In “Summer of My German Soldier” by Bette Greene, we meet thirteen-year-old Patty Bergen. Patty is a Jewish girl of the early 1940s living in Jenkinsville, Arkansas with her sister, Sharon, their African American housekeeper, Ruth, and her parents. Mrs. Pearl Bergen is a self-absorbed beautiful woman who expects Patty to be the same and is critical when she’s not. Harry Bergen is a cold-hearted man who beats Patty at the slightest provocation. Patty tries, often too hard, to get her parents to like her and she is not against dramatizing the truth to make a story more exciting.
The day a train loaded with Nazi POWs arrives to take residence at the new POW camp, Jenkinsville residents, and Patty, are all agog. Patty fabricates a story to tell her father about the POW’s arrival in town, but Harry is more interested in his paper than in Patty.
Patty’s family runs a general store in Jenkinsville. One afternoon when Patty is at the store, camp guards bring in the POWs to purchase straw hats to ward off the hot Arkansas sun when they pick cotton. While she is helping out, Patty meets POW Anton Reiker, who speaks excellent English. They develop a fast friendship and Patty is smitten.
Several days later, the talk around Jenkinsville is the fact that Nazi saboteurs were caught off the coast of New York. The same day this news is broadcast, Anton escapes from the POW Camp.
When Patty sees movement from her secret hiding place, an unused apartment above an abandoned garage, she realizes it is Anton attempting to escape. She calls to him, and subsequently harbors him in her secret hiding place, bringing him food and news. Anton offers her friendship. They talk of everything and their friendship grows so deep that Anton risks his life for Patty when he sees Harry beating her. He asks if she was beaten because of hiding him. Anton is shocked to learn the reason for the beating was because Patty spoke to a poor boy her father doesn’t like.
The FBI agents come to Jenkinsville looking for the escaped POW. They believe he is associated with the saboteurs caught sneaking into New York with explosives. Patty doesn’t give Anton’s hiding place away, but Anton realizes he should keep moving on as a relationship between a Jewish girl and a Nazi soldier during wartime is not safe. He slips away in the night, leaving Patty his last valuable possession. The ending is not a storybook finale, but much more satisfying for Patty and her future.