The Book Thief

The Book Thief Summary and Analysis of Part Ten and Epilogue



Death describes the bombing of Himmel Street to take place at the end of this part. Everyone dies sleeping except for Liesel, who is awake in the Hubermann's basement at the time of the raid. A rescue crew finds her clutching a book and asks why she was in the basement, as the air raid sirens failed to go off in time.


After a week at home, Hans begins his simple office assignment in Munich. Three months later in Molching, Jews are marched through town on their way to perform forced clean-up work. Liesel again watches to see if Max is among them; Death explains that Max soon will be. Michael Holtzapfel commits suicide due to his guilt over surviving where his brother died.


Michael Holtzapfel's funeral takes place in July. The Allies bomb Hamburg, killing 45,000. Death remarks that the Germans "were starting to pay in earnest," and that despite Germany's military setbacks, Hitler had not been slackening off "in terms of war-making" and the extermination of the Jews.


Another batch of Jews is marched through town on their way to Dachau. Max is among them, and Liesel recognizes him by the way he scans the crowd of Germans looking for her. Liesel runs into the procession and latches onto Max. He tells her that he was captured a few months ago, halfway to Stuttgart. Max warns Liesel to let go of him, but she continues to walk with him. A soldier drags her away and throws her off. Liesel gets up and returns to Max; she mentions "The Word Shaker" and "The Standover Man." He stops walking, as do the rest of the Jews. They embrace, and Max is whipped while Liesel is dragged away again. Liesel is whipped as well, and Rudy in the crowd calls out to her as Max is forced off. Rudy and Tommy Muller pull Liesel away. Liesel tries to go after the disappearing procession, but Rudy restrains her, and she fights him.


Liesel sullenly waits for Hans at the train station. Hans and Rosa learn about what happened; Hans tries to play the accordion that evening but cannot. Liesel stays in bed for three days. On the fourth day, she walks with Rudy down the road toward Dachau. She explains everything about Max to him. She shows Rudy the drawing of him Max made. Rudy is surprised she told Max about him; inwardly Liesel wants Rudy to kiss her and realizes that she loves him. Rudy will die in one month.


Liesel heads to Ilsa Hermann's home, thinking a visit might cheer her up. She enters through a window and begins reading a book on the floor of Ilsa's library. Liesel does not know or care whether Ilsa is home; she contemplates all the people she has seen die and pictures Hitler's words at the center of it. She does not want to hope for Max and Alex Steiner anymore, "because the world does not deserve them." She rips up the book she was reading and says out loud, "What good are the words?" "Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing." She calls out Ilsa's name, but gets no response. Liesel writes a letter to Ilsa, in which she apologizes for destroying a book and says she will never return to punish herself.

Three days later, Ilsa arrives at Liesel's home. Ilsa tells her that, based on the letter, she can write well and gives her a blank book of lined paper; she asks Liesel not to punish herself, as Ilsa did over the death of her son. Liesel invites Ilsa in for coffee and bread. That night, Liesel goes down to the basement and begins writing a story titled The Book Thief.


Liesel writes eleven pages of the story of her life, starting with her brother's death. Every night, Liesel goes down to the basement to write. Ten nights later, Liesel is asleep in the basement and doesn't hear the air raid siren; Hans wakes her to go to the shelter. On October 2, Liesel has finished.


Death describes the bombing of Himmel Street. The sirens are too late. The first bomb hits Tommy Muller's apartment block; he and his family are asleep. Frau Holtzapfel is sitting awake in her kitchen. Frau Diller is asleep; her shop is destroyed, and her framed photo of Hitler is smashed. The Steiners are all asleep, and Rudy is in a bed with one of his sisters; Death recognizes him as the boy who gave the pilot a teddy bear. Death observes Rudy's soul and sees him pretending to be Jesse Owens, retrieving a book from the icy river, and imagining a kiss from Liesel; he makes Death cry. At last, Death takes Hans and Rosa. Hans' soul sits up and meets Death, passively ready to go; Hans' soul whispers Liesel's name, knowing that she is in the basement.

Death travels to other streets, but returns to Himmel for a single man. Death notices the recovery crew laughing and curiously watches. The crew pulls Liesel out; she panics and runs down her destroyed street. The crew informs her that her town has been bombed, and she tells them that they must get Hans, Rosa, and Max. Still holding her book, Liesel collapses to the ground, and a man seats her. She sees a worker carrying Hans' broken accordion case and offers to take it. Liesel drops the accordion when she sees the corpses laid out on the street. She sees Frau Holtzapfel first, then Rudy. She begs Rudy to wake up, then kisses him on the lips.

Liesel then sees Rosa and Hans. Crying, she tells Rosa's body about the day she arrived on Himmel Street, how Rosa informed her about Max waking up, and that she knew Rosa would sit with Hans' accordion. Liesel asks a worker for the accordion, and she places it by Hans' body. She envisions Hans rise and play the accordion beautifully, a cigarette hanging from his lips. She says goodbye to him.

The Book Thief is thrown onto a garbage truck along with other rubble. Death climbs onto the truck and takes it.



Death is now writing in the present, "many years" after these events. Liesel died yesterday in Sydney, Australia. She lived to a "very old age." Like Hans', her soul sat up to meet Death. In her final visions, she saw "her three children, her grandchildren, her husband," and others in her life, including Hans and Rosa, her brother, and Rudy.


After Himmel Street is cleared, Ilsa Hermann and the mayor take Liesel into their home. Liesel, still covered in dust and detritus from the bombing, does not bathe for the four days leading to the day of the funerals. Two ceremonies are held for the Steiners: one immediately after burial, and one after the return of Alex Steiner. Alex regrets not letting Rudy go to the Army school, and wishes that it had been himself and not his son who died. Liesel tells him about kissing Rudy's corpse.


After the war was over, Alex resumes his tailor work. Liesel often accompanies him. In October 1945, Max returns.


After Liesel dies, Death walks down the street with her and shows her The Book Thief, which Death has kept all these years. Death says that it read Liesel's book many times. Liesel asks if Death could understand it; Death does not respond. Death wants to ask her how the human race can be "so ugly and so glorious," but does not. Instead Death tells her the "only truth" it "truly knows": "I am haunted by humans."


Max Vandenberg, the once-hidden Jew, survives a concentration camp, yet all but one of the good Germans of Himmel Street perish. In the end, both the Germans who openly supported the Nazis and those who quietly defied them received the same punishment that Death wondered was appropriate for the citizens of a nation guilty of violent persecution.

After seeing Max being marched to Dachau, Liesel gives up all hope, insisting that the world does not deserve the likes of Max or Alex Steiner. Surrounded by Ilsa's books, Liesel comes to view words -- Hitler's words -- as the source of the Nazis' violence, and wonders what good are words at all. This understanding that persecution and violence flows from propaganda is the culmination of Liesel's experiences, one half the lesson imparted by "The Word Shaker." Ilsa's gift of a blank book catalyzes Liesel's understanding of the second half, in which words of hope become the antidote to words of misery: Death remarks, "there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too. That was writing." By fate, Liesel's life is saved by both this gift and this realization, as she remains in her basement feverishly writing her life story during the air raid.

Death has posed the story of Liesel's life as one of many extraordinary tales of humanity that Death keeps for distraction from its often tragic work. In the prologue, Death explains that it is not the dead, but the survivors that it cannot stand to look at. Michael Holtzapfel is one such survivor who could not stand the guilt associated with having survived while his brother died. Alex Steiner sincerely wishes that he, and not his son Rudy, had died. Liesel, the "perpetual survivor," has faced this guilt over her brother's death since the beginning of the novel. Before the raid, Liesel was able to turn her life's tragedies into a novel that would be read and reread by the personification of Death itself. After the raid took Rudy and her foster parents, Liesel was nevertheless able to lead a long and fruitful life. The stories of survivors like her are tragic to Death, and Death is remarkably impressed by Liesel's uniquely human capacity to live past such personal devastation.

Ultimately, The Book Thief is framed by Death's ongoing contemplation of humanity. Death finds it impossible to weigh the value of human beings, with some capable of great malice and criminality like Hitler and others capable of great strength and bravery like Liesel and Hans: "I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant." Thus is Death haunted by humans, just as humans are haunted by Death. A jaded metaphysical being so used to dying could only be fearful of -- and, at times, amazed by -- those who live.