The Book Thief

by: Markus Zusak

Part Seven

Frau Hermann’s motivations are also somewhat difficult for Liesel to understand when Liesel realizes that Frau Hermann has allowed her thieving all along, but in this instance the explanation isn’t difficult to discern. Frau Hermann is obviously lonely, and though she never chats much with Liesel, it seems to make her happy that Liesel comes over and enjoys her library. The dictionary and the note inside are clearly meant to entice Liesel to return. Frau Hermann seems to want Liesel there because she’s still grieving over the loss of her son, and Liesel in some small way fills the hole created by his absence. Liesel seems surprised that Frau Hermann isn’t upset with her for stealing, but from Frau Hermann’s perspective the comfort Liesel apparently offers is worth the loss of a book now and again. Having Liesel sneaking in and stealing isn’t exactly the arrangement she wants, however, so she lets Liesel know that she can come by anytime she likes.

As Liesel uses literature to soothe the residents of Himmel Street during the air raids, we see both the power of words in the novel and how Liesel continues to mature. The power of words here is that they allow the people in the shelter to momentarily forget the bombs falling outside, and through Liesel’s reading they offer a great source of comfort. What’s also notable about the scene is that it shows just how much Liesel has grown over the course of the novel: Liesel, who once struggled to read in front of her class in school, now finds herself reading before a large gathering. It shows her evolving from a child who needs to be taken care of to a young woman who is taking care of those around her. The readings lead to Frau Holtzapfel asking Liesel to come read to her personally, and as a result Liesel finds herself now earning money for her family. The helplessness she has felt at times, notably when Frau Hermann informed her she was going to stop using Rosa for her washing, has been replaced with a sense of empowerment, the source of which is Liesel’s growing mastery over words and language.

As the Germans start bringing Jews through town on the way to Dachau, we see the characters of many of Molching’s residents revealed in the way they react, and the scene shows both the kindness and cruelty of people. The condition of the Jewish prisoners who are paraded through Molching shows the awful cruelty of the Nazi soldiers. The prisoners are exhausted, starving, and many are near death, yet the Nazis show no sympathy whatsoever. On the other side we have Hans. While the rest of the residents passively observe the suffering of the prisoners, Hans feels compelled to do something, and although it’s a small act, just handing the prisoner a piece of bread, it signifies an immeasurable act of kindness. That’s because Hans knows he can be punished for intervening in any way, and so the small gesture is still a great sacrifice, as is proved by the fact that Hans is brutally whipped. Hans later regrets offering the bread because it casts suspicion on him, meaning Max will have to flee in case the Nazis decide to search his house, but the fact that he did something indicates that Hans is a tremendously compassionate and courageous individual. The other people in the town, meanwhile, either stand by or shout abuse at Hans, and so compared to him they appear to be at best cowards and at worst bigots. The scene makes clear how cruel the Nazis were, as well as how kind and brave the people were who did what they could to help the Jews.