The Book Thief: A Poignant Portrayal of the Truth as a Casualty of War

Categories: The Book Thief

I found that “The Book Thief” portrayed perfectly one of the greatest casualties of war – the truth. Markus Zusak writes about a young girl – Liesel Meminger – who is initially illiterate, however she realizes the importance and power behind words and stories and she hungers for them. She steals books in an effort to understand and eventually, under the tutelage of Hans Hubermann – her papa – she is able to immerse herself in the new ideas and truths conveyed in these stories.

I believe Liesel Meminger being a book thief is very significant in this context.

During Nazi Germany, Hitler had terrorized and destroyed people and nations with his words, convincing others of his anti-Semitic and anti-communist perspectives, murdering millions of Jews as a result. Throughout the novel Liesel becomes increasingly aware of the effect the Fuhrer’s words had on the war and finally understands that it was in fact the driving force behind the war. In what I believe was an attempt to try and restore understanding of the truth, as Hitler destroyed with his words, Liesel was stealing them back.

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In this novel, I believe that the effect of war was quite specific. War had the ability to suppress the truth by providing the people with only one side of the story, and because war is the conflict between peoples this oppression was accepted by those who believed in this side of the story whole heartedly, and forced upon those who were unable to understand any better or those too powerless to do anything if they believed in the contrary.

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However, Liesel Meminger was able to uncover the truth the war hid and realize the power words could have on a nation.

During Hitler’s dictatorship, propaganda was constantly being released speaking in favour of the Fuhrer’s ideals. The novel shows that these words and stories published in the newspapers were enough to convince a nation to follow Hitler, with few exceptions. For a while in the novel, we are told of Liesel complying with the rules that Hitler had set. “People lined the streets as the youth of Germany marched towards the town hall and the square. On quite a few occasions Liesel forgot about her mother and any other problem of which she currently held ownership. There was a swell in her chest as the people clapped them on.” I feel that in her ignorance, Liesel felt proud to be supporting the ideals of the Fuhrer. She followed the rules because she had been told that Hitler was right in trying to make Germany a ‘better’ nation; this was the only side of the story she had known.

It saddened me when I realized how vulnerable the people were. The children were especially susceptible to being convinced of the horrific ideals that Hitler and the Nazis had enforced upon the nation, as they had not known any other way. The adults would have been too afraid to teach them that what Hitler was doing was wrong, and in doing so they created another generation eager to follow the Fuhrer and his ideals. It only proved to me how malleable the human mind is. It astonishes me that Hitler was able to convince the entire nation proving that he possessed great skill in leadership and dialogue, it makes me wonder what would have happened if he decided to convince the people of a more benevolent cause.

World War II was a tragic event if not the worst case of evil discrimination and violence the world has experienced. However, like everything that happens in history I believe that we should be able to learn something from the war. Liesel discovered the truth that words are able to fuel a war, but perhaps they can be used to cause good as well. This shows me that perhaps we might not need to resort to violence and bloodshed to end the current conflicts; maybe we just need to find the right words. It seems to be too fanciful, but if words had the ability to start a war, it makes me wonder if they also have the power to end one.

The Jew her family was hiding in the basement told a different story to the one Liesel had grown up with. She uncovered the horrors of what was really happening in the country when she accidentally looked in one of the pages of the story Max was creating. On it was a picture of two Germans standing on a mountain of bodies, commenting: “Isn’t it a lovely day,” with the sun represented as the swastika in the corner of the page. Liesel was shocked to discover this other perspective. Perhaps she hadn’t realized the true horror of what was happening, but that day she uncovered the truth. Liesel was beginning to understand that perhaps Hitler’s way wasn’t the right way.

I recognized that it was through Max’s words that she was able to see thehorrors that the Jews were experiencing. Through Max’s  story she had discovered the truth – just because the status quo is accepted by everybody doesn’t mean it is necessarily right, it depends on which ‘side’ you are on and the stories you are being told. Liesel realized that people had the ability to be incredibly cruel and brutal and in a way, I believe she lost her innocence. She was only beginning to truly comprehend the capacity people have for great destruction. She saw that people were able to stand on a mountain of corpses and still claim it to be a lovely day. “Holy Christ, you scared me Max.”

I find that the state of ignorance that Liesel was in during the first parts of the novel can be mirrored in present situations. Liesel wasn’t able to believe that the ideas of he Fuhrer were wrong because she was in an environment where everybody supported these ideals. I found parallels of these circumstances in an article that I had recently read, called “I am a North Korean Defector.” It spoke of a young woman who had escaped North Korea because she knew she had no future there. She spoke of how she believed their dictator – Kim Jung Il – to be a God. Although they are not in war as Liesel was, ‘The Book Thief’ helped me realize the power propaganda and stories can have on people. That this power of words wasn’t fictional, limited to the novel alone.

It made me reflect on the fact that this woman had only believed that Kim Jung Il was a God because this is what she had been told her entire life. The dictator’s stories and words had cloaked the truth of this brutality. The people of North Korea face injustices everyday – with a lack of health care, electricity shortages and anybody who spoke against the dictator had a right to fear for their lives. Despite knowing and experiencing all of this they still worshipped the man, all because of the stories they had been told. I believe we can learn something from Liesel’s experiences. We must strive to tell the people of North Korea the other side to their story. Before yet another war breaks put, I believe we must find a way to convince them that their dictator is not a God, and that not everything he says is right. For if he tells them to fight for him in a war, I believe they will obey their ‘God.’ Liesel taught me that words have the power to create a war, why shouldn’t they have the power to prevent another one?

Nearing the end of the novel, we are told that Liesel sits in the library of the mayor’s wife after breaking and entering. This was where she had stolen most of her books. In this library she reflects on everything that had happened as a result of the war: “She had seen her brother die with on eye open, one still in a dream. A young man hung by a rope made of Stalingrad snow. She had watched the bomber pilot lie in a metal case. She had seen a Jewish man who had twice given her the most beautiful pages of her life marched to the concentration camp.” In her sadness, anger and frustration she tore pages from the book she had taken off the shelf of the library. I believe that this shows the moment when Liesel finally saw the truth.

The words she had read in all the books, especially the ones Max wrote, told her of the horrors that was the war. She knew that she had the war to blame for all the sadness that she had to experience throughout. As she ripped the book apart, I believe this shows that she was wishing she never read the words that showed her this truth. I believe that maybe she would have preferred to stay ignorant, believing that these things happened for no reason, rather than a person who forced the world to follow his ideals or face the consequences, because a person shouldn’t be capable of doing these things.

In the end of the novel, we are told that Liesel Meminger writes her own story recording the various events she had experienced and the lessons she had learned. We also learn that she called this story “The Book Thief.” It was then that I realized that the novel that I had been reading, was in fact the story that Liesel had written, only it was told in Death’s perspective instead of Liesel’s. This further convinced me of the effect war had on a person. It made Liesel discover the truth behind the power words held, and once she fully understood what had happened, once she had gained full perspectives on both sides of the story, she was able to write her own side. Through reading Liesel’s story I was able to learn that truth was one of the greatest effects of war. The war showed Liesel the truth behind the power of words. She was able to learn that the Jews weren’t a parasite that they needed to get rid of, but that people only thought this way because that is what they were told.

Updated: Apr 29, 2023
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The Book Thief: A Poignant Portrayal of the Truth as a Casualty of War. (2016, Apr 23). Retrieved from

The Book Thief: A Poignant Portrayal of the Truth as a Casualty of War essay
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