived up to her dream?






* "My Thoughts Are Free" (also known as "Die Gedanken Sind Frei") is a very old German folk song that has been used for centuries to express citizen protest against governmental tyranny. Research the song's history, giving examples of where it has been used in the past. Good resources exist on the Internet (see Resources section of this handbook for suggestions). Discuss the different translations and tell us which one you like better, and why. Do you think the song is relevant today? Write your own version of the song. (Another idea for a paper about this song would be to compare its use and meaning in "Tilli's Story" versus its use and meaning in "From Anna," by Jean Little.)


* In the "Author's Note" to the book, Tilli Schulze says she is not a hero. Do you agree? What makes a person a hero? Do you find anything in her actions to be heroic?


* Read "Tilli's Story" and "The Diary of a Young Girl," by Anne Frank. Compare Tilli's experiences (especially her time spent in the attic) with those of Anne Frank. How are they alike? How are they different? (Or compare  "Tilli's Story" to another WW II memoir; see Resources for some suggestions.)

* What was the role of women and children within the Nazi organization? Research the Nazi "women's party" and see how women and children were involved. Why was their participation required? Do you think many of them were forced or did some do this voluntarily? What would have been the appeal?






WW II memoirs


* The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank (young adult)


* Eleanor's Story: An American Girl in Hitler's Germany, by Eleanor Ramrath Gardner (young adult)


* From Anna, by Jean Little (young adult)


* German Boy: A Child in War, by Wolfgang Samuel (adult)


* Barefoot in the Rubble, by Elizabeth Walter (adult)



Memoirs from other wars


* Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Sarajevo, by Zlata Filipovic (young adult)


* Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, by Dai Sijie (adult)



* Boddin: BODE-een

* Christ kindl: KRIST-kin-dull

* Cuxhaven: cooks-HAH-vun

* Doelitz: DER-lits

* Deutschland: DOYTCH-land

* Elbe: ELB (second ÒEÓ is silent)

* Fanni: FUN-nee

* Fiebel: FEEB-ul

* Gnoien: Guh-NOY-en

* HŠde: HAY-duh

* Harz: HEARTS

* Heil: HIGH-ull

* Heinrich: HINE-rick

* Helmut: HEL-moot

* Hoppe: HOP-uh

* Hugo: HOO-go

* Ilse: ILL-suh

* Jan: YAHN

* Kassel: KASS-ull

* Kreitz: KRIGHTZ

* Liesel: LEEZ-ull

* Ludwigslust: LOOD-wigs-LOOST]

* Mami: MOM-ee

* Ohlerich: OH-lur-ICK

* Oleniczak: OH-luh-NEET-zack

* Pech: PECK

* Regina: reh-GEEN-uh (hard G)

* Rostock: RAH-stock

* Scharnweber: SHAN-vay-buh

* Schimcke's: SHIM-kuhs

* Schuhmacher: SHOE-mah-ker

* Schultute: SHOOL-toot-uh

* Teterow: TET-ur-oh

* Theis: TICE

* Tillilein: TILL-ee-line

* Uelzen: OOLS-en

* Wernigerode: VAN-uh-gah-ROAD-uh

* Wilhelm: VIL-helm

* Willi: VIL-ee

* Ziegeuner Baron: SEE-GOR-nuh




<>"Die Gedanken Sind Frei" is a German protest song that inspired the subtitle for "Tilli's Story." The song dates back to at least the 16th century and perhaps as far as the 12th century. It was popular during the Nazi reign, until Hitler banned it. The song appears in the Unitarian Universalist Church hymnal and has been performed by many singers around the world, including Pete Seeger and the punk band Brazilian Girls.













* (lyrics and brief history; link to MIDI version)


*  (discussion of various translations and its history)


* (free downloadable song sample)








Since  "Tilli's Story" is a new book, it hasn't yet been tested out in the classroom. Therefore, this study guide is a work in progress. We will post the guide on our website,, for free download, and also will update it with teachers' suggestions and comments. If you are a teacher and you use  "Tilli's Story" with your students, or if you are a home-schooling parent using the book with your children, please give us feedback on this study guide. What worked? What didn't? What would you add? We want to hear from you!





Tilli Schulze and Lorna Collier are available to speak to Rockford-area school groups of any grade level, at no charge. We will tailor the discussion to the age of the children. Tilli can talk about her life in Germany and realizing her dream to live free in America. Lorna can talk about fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a writer.





To contact the authors, please call Lorna at (815) 985-4774. You can email her at You can visit the authors' website at: Or you can write the authors at:



My Thoughts Are Free

P.O. Box 861

Belvidere, IL 61008

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© Copyright Oct. 2005 by Tilli Schulze and Lorna Collier, My Thoughts Are Free, P.O. Box 861, Belvidere, IL 61008