The Book Thief

by: Markus Zusak

Important Quotations Explained

When it came down to it, one of them called the shots. The other did what he was told. The question is, what if the other is a lot more than one?”

This quote comes close to the beginning of Part One, right after Liesel’s brother dies on the train. In that scene, it literally refers to two pairs of people: the pair of guards that take Liesel and her mother off the train, and the pair of gravediggers that bury Liesel’s brother’s body. In both instances, one member of the pair gives directions and the other member follows them without question. The directions seem fairly banal, and there is no apparent reason the other member of the pair shouldn’t comply. In a larger sense, though, the quote sets up one of the enduring questions of the book: why did so many people go along with the Holocaust and why didn’t more people act to stop it? When the quote asks what would happen if “a lot more than one” simply followed orders, it refers to the many Germans who just did as they were told and didn’t question their instructions. The Holocaust, it implies, resulted from this servile obedience and complacency.