The Book Thief Summary and Analysis
by Markus Zusak
CHAMPAGNE AND ACCORDIONS
In summer 1942, Molching, a small town outside Munich, prepares for bombing raids. Hans finds extra painting work due to the need to paint windows and blinds black. Liesel goes out with him and is impressed by Hans' cleverness and talent as a painter. One afternoon, Hans accepts some champagne in lieu of payment and gives Liesel a glass. Death writes that at this time, Liesel is the happiest she will ever be.
Rudy spends the summer training for the upcoming Hitler Youth carnival, in which he intends to win four track competitions and show up Franz Deutscher, the Hitler Youth leader. Rudy wins the first three events but is disqualified from the fourth for two false starts. Later, Rudy tells Liesel that he disqualified himself on purpose and leaves his gold medals with her.
Liesel steals another novel from the mayor's home: a green book titled A Song in the Dark. She does so alone and without Rudy. A week later, Rudy brings Liesel to the mayor's home and points out a book that has seemingly been placed intentionally on a closed window. Liesel steals the book, The Complete Duden Dictionary and Thesaurus. As the two leave on bikes, Liesel turns around and sees the mayor's wife Ilsa Hermann standing in the window motionlessly waving to her. Inside the book is a letter from Ilsa to Liesel, in which Ilsa reveals she has known about the book stealing and is amused by it; she invites Liesel to come in through the front door instead of breaking in. Liesel returns to the mayor's house and tries to knock on the door but apparently cannot bring herself to do so.
ThE SOUND OF SIRENS
Hans has purchased a radio, which will broadcast air raids with a cuckoo sound before the sirens start. One night there is an air raid, and Rosa, Hans, and Liesel leave for a bomb shelter down the road. Max remains alone in the Hubermanns' basement, which has been deemed too shallow to be a shelter. On the street, everyone carries their most precious possessions -- Liesel takes her books.
The shelter is in the basement of the Fielders; 22 people are there, including the Steiners, Frau Holtzapfel, and Pfiffikus. Everyone is deeply fearful; some are stoic, others more obviously apprehensive. Death wonders if these people deserved any better, how many had actively participated in Hitler's persecution of others, whether the children or those who were hiding Jews deserved to die. Death pities them, but less so than it pities the Holocaust victims -- Death remarks that the basements were survivable, but the gas chambers were not.
The raid ends, and everyone returns home. Max tells the Hubermanns that during the raid he went upstairs and looked out the window for a few seconds, the first time he had seen the outside world in nearly two years. He tells them the stars burned his eyes.
THE SKY STEALER
The first raid had been a false alarm. A real raid takes place on September 19. The young children in the basement cry. Liesel begins reading The Whistler out loud, and everyone else quietly listens. After the raid ends, they linger as Liesel reads the final two paragraphs of the chapter. Outside, Himmel Street is untouched but there is a cloud of dust in the air. Hans wonders if he should go out and help with recovery, but Rosa tells him to stay. Liesel tells Max about her reading in the shelter.
FRAU HOLTZAPFEL'S OFFER
Frau Holtzapfel, the neighbor who hates Rosa, offers her coffee ration and to stop spitting on the Hubermanns' door in exchange for Liesel coming to her home and reading her The Whistler twice a week. Death explains that Holtzapfel has two sons in Russia and that she is both "proud and afraid."
THE LONG WALK TO DACHAU
A convoy of trucks transporting Jews to the concentration camp at Dachau stops outside Molching. Death removes a soul from one of the trucks. The soldiers sadistically decide to "parade" the Jews through town. Liesel and Rudy are playing soccer on the street when they see the procession; Hans meets them with his paint cart and tries to persuade Liesel to leave, but Liesel is determined to stay.
All wearing yellow stars, the Jews are malnourished and in miserable condition. An older man keeps falling down then struggling to his feet to keep up. Out of the crowd of abusive Germans, Hans offers the man a piece of bread, and the man falls between Hans' feet crying and thanking him. The soldiers whip the Jew six times then whip Hans four times. Death remarks that the older Jew "would die like a human," but wonders "if that's such a good thing." Three other Jews fight over the piece of bread.
Some of the Germans abuse Hans and turn over his paint cart, but others silently help him to safety. Hans panics, worried that the Nazis would come to his house and find Max.
That night Max departs the Hubermanns' home, leaving behind a gift to be given to Liesel when she is "ready." It has been arranged that Max and Hans would meet in the forest in four days; Hans only finds a note reading "You've done enough."
THE IDIOT AND THE COAT MEN
Later that night Hans anxiously awaits the Gestapo, and Liesel prays for Max's safety. The next morning, Hans wonders why nobody has come and worries that Max was sent out for no reason. Hans castigates himself for giving the older Jew a piece of bread, but Liesel tries to reassure him that he has done nothing wrong. Three weeks later Liesel sees two men in black coats on the street and tells Hans the Gestapo is here. Hans runs out and yells that he is the one they want; they tell him that he is "a little old for our purposes" and instead go to the Steiners' home seeking Rudy.
The image of Jewish prisoners en route to a concentration camp being "paraded" through Molching is a dark simulacrum of the Hitler Youth carnival, another Nazi civic event. The swift athletics of Rudy and the other runners contrasts with the shambling motions of the emaciated Jews. Both events are presided over by ambitious young followers of Hitler. Rudy appears to succeed in showing up Franz Deutscher, the cruel Hitler Youth leader, and he appears to do it on his own terms, willingly disqualifying himself from the final race. By contrast, the Jews are entirely at the will of the Nazi soldiers, some of whom only boys. Yet Rudy is also condemned, as the two agents who visit his home intend to recruit him for the military, in no small part because of his athletic accomplishments at the carnival.
Hans appears to have given the bread to the older Jew almost instinctively, without thought. Liesel is deeply impressed by Hans' brave and selfless humanity, yet Hans regrets his action. Hans has brought increased scrutiny towards his family, and Max can no longer safely remain with the Hubermanns. In offering a piece of bread to a frail Jew who is virtually certain to die, Hans endangers the life of the healthier, younger, and freer Max. Moreover, the older Jew, who does not even take the bread, is harshly punished. By this line of reasoning, Hans made an illogical and foolish decision that harmed many people without helping anyone. Yet, the moral dimensions of Hans' tiny act of kindness must be considered in light of the political atmosphere of Nazi Germany. Nazi ideology considered the Jews to be subhuman; by breaking from the abusive crowd and publicly offering the elderly Jew a bit of food, Hans treats the man as a human being. Not everyone in the crowd condemns Hans afterwards; some silently help him, perhaps because they too are horrified by the Nazis' inhumanity. While apparently ineffectual or even counterproductive, Hans' brave deed is his willingness to go up against the Nazis at a time when every other German, even those who were against the Nazis or sympathetic towards the Jews, quietly followed Hitler. Before the war, when Hans painted Jewish homes and refused to join the Nazi party, his actions alone could not stop either the deportation of the Jews or the war. Yet Hans was courageous then for his willingness to defy the Nazis, and Hans' defiance in this part of the novel is comparable to that episode.
Ilsa's "gift" of the Duden Dictionary and implicit forgiveness of Liesel for Liesel's outburst of rage shows the complexity of Ilsa's emotions. Quiet and still brooding over the death of her son in 1918, Ilsa says more in her letter to Liesel than she has spoken over the course of the book. Prior to this part, Ilsa appeared distant, and her intentions in inviting Liesel to read in her library were ambiguous. The letter makes clear that Ilsa cares about Liesel and wants to see her continue to read and learn. Ilsa might see a part of her younger self in Liesel's precocity and daring. Ilsa shows through her letter that she too is clever and well-read; in not reporting Liesel to the authorities for stealing a banned book from the book burning, Ilsa also defies the law and becomes Liesel's accomplice. The adult Ilsa's continued mourning over the death of her son might impel her to want Liesel to recover from the death of her brother. Although it is unclear how much Ilsa knows about Liesel's history, Liesel notably sees an apparation of her brother when she tries to knock on Ilsa's door to thank her for the dictionary.
For Liesel and her reading, Ilsa is an encouraging figure. When Liesel calms everyone in the bomb shelter by reading The Whistler, she begins to realize the power of words to affect human emotions. Even the feud between Frau Holtzapfel and Rosa subsides when Liesel begins reading to the former.
The Book Thief Essays and Related Content
- The Book Thief: Major Themes
- The Book Thief: Essays
- The Book Thief: Lesson Plan
- The Book Thief: Questions
- The Book Thief: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Markus Zusak: Biography
- The Book Thief Summary
- About The Book Thief
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Prologue
- Summary and Analysis of Part One
- Summary and Analysis of Part Two
- Summary and Analysis of Part Three
- Summary and Analysis of Part Four
- Summary and Analysis of Part Five
- Summary and Analysis of Part Six
- Summary and Analysis of Part Seven
- Summary and Analysis of Part Eight
- Summary and Analysis of Part Nine
- Summary and Analysis of Part Ten and Epilogue
- Notes on the Holocaust and Dachau
- Related Links on The Book Thief
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 5
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources