The Book Thief

The Book Thief

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Mein Kampf Symbol Icon
For Hans himself, the accordion is a symbol of his debt to Erik Vandenburg, the Jewish man who saved his life. The accordion then becomes the link between the Hubermanns and Max Vandenburg, and a symbol of Hans's strength of character that allows him to take Max in. When Hans leaves for the war, the accordion comes to symbolize Hans himself, as Rosa silently wears it at night without playing a note.

Mein Kampf Quotes in The Book Thief

The The Book Thief quotes below all refer to the symbol of Mein Kampf. 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 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.

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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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Mein Kampf Symbol Timeline in The Book Thief

The timeline below shows where the symbol Mein Kampf appears in The Book Thief. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2: Hitler's Birthday, 1940
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
...start to argue, and Hans Junior calls Liesel's books "trash" – she should be reading Mein Kampf instead. Hans Junior keeps arguing and finally calls his father a coward and storms out.... (full context)
Part 3: The Way Home
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
A few days later Hans trades some cigarettes for a copy of Mein Kampf , the book written by Hitler. He overhears the party members discussing him, and how... (full context)
Part 3: The Struggler, Continued
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
...Jew, but now he is on a train for Munich, and holding a copy of Mein Kampf . His friend Walter Krugler had gotten him the book with the train tickets and... (full context)
Part 3: The Struggler, Concluded
Death Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
...train and finds his way nervously to Himmel Street by night, holding his suitcase and Mein Kampf . He feels guilty for inflicting the danger of his presence on the Hubermanns, but... (full context)
Part 4: A Short History of the Jewish Fist Fighter
Death Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
...acceptance and some money. It was Hans who sent him the map, train tickets, and Mein Kampf . When Walter was sent away to Poland, Max had to go to Molching and... (full context)
Part 4: The Swapping of Nightmares
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
The Hubermanns make Liesel visit the basement, and she nervously starts to ask if Mein Kampf is a good book, but then leaves. She overhears her foster parents saying that everything... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon
...Max overhears Liesel telling Hans that Max's hair is "like feathers." Later she asks about Mein Kampf , and Max tells the story of how it saved his life. He begins to... (full context)
Part 4: Pages from the Basement
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Color, Beauty, and Ugliness Theme Icon
...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 writes a story called The Standover Man... (full context)
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
...birthday present. Liesel wakes up later and read it, and thinks about the words of Mein Kampf suffocating underneath Max's story. She goes downstairs to thank Max, but he is asleep. She... (full context)
Part 5: The Gambler (A Seven-Sided Die)
Death Theme Icon
Words and Language Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
...Max's dream, and Max says that he does. Later Max rips out the rest of Mein Kampf and starts painting it white with Liesel, Hans, and Rosa, so he can start a... (full context)