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.
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