Death begins to tell the story of the "Jesse Owens Incident," which occurred before Liesel's arrival on Himmel Street, in 1936, during the Olympics that took place in Hitler's Germany. Everyone in Germany was amazed at the great African-American athlete Jesse Owens, but Rudy had a special fascination with him. One night Rudy snuck out and covered himself completely in charcoal, trying to look like Jesse Owens. Then he raced back and forth on a field until a crowd gathered around him. Finally his father, Alex Steiner, took him away by the ear and pulled him home.
The narrative jumps around freely, here into the recent past. With this disjointed style Zusak never lets the reader forget the language of his novel, which is another reminder of the theme of words. Some historical background: the black American athlete Jesse Owens' triumphs at the Berlin Olympic Games stood in opposition to Hitler's "Aryan ideal," as the Nazis saw black people as "subhuman." But Owens was clearly superior to all the German athletes.
Death explains the politics of Alex Steiner, who is a member of the Nazi Party but does not hate Jews – he is most concerned with doing what's best for his family. Alex tries to explain to Rudy that he shouldn't want to be like black or Jewish people; he should be pleased with his blue eyes and blond hair. He tells Rudy not to paint himself black again, or else he'll be taken away.
More ominous history creeping into the innocent world of childhood. Much of the novel involves looking at the average German's side of World War II and the Holocaust. Condemning or sympathizing with the different characters connects to Death struggling with the beauty and evil in humanity.