It was explained to me that in the end, Michael Holtzapfel was worn down not by his damaged hand or any other injury, but by the guilt of living.
In the lead-up to his death, the girl had realized that he wasn’t sleeping, that each night was like poison….Liesel write that sometimes she almost told him about her own brother, like she did with Max, but there seemed a big difference between a long-distance cough and two obliterated legs.
“I can’t believe…” The words dripped from Max Vandenburg’s mouth. “Look how much you’ve grown.” There was an intense sadness in his eyes. They swelled. “Liesel…they got me a few months ago…Halfway to Stuttgart.”
From the inside, the stream of Jews was a murky disaster of arms and legs. Ragged uniforms. No soldier had seen her yet, and Max gave her a warning. “You have to let go of me, Liesel.” He even tried to push her away, but the girl was too strong. Max’s starving arms could not sway her, and she walked on….
Every night, Liesel made her way down to the basement. She kept the book with her at all times. For hours, she wrote, attempting each night to complete ten pages of her life. There was so much to consider, so many things in danger of being left out. Just be patient, she told herself, and with the mounting pages, the strength of her writing fist grew.
After ten nights of writing, Munich was bombed again. Liesel was up to page 102 and was asleep in the basement…. [S]he was holding the book in her sleep when Papa came to wake her.
When they pulled her out, it’s true that she started to wail and scream for Hans Hubermann. The men of the LSE attempted to keep her in their powdery arms, but the book thief managed to break away. Desperate humans often seem able to do this.
She did not know where she was running, for Himmel Street no longer existed. Everything was new and apocalyptic. Why was the sky red? How could it be snowing? And why did the snowflakes burn her arms?
Later, they remembered the accordion but no one noticed the book.
There was much work to be done, and with a collection of other materials, The Book Thief was stepped on several times and eventually picked up without even a glance and thrown aboard a garbage truck. Just before the truck left, I climbed quickly up and took it in my hand…
It’s lucky I was there.
Then again, who am I kidding? I’m in most places at least once, and in 1943, I was just about everywhere.