116 pages 3 hours read

Alan Gratz

Projekt 1065

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide


Projekt 1065 is a young adult historical novel by Alan Gratz, first published in 2016. The novel, which centers on the son of the Irish ambassador to Germany during World War II, received starred reviews in Kirkus and the School Library Journal. The novel’s protagonist, 13-year-old Michael O’Shaunessey, his ambassador father, and Irish Intelligence member mother all work to spy on the Nazis and secretly aid the Allied forces, despite Ireland’s officially neutral stance in the war.

The novel opens with Michael searching for secrets while attending a Nazi dinner party with his parents; he’s been completing this sort of spy mission since the night four years earlier when, after his family witnessed the violence against Jews on Kristallnacht, his parents revealed that they’re spies for the Allies. Michael despises the Nazis but is willing to impersonate one, becoming a Hitler Youth and joining in book burning, if doing so will allow him to gain information and “make up” (21) for the “helpless” (8) way he felt on Kristallnacht.

In the early chapters of the novel, Michael makes two important friends: his classmate Fritz Brendler, and Jewish and British air force pilot Simon Cohen. Fritz is a scrawny boy targeted by bullies, and Michael, who was bullied himself as an Irish boy in an English school, can’t help but to stand up for Fritz. On the same day that Michael and Fritz first connect, Simon’s plane is shot down outside Berlin, and Michael is part of the Hitler Youth group searching for the pilot. Michael finds Simon first, hides him and returns with his parents, who shelter Simon in their embassy at great risk to himself. Simon explains that he was taking pictures for the Germans’ Projekt 1065, a plan to build a jet-powered plane, but the Nazis stole his camera. In a lucky coincidence, Fritz shows Michael a special project his father is working on—which happens to be the blueprints for Projekt 1065. Michael now has a strong motivation to build his friendship with Fritz, as Michael can memorize the blueprints, and Simon can take the information with him back to England.

Fritz wants to join the SRD, the most powerful and “scariest” (47) group of Hitler Youth, and Michael suggests they train together so he can get closer to Fritz. The boys learn that the Nazis are now calling 17-year-olds directly into the army—something Michael, with his access to Allied information, knows is because the Germans are losing. As a result, the younger boys will join the senior Hitler Youth, which includes the SRD, in just a few weeks rather than a year. Michael worries he won’t pass the initiation test: It requires jumping into a pool from a height of two stories, and Michael has a severe phobia of heights. Michael shares his fear with Simon, who reveals he also has a phobia—of birds. Simon and Michael spend time on the roof together to accustom Michael to heights, and their relationship grows stronger.

At the Hitler Youth initiation rites, Michael and Fritz are paired for the boxing match, and Michael is forced to beat Fritz badly—but Fritz is actually thankful, because the fight shows how tough both of them are. During the “‘courage test’” (134), Fritz pushes Michael off a ledge into the pool—Michael still hasn’t conquered his fear, and this is the only way he will pass. Michael and Fritz both make it into the SRD, where they are given daggers inscribed with the motto “Blood and Honor” (143).

Michael and Fritz’s friendship continues to develop as Fritz shows Michael his stash of British detective books. Michael has already been reading and discussing detective novels with Simon—Simon shares his hiding place with the O’Shaunesseys’ own collection of forbidden books—so the mystery novels provide a quick way for Fritz and Michael to connect. Michael periodically sneaks into Fritz’s father’s study, memorizes more of the plans, and later reconstructs the blueprints with Simon.

However, after joining the SRD, Fritz finds that the boys who previously bullied him now fear him, and his new power begins to change him. Fritz leads attacks on the Edelweiss Pirates, a group of teens who protest Hitler, and later on his own teacher, whom the SRD turns in to the Gestapo for his lack of loyalty. Seeing his friend become “meaner” (168), Michael senses they’re growing apart. In addition, Fritz is chosen to be part of a mysterious special team, the details of which he won’t share with Michael. To Michael’s—and his family’s—horror, the 13-year-old boys are given the dangerous task of manning antiaircraft guns during air raids.

Michael’s father wants to get the family out of Germany, but first they have to get Simon back to England. During an air raid, Michael plans to slip away from the antiaircraft guns, meet Simon at a rendezvous point, and guide him to a waiting Intelligence agent. However, Michael is confronted by a boy who saw him manipulating the guns so their aim would be off, and they wouldn’t hit the British planes. The two boys fight, and Michael forces his attacker to share the details of Fritz’s secret team: It’s a group of boys tasked with attending a science conference and assassinating a Jewish scientist, Hendrik Goldsmit. The boy is suddenly hit with shrapnel and, to Michael’s horror, dies. Michael runs off to meet Simon, but it’s too late, and Simon is gone.

The next day, Simon shows up at the embassy: He had to run from a group of Hitler Youth at the rendezvous point, but he made it back to the embassy on his own. Michael tells his parents and Simon what he’s learned, and they identify Goldsmit as a scientist working to help the Allies develop the atomic bomb. A newspaper article reveals that Goldsmit will be in Switzerland for a conference, and Michael’s parents guess that the boys will impersonate a science team to assassinate him. As youth, they will be allowed into neutral Switzerland when adult Nazis would not. Everyone agrees that Michael must find a way onto the team and stop the assassination.

After a few failed attempts to join the team, Michael realizes that the only way he’ll get a spot is by demonstrating his absolute devotion to the Nazi cause. Simon knows just how to do so: Michael will have to turn Simon in to the Nazis. Michael searches for another solution, but when he visits Fritz to find him burning the books he once loved, Michael realizes that the Nazis have completely corrupted his young friend. Michael makes a snap decision to turn Simon in, to sacrifice his friend in the hopes that a larger evil can be stopped.

Michael leads the Gestapo to Simon, who intentionally goads the Nazis into shooting him so he can’t be tortured into revealing information. Michael mourns his fallen friend, but he still has work to do: He ambushes one of the special team members, beating him and making it look like the work of Edelweiss Pirates, and then takes that teammate’s place. Michael is soon off to Switzerland, where he attempts to inform authorities of the bomb meant to kill Goldsmit and the other guests. Michael runs into Goldsmit and tries to smuggle him out in a cable car, but the other Nazi team members are onto him: Fritz was carrying the bomb the entire time, and he follows Michael by jumping onto the roof of the cable car. Michael conquers his fear of heights by climbing to the roof and attacking Fritz, who is now a loyal Nazi willing to kill himself along with Goldsmit and Michael. Michael manages to knock the suitcase bomb over the side of the car, where it detonates on the mountain to trigger an avalanche. Fritz falls to his death, while both Michael and Goldsmit survive.

In the final chapter of the novel, Michael and his parents prepare to transfer to the US, where they can continue to help the Allies while also remaining safe. Michael mourns the loss of Simon, who sacrificed his life for a greater cause, and Fritz, who died because of the Nazis’ ruthless manipulation of young people’s bodies and minds. Michael takes pride in his own courage and sacrifices for the Allied cause, and he ends the novel with the affirmation that he, his parents, and the Irish “fought for freedom too” (303).