Death relates that Himmel Street will soon be bombed and he will pay a visit to collect the souls of the victims, which will include Rudy, Rosa, Hans, and many other characters, but not Liesel. Liesel will be saved, Death reveals, because she will be in the basement of her house, reading over a book she’s written about her life. When the searchers pull her from the rubble, she will scream for Hans still holding the book she’s written. The narrative then goes back in time and describes the events leading up to the bombing. For three months, all is relatively peaceful in Molching, with the exception of more parades of Jews. Then, one morning Michael Holtzapfel is discovered to have hanged himself in a laundry. In his note, he asks his mother for forgiveness and says he is going to meet his dead brother in heaven. After the funeral, Liesel reads to Michael’s mother, Frau Holtzapfel, as usual.
After months of scanning every passing group of prisoners, Liesel sees Max in one of the parades of Jews through Molching. She cries out to him, then joins him in the parade. He tells her he was halfway to Stuttgart when he was caught by the Nazis. A soldier warns Liesel to get away from the Jews, but Liesel ignores him, and when the soldiers drag her from the group she fights her way back in and quotes from “The Word Shaker” to Max. The soldiers whip Max and Liesel. Rudy pulls Liesel from the crowd and Max continues on with the rest of the prisoners. After this, Liesel stays in bed for several days, then finds Rudy and explains to him who Max is. She shows him “The Word Shaker,” and he sees where he was described as a boy with “hair the color of lemons.” Liesel and Rudy come close to kissing, but again they don’t. Death interjects that Rudy will die in a month.
Liesel returns to the mayor’s house and lets herself in to the library. Overwhelmed by all the pain and loss of the past months, she begins ripping pages out of a book, making the connection in her mind between words and the current state of the world. When she is done, she writes a note for Frau Hermann apologizing for her actions, then leaves. Three days later, Frau Hermann comes to Liesel’s house and gives her a blank book, so
she can write her own story. She tells Liesel not to punish herself, and they have coffee together. Liesel begins writing her life story, starting with the death of her brother and the theft of the first book from the gravedigger. After Liesel has finished the book and is beginning to revise it, the night comes when the planes drop the bombs that flatten Himmel Street.
Because the air raid sirens come too late, most of the residents are asleep in their beds when the bombs drop, and are killed instantly. Death arrives and takes most of the souls, but is able to see that Liesel, writing in her basement, survived the bombing. After Liesel is rescued from the rubble, she finds Rudy’s corpse and kisses him on the lips. She sees the bodies of Rosa and Hans and reluctantly forces herself to say goodbye to them as well. Then she asks the workers for Hans’s accordion. She places the instrument next to Hans’s body and promises him she’ll never drink Champagne again. As the workers lead Liesel away from the bodies. She leaves the book that she was writing, the story of her life, which is called “The Book Thief,” in the rubble. The book is collected along with the rest of the detritus and thrown in the garbage, but Death sees it and rescues it from the trash.
The survivor’s guilt that we’ve seen Hans, Max, and most recently Michael Holtzapfel struggle with finally overcomes Michael, causing him to hang himself. Throughout the book, many characters have wrestled with the responsibility they feel to the dead. Max, for example, was overwhelmed with guilt when he first arrived at the Hubermanns’ house for leaving his family behind. Hans felt guilty because he believed that Erik Vandenburg saved his life and so he owed it to Erik to somehow make it up to him. In this instance, Michael feels guilty simply for remaining alive when his brother didn’t and his own survival was entirely a matter of chance. As a result he feels he doesn’t really deserve to be alive. That feeling appears to have been eating at him since he returned home, and in his note he says he “can’t take it anymore,” indicating that his fight against his guilt has been an ongoing struggle.
The fates of many of the characters in the novel are revealed in this section, though the fates of two notable characters remain a mystery. The most significant event is, of course, the deaths of Rudy, Hans, Rosa, and many of the residents of Himmell Street, who die in their sleep when the bombs fall. Death has hinted at this tragedy before, even telling the reader outright that Rudy will die, and here we finally see how it occurs. On the other hand, it’s not at all clear what will become of Liesel. She has just lost her best friend, her parents, and her home. Practically nothing of her previous life remains. The other character whose fate is uncertain is Max. We see him with the other Jewish prisoners on their way to Dachau, which certainly doesn’t offer much room for optimism. But Liesel is at least able to confirm that he’s still alive. It’s at once a victory knowing he hasn’t been killed and a defeat knowing that the Nazis did manage to catch him. Perhaps the best the reader can hope for is that his emotional meeting with Liesel has provided him some strength, as he appears to take a great deal of encouragement from seeing her and her mention of his story. Despite the fact that he is weak and suffering and on his way to a labor camp, he manages to tell Liesel it’s a “beautiful day.” The statement shares the same irony as his affirmation early in the novel that MKPF saved his life.
After Michael Holtzapfel’s suicide and her encounter with Max, Liesel has a crisis regarding the pain and suffering she sees in the world and the role words play in it, and it’s only resolved when she begins writing her own book. Liesel’s sadness and frustration lead her to Frau Hermann’s library, where she thinks of all the terrible things she’s experienced as she looks at the books around her. She blames Hitler and his words for all of them, and this idea creates a contradiction in her mind in which she simultaneously blames words for the awful state of things and wants to find comfort in them. She calls them “lovely bastards,” indicating both how much she loves them and how she hates them at that moment. She tears the pages out of a book as a sort of symbolic revenge, and the act recalls the Nazi book burning from earlier in the novel. Liesel’s is different, of course: she doesn’t just want to destroy some words to protect her ideas; she wants to get revenge on all of them. Liesel leaves without having resolved her contradictory feelings, and in fact that resolution doesn’t come until after Frau Hermann gives Liesel a blank book. As she writes her own story, she finds a source of release and empowerment that, as Death says in narration, “brought her to life.” That book is also the reason she’s in the basement during the bombing, and it saves her life in the same sense that Max feels he was saved by MKPF.
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