The Book Thief By Markus Zusak

Categories: The Book Thief

The grave digger’s handbook The Book Thief started with a girl named Liesel Meminger, who travelled to her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, with her mother. She unfortunately lost her brother, Werner, on the way and as she was by his grave, Liesel picked up a book - The Grave Digger’s Handbook. With her foster father, Liesel started to learn how to read and write in the house basement. Living on the Himmel Street, she also met Rudy Steiner, a neighbor who became her best friend.

I enjoy how the author decided to personify Death, using Death to narrate the story. This seemed suitable as the book was set in Germany during World War II.

It was interesting to read the book from Death’s point of view as the reader could see the conflicted emotions within him or her. Despite being expected to be cruel, Death appeared to me as human due to his regret and pity.

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Furthermore, thinking about Liesel’s losses, I had easily put myself into her shoes and felt connected to the young girl. I was gradually getting a better understanding of how life was back then and had also started to use my historical knowledge to predict what would happen next. As the war went on, I knew that at some point, Liesel may be forced to bade goodbye to her father and best friend as they would be required to join the army.

The shoulder shrug Hans Hubermann continued to play the accordion for Liesel, calming her down when she woke up with nightmares.

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As her reading improved, Liesel's passion for books grew and on the day of Hitler’s birthday, she stole a novel from the book burning festival. Realizing that Hitler may have taken her blood mother way, she openly admitted that she detested the leader. Hans, usually calm and caring, slapped Liesel across her face and warned her not to say that again. I feel like the author did a great job showing the reader how the war progressed. Instead of writing the facts directly, he used events to express the pass of time.

Furthermore, I admire how Liesel held on even though her life was going downhill with the rationed food and Hitler Youth requirements. Unlike many teenagers, I believe that Liesel was strengthened by her childhood tragedies and therefore became mentally stronger. In my opinion, Liesel’s desire for books also kept her lively as it gave her a goal and woke up the disobedience within her. On the other hand, Rudy Steiner was still a confusing character for me. Certain times, he would be a nuisance but as the story went on, he touched me with his caring for Liesel. Rudy and Liesel may become husband and wife in the future and despite their constant bickering, they would make a good couple.

Mein Kampf (My struggles) The mayor’s wife Ilsa Hermann had caught Liesel stealing during the book burning festival. Instead of punishing her, Ilsa invites Liesel into her house while the girl was picking up laundry for the wash. Liesel was taken into Ilsa’s library where she would later spend hours in. In another part of Germany, Max Vandenburg, a jew, makes his way to Himmel Street, Hans Hubermann’s house, with the help of his childhood friend, Walter Kugler. If caught, he would be sent to concentration camps. I don’t understand how the Jewish are different from the rest of the Germans. We are all human and therefore should be treated with equal rights despite our age, gender, race and religion. I truly feel devastated that thousands of innocent Jews were murdered with no good reasons. If I could time travel, rescuing Jews during the second World War would be one of my top priorities.

In contrast, I don’t believe it was the citizens’ fault that the Jews were gassed, beaten and shot. Hitler was the one who created the propaganda and he was the one who tyrannised the Germans if they disobeyed. Out of fear, it is normal for people to follow orders even if that means death for others. I just hope that there were more Germans who were not afraid to stand up to their leaders. A few more people could have made a big difference.

The standover man Max reaches his destination and Hans, along with his wife and Liesel hides the man in the basement. (The jew’s father, Erik Vandenburg, was a great friend of Hans during the first World War where they fought together. Before a battle, Erik had nominated Hans to help the general with his letters, in return, Hans wouldn’t go on the battlegrounds. None of the soldiers returned and Hans was the last of the troop alive. Erik had saved his friend’s life.)

At first, Liesel was scared of Max but then they started to exchange nightmares and the two became like family. When reading this section of The Book Thief, I was grateful for the Hubermann’s and Liesel's risks. I was relieved that they were finally standing up to Hitler and doing what they believe was right. I admire how Liesel, despite her young age, was able to keep the secret and refrained herself from telling even her best friend, Rudy. She was mature for her age and understood how unfairly the Jews were treated. However, I pity her early maturity as her childhood was cut short. Being aware of the war, Liesel felt it was her responsibility to help the Jews and therefore spent time pondering for a solution. For me, her caring personality was a gift but a curse at the same time.

The whistler Due to financial problems, the mayor’s wife, Ilsa, dismissed Liesel’s foster mother for her laundry washing service. Feeling betrayed, Liesel started to steal from Ilsa’s library and scolded the women. No longer visiting the library, Liesel scavenged for magazines and handed it to Max. Together in the basement, Liesel would read while Max worked on crossword puzzles from the magazines. I understand how Liesel felt when losing her foster mother’s last customer but I believe that she needs to learn how to control her temper. It was not Ilsa’s fault that she was forced to fire Liesel’s foster mother; the war was what put everyone on edge. Furthermore, Liesel called Ilsa a coward, accusing her for not recovering after losing her son during the war.

In my opinion, to use someone’s soft spot against them is very wrong. I was disappointed that Liesel said those hurtful words as she had her own losses too. I had expected her to understand how difficult it is to recover from the death of a family member.

The dream carrier Living in the cold of the basement, Max fell seriously ill and was unconscious for more than one week. Worried sick, Liesel spent hours reading to Max even though he couldn’t hear her. She brought little, but meaningful gifts to Max and prayed that he would wake up. When Max finally recovered, Nazis parties went down the Himmel street, checking each basement to see if it were suitable for bomb shelters. Luckily, Max hid under the stairs and wasn’t discovered. For me, it was really touching to read about a girl who picked up items as useless as a candy wrapper to give to her sick Jew friend. I was struck by how caring Liesel was and loved how she could make one button count as everything. I also believe that I should learn from Liesel’s hopeful attitude towards life. Despite having lost her brother, she always found a way to make herself feel better and wasn’t afraid to face challenges. This is a quality that allowed her to live through the rough times of the second World War and that is what I like about her the most.

The complete duden dictionary and thesaurus When hundreds of Jews were marched down Himmel Street with German authorities, Hans Hubermann lost his temper and rushed forward to hand a starving man some bread. Accused as being a Jew lover, Hans was beaten along with the prisoner. Max, not wanting the Hubermanns and Liesel to risk themselves further, left the house during one night, leaving just a small message saying “You’ve done enough”. I have always marveled at how Max could survive in the basement with little company, knowing that if discovered, his life would be taken. For me, loneliness and fear is a pain that hurts more than many cuts and bruises. I admire how Max recognized the danger he had put Liesel in and I was surprised when he was willing to risk his life for the girl and her foster parents. I believe that most people put themselves in front of others as it takes lots of courage and bravery to sacrifice ourselves. Similar to Max, Hans also chose to help others despite risking his own life. Since the beginning of the book, he had been by favourite character and as the story progressed, I respect his love for people more and more.

The word shaker As Germany got desperate for men, Hans was required to join the Nazi Party. He was not sent to fight but to rescue people who were trapped underground after air raids. Once again, Hans experienced the horrors of the war, seeing mothers crying for their dead children. At Himmel Street, Rosa Hubermann gave Liesel a gift from Max, a hand-written and drawn story. Both of them missed Hans dearly and Rosa slept every night hugging her husband’s accordion. The more I read this book, the more I understood how terrible wars were. Families that deserved to stay together were separated, mothers lost their children and children lost their mothers. It was unfair that men, hoping to live with their loved ones, were forced to step on battlegrounds. I deeply wish that World War II would be the last of such tragedy. As technology improves, a third World War will wipe out everything. If a single bomb back in the 1900s can destroy a whole city, than a single bomb now can damage a whole country. In my opinion, wars are not the situation to any problems and therefore killing thousands of people would be useless. Life is precious and we cannot let disagreements ruin that.

The last human stranger Sitting on his appointed seat in the truck, Hans was pushed away by Zucker, a rival of his. When the truck started, its back tire got punctured and the vehicle flipped. Zucker, in the seat of Hans, was dead while Hans, in the seat of Zucker, got away with a broken leg. Due to his injury, Hans was allowed to go back home, much to the delight of Liesel and her foster mother. I was relieved when hearing that Hans would be coming home and felt lucky for the man. Not only did he escape Death twice, it was during the two largest worldspread wars of human history. However, if a soldier could be sent home with a broken limb, why didn’t men back then attempt to break their own legs? I feel like it would be certainly worth it. Despite the pain, they’ll be able to return to their families. Maybe the men back then didn’t want to be called cowards? Or they could have been so faithful to Hitler’s propaganda that they believed that fighting would bring them and their family honor? If I were them, I would just ignore the shame and embarrassment. Living is so much more important. Part Ten - The book thief With her foster father back, everything was perfect for Liesel. However, the Jews were once again brought through Himmel Street and this time, Max was one of them. Trying to support Max, Liesel was beaten like her father as she watched her Jewish friend get dragged away. During one night, the sirens had set off too late and the whole of Himmel Street burned. Liesel, writing in the basement, was the only survivor. All her loved ones were gone. I was really shocked when reading this part of the book. Never would I have imagined the author allowing Liesel’s foster parents and friends lose their life. She had already been forced to say goodbye to her blood mother and brother, I thought that was sad enough.

However, I understand why the author chose to end the book like this. As The Book Thief set during World War II, a “happy ending” wouldn’t be suitable. Even though many people survived the war, there were many cases of trauma: horrors of the second World War couldn’t be erased even though the devastating event had ended. This is why the many deaths in the book was what made the writing so realistic and therefore interesting to read. Without tragedy, the story wouldn’t be about a war.

Works cited

  1. Markus Zusak. (2005). The Book Thief. Alfred A. Knopf.
  2. Hitler, A. (1925). Mein Kampf. Franz Eher Nachfolger.
  3. American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).
  4. Browning, C. R. (1992). Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Harper Perennial.
  5. Davidson, E. H. (1994). The Making of Adolf Hitler: The Birth and Rise of Nazism. University of Missouri Press.
  6. Gellately, R. (1991). The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy, 1933-1945. Clarendon Press.
  7. Goldhagen, D. J. (1996). Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Alfred A. Knopf.
  8. Kershaw, I. (1998). Hitler: 1889-1936: Hubris. W. W. Norton & Company.
  9. Lifton, R. J. (1986). The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. Basic Books.
  10. Snyder, T. (2010). Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Basic Books.
  11. Wistrich, R. S. (2003). Hitler and the Holocaust. Modern Library.
Updated: Feb 16, 2024
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The Book Thief By Markus Zusak. (2024, Feb 16). Retrieved from

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