Rosa and Hans Hubermann are opposites in almost every way. Rosa is short, stern, and quick to anger. Hans is tall, kind, and patient. At first glance, they seem like a particularly ill-matched couple, but it quickly becomes clear that Rosa cares just as deeply for the people she loves as her husband does. Hans falls easily into the role of “Papa” for Liesel, in part because of his gentle steadiness, but also because Liesel knows her own father to be irretrievably gone. Liesel takes longer to truly love Rosa as a mother because Rosa frightens her at first, but also because Liesel still hopes she will see her birth mother again. For Liesel, Rosa has bigger shoes to fill than her foster father does. Despite Rosa’s harsh demeanor, Liesel does come to genuinely love her.

Perhaps the best display of Rosa’s true character comes when Max arrives. Rosa can certainly complain about all the circumstances that make her life difficult, but she is not self-serving in how she handles those difficulties. Max’s presence creates a substantial burden on the Hubermann family, mainly by placing them in constant danger of discovery and punishment. It would be easy for Rosa to turn Max out onto the street, or turn him in to the authorities, but instead she takes him in and sacrifices to keep him alive. Death makes a point to confirm that Rosa is “a good woman for a crisis.” Her unbending intensity helps keep the family sane while they learn how to cope with their new normal.

Rosa belies her angry disposition with moments of compassion for all sorts of characters. Rosa even calls a truce with her nemesis, Frau Holtzapfel, after she sees how Frau Holtzapfel grieves the death of her son. Rosa’s unpleasantness is her armor. It gives her a sense of security to face the world with, particularly when it crumbles beneath her feet. Rosa’s world is not kind, so she is not kind in return. Ultimately, however, Rosa is steady, loyal, and willing to sacrifice immensely for the people she loves.