The Book Thief

The Book Thief

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Max Vandenburg Character Analysis

A Jewish fist fighter who comes to the hide in the Hubermanns' basement. Max arrives sick and emaciated, but he soon joins the family and keeps himself alive through a strong hatred of Hitler. Max is also an artist and writer, and he and Liesel bond through sharing both their nightmares and their words.

Max Vandenburg Quotes in The Book Thief

The The Book Thief quotes below are all either spoken by Max Vandenburg or refer to Max Vandenburg. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Death Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Alfred A. Knopf edition of The Book Thief published in 2007.
Part 1: Growing Up a Saumensch Quotes

All told, she owned fourteen books, but she saw her story as being made up predominantly of ten of them. Of those ten, six were stolen, one showed up at the kitchen table, two were made for her by a hidden Jew, and one was delivered by a soft, yellow-dressed afternoon.
When she came to write her story, she would wonder exactly when the books and the words started to mean not just something, but everything.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Liesel Meminger, Max Vandenburg
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Death continues to narrate the story, foreshadowing many of the key events in the novel. The protagonist, Liesel, is a lover of books and words in general, and has come to find language a matter of life and death-iwords mean "everything" to her.

The story we're about to hear, Death suggests, isn't just about the life of Liesel. It's also about how Liesel comes to recognize that books and words are central to her existence. Furthermore, the passage complicates the question of who, exactly, is telling this story. Death seems to be the narrator, but here it's suggested that Liesel ends up writing her own story--has she assumed the guise of death in order to tell the story of her own life?

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Part 3: The Struggler, Continued Quotes

For most of the journey, he made his way through the book, trying never to look up.
The words lolled about in his mouth as he read them.
Strangely, as he turned the pages and progressed through the chapters, it was only two words he ever tasted.
Mein Kampf. My struggle –
The title, over and over again, as the train prattled on, from one German town to the next.
Mein Kampf.
Of all the things to save him.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Max Vandenburg
Related Symbols: Mein Kampf
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

In one of the most darkly humorous passages in the novel, Max Vandenburg, a young Jewish man, escapes from the Nazis by carrying around a copy of Mein Kampf. Mein Kampf was Hitler's most famous book--a long, rambling story about his economic and political theories, which was practically required reading for Nazis during the 1930s. Max's friend Walter has arranged for Max to receive train tickets and keys, hidden inside a copy of Hitler's book. Death stops to note the beautiful irony here: Hitler's writings, in which he condemns the Jews in the most withering terms, are being used to save a Jew's life.

The passage is a great, literal example of the power of language and books. Even if Mein Kampf itself is an evil, racist book, Death suggests that the fact that it is a book, in and of itself, has helped rescue Max from Nazi persecution. In the novel, books--even Mein Kampf--are powerful things, to be used for either good or evil.

Part 4: A Short History of the Jewish Fist Fighter Quotes

With the rest of them, he stood around the bed and watched the man die – a safe merge, from life to death. The light in the window was gray and orange…

"When death captures me," the boy vowed, "he will feel my fist on his face."

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Max Vandenburg (speaker)
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

In this flashback scene, Death describes Max watching his own uncle die a slow, painful death. The scene is tragic, because Max's uncle is in so much pain, and seems to think of death as a relief, not a punishment. And yet Max doesn't agree: he vows that when he dies, he'll fight bravely, right up to the end.

Peculiarly, Death isn't insulted by Max's words--on the contrary, he seems to respect Max for valuing life so highly, to the point where he'd be willing to punch Death in the face. Death knows that he's inescapable, yet he likes it when human beings stand up for themselves--he's like a teacher who gives the highest grades to the students who aren't scared to say they disagree with him. Here Death also shows his typical penchant for noting colors as people are dying.

Part 4: Pages from the Basement Quotes

During that week, Max had cut out a collection of pages from Mein Kampf and painted over them in white… When they were all dry, the hard part began… he formulated the words in his head till he could recount them without error. Only then, on the paper that had bubbled and humped under the stress of drying paint, did he begin to write the story.

Related Characters: Death (speaker), Max Vandenburg
Related Symbols: Mein Kampf
Page Number: 223
Explanation and Analysis:

Max takes his copy of Mein Kampf and paints over the pages, rewriting it with a new, gentler set of words. He paints over the pages of the book--much like Liesel and Hans painting over the walls they'd covered in words--and then he proceeds to write his own story.

The message here is clear: Max is dealing with a horrible, hateful book by Adolf Hitler, and yet he uses the power of language to cancel out Hitler's words and replace them with something better. Language gives Max incredible power: he "defeats" hateful speech, albeit within the confines of one copy of Mein Kampf. Max's victory, then, is small but important: he proves that Hitler isn't a God; he's just a man, whose hateful words can be replaced with beauty and art.

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Max Vandenburg Character Timeline in The Book Thief

The timeline below shows where the character Max Vandenburg appears in The Book Thief. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 3: Enter the Struggler
Death Theme Icon
...of the story to a storage room in Stuttgart, Germany. There is a Jew named Max sitting on his suitcase in the dark, hiding for days and starving. Finally a door... (full context)
Part 3: The Struggler, Continued
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The story returns to Max Vandenburg, the Jew, but now he is on a train for Munich, and holding a... (full context)
Part 3: The Struggler, Concluded
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Max gets off the train and finds his way nervously to Himmel Street by night, holding... (full context)
Part 4: The Accordionist (The Secret Life of Hans Hubermann)
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Max stands in the kitchen and asks Hans if he still plays the accordion. Then Death... (full context)
Part 4: A Good Girl
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The story returns to the present, and Hans accepts Max Vandenburg, closing the curtains and checking for witnesses. Max crouches down, overcome with gratitude, and... (full context)
Part 4: A Short History of the Jewish Fist Fighter
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The story goes back in time again to tell Max's life story. When he was boy he loved to fistfight. He fought with his cousins... (full context)
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Max fought a kid named Walter Krugler several times, and he remembers those matches the best.... (full context)
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For the next two years Max hid in an empty storeroom where Walter had once worked. He found out his family... (full context)
Part 4: The Wrath of Rosa
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...launch into a tirade, but Liesel comes out and is shocked to see Rosa feeding Max her pea soup. She looks serious, but is pleased that he is enjoying her food.... (full context)
Part 4: Liesel's Lecture
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Death emphasizes the danger of the situation in the Hubermann household now. Max sleeps in Liesel's room, in the empty bed once intended for Werner. The next day... (full context)
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Hans lists what will happen if Liesel mentions Max to anyone, and he tries to be harsh to make sure she understands: Hans will... (full context)
Part 4: The Sleeper
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Max sleeps for three days straight, and Liesel watches him. Sometimes in his sleep he says... (full context)
Part 4: The Swapping of Nightmares
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Max sleeps in the cold basement after that, and is embarrassed that he slept in Liesel's... (full context)
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...is nervous about going into the basement. They finally go down, and Hans sees that Max is freezing and emaciated. He makes Max come upstairs and take a hot bath. The... (full context)
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One night Max overhears Liesel telling Hans that Max's hair is "like feathers." Later she asks about Mein... (full context)
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Hans tells Liesel that Max has nightmares like she does, and one night Liesel gets out of bed and they... (full context)
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...1941 Liesel turns twelve, and the Hubermanns give her a book called The Mud Men. Max apologizes that he doesn't have a present for her. Liesel hugs Hans and Rosa, and... (full context)
Part 4: Pages from the Basement
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...from going to the basement by giving her chores or making excuses. During that time Max cuts out some pages from Mein Kampf and paints them white. When they dry he... (full context)
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Max enters silently one early morning and delivers the book as a late birthday present. Liesel... (full context)
Part 5: The Gambler (A Seven-Sided Die)
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The scene returns to the present, and Max is getting a haircut. Rosa and Hans argue about who will do it, but Max... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
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...Liesel refuses. On the way home she searches trashcans for newspapers with empty crosswords for Max. Liesel sits in the basement and reads while Max does the crosswords. They rarely speak,... (full context)
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...goals she scored in soccer, and then she goes down to the basement to tell Max. He asks her to describe the weather as well, and Liesel describes the sky in... (full context)
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Max has nothing but time and it seems a punishment just to stay alive. He starts... (full context)
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One day Liesel come downstairs and Max is doing push-ups. He tells her about his new daydream, and say he is training... (full context)
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...side is unlucky. In June of 1941, Germany invades the Soviet Union, and Liesel and Max see the mayor in the newspaper telling people to prepare for hard times. The next... (full context)
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...because she insulted her, but Rosa doesn't believe her. Liesel then goes downstairs and asks Max to teach her to do push-ups. That night when Liesel reads with Hans she tells... (full context)
Part 5: Sketches
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That summer is productive for Max, as he begins to write and sketch and has lots of ideas. He intended to... (full context)
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One day Liesel comes downstairs and finds Max asleep, and she looks at two pages of his book. Death recreates a picture of... (full context)
Part 5: The Whistler and the Shoes
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Max, Liesel, and Rudy continue their respective activities into the fall, but change comes when Franz... (full context)
Part 6: The Snowman
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On Christmas Eve Liesel brings down handfuls of snow for Max to taste. Then she gathers more and builds a snowman in the basement. Everyone has... (full context)
Part 6: Thirteen Presents
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Liesel sits and talks to Max, but he keeps sleeping for days. Death visits Himmel Street, but he doesn't take Max's... (full context)
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From then on Liesel keeps bringing Max little presents from the outside world. They are small and seemingly insignificant, like a ribbon,... (full context)
Part 6: Fresh Air, an Old Nightmare, and what to do with a Jewish Corpse
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...called The Dream Carrier, as the title makes her think of her own nightmares and Max's. Liesel and Rudy ride away on their bikes, and Death implies that Ilsa left the... (full context)
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Liesel starts reading the new book to Max. After the coma has lasted a month everyone in the house is at a breaking... (full context)
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...her into the hall and yells at her for a while, and then whispers that Max has woken up. Liesel sits back down, overjoyed. She comes home and Max thanks her... (full context)
Part 6: The Visitor
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The Hubermanns are frantic trying to decide what to do with Max, and Hans decides to pretend nothing is unusual just as there is a knock on... (full context)
Part 7: The Trilogy
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That night Liesel tells Max about Rudy and then they both go back to their projects: Max to his sketchbook... (full context)
Part 7: The Sound of Sirens
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...have to go to a neighbor's large basement (the Fiedlers) and are forced to leave Max behind. The people of Himmel Street all gather there, each carrying their most precious possessions.... (full context)
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...much as he pities the Jews in the concentration camps. Liesel herself is worried about Max, alone in the unsafe basement. Finally the sirens sound again, which means the bombing is... (full context)
Part 7: The Sky Stealer
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The Hubermanns return home and Rosa proudly tells Max what Liesel did. At that moment Max conceives the idea for his next book, The... (full context)
Part 7: The Long Walk to Dachau
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...his paint cart, but a few help him to safety. Hans is suddenly terrified that Max will be discovered because of his actions, and he despairs at what he has done. (full context)
Part 7: Peace
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That night Max flees the Hubermann house. He leaves Liesel a present hidden somewhere, and the family silently... (full context)
Part 7: The Idiot and the Coat Men
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...at the kitchen table, waiting for the Gestapo. Liesel is in her room, praying for Max. When the Gestapo doesn't come, Hans is almost offended. He is remorseful for what he... (full context)
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...of stupidity, and almost wants someone to come for him so he can be sure Max left for a good reason. (full context)
Part 8: Punishment
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...sick as she reads the letter. Later Liesel describes the sky sadly to the nonexistent Max. The Steiners are also grieving next door, as Alex Steiner has been drafted as punishment... (full context)
Part 8: The Bread Eaters
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1942 comes to an end, and Liesel spends most of her time thinking of Hans, Max, and Alex Steiner. She keeps reading The Whistler to Frau Holtzapfel, who starts acting more... (full context)
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
...approach and start to find the bread. Liesel comes closer to try and see if Max is there, but a soldier sees her. She and Rudy run away, but not before... (full context)
Part 8: The Hidden Sketchbook
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...Whistler. When Liesel and Rosa return home, Rosa cuts open a bedsheet and takes out Max's sketchbook. She says Max said to give it Liesel when she was ready, but that... (full context)
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...dispersing back into the woods. Liesel finishes the story and wonders where in those woods Max is now. She falls asleep and dreams of the tree. (full context)
Part 9: The Ageless Brother
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...old, approving of her action. That night Liesel lies awake and imagines her mother, Werner, Max, and Hans all in the room. The next morning she watches Rosa hold the accordion... (full context)
Part 10: The Ninety-Eighth Day
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...comes home. There are a few more parades of Jews, but Liesel does not see Max among them. On the ninety-eighth day, however, Michael Holtzapfel hangs himself. Death explains that he... (full context)
Part 10: Way of the Words
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There is another parade of Jews down Munich Street, and again Liesel looks for Max. This time she sees him, as he also searches the crowd for Liesel. Liesel feels... (full context)
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A soldier sees Liesel and drags her away from Max, throwing her to the ground. Liesel gets up and then returns from a different direction.... (full context)
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Max is dragged on with the rest of the prisoners and Liesel tries to follow him... (full context)
Part 10: Confessions
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When she finally gets up, Liesel finds Rudy and tells him about Max after making him promise many times to keep it a secret. Then she shows Rudy... (full context)
Part 10: The End of the World (Part II)
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...buildings are there. She carries her book with her, looking for Hans and Rosa and Max. Then she sees the broken accordion and starts to accept reality. She sees Rudy's body,... (full context)
Epilogue: Max
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...him there. The two of them go to the Dachau concentration camp to look for Max, but the Americans now holding the camp won't let them in. Yet one day in... (full context)