The Book Thief

The Book Thief

The Book Thief Part 4: A Short History of the Jewish Fist Fighter Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 growing up, and had his first real fight when he was eleven. When he was thirteen Max watched his uncle die of a stomach disease, and he was disappointed by how submissive he seemed. Max vowed to fight till the end, which Death can't help admiring.
Death respects Max because of his foolish courage, and perhaps because he believes so strongly that life is better than death. This image of a young fighter is contrasted with the present-day Max, who is starved and broken by persecution and fear.
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Max fought a kid named Walter Krugler several times, and he remembers those matches the best. When they turned seventeen they stopped fighting and became friends, and they worked together at an engineering factory until Max was fired for being Jewish. One night (Kristallnacht, "the night of broken glass") mobs swept through and smashed Jewish homes and businesses. Walter entered the Vandenburg home dressed as a Nazi, and told Max he had to leave at once if he didn't want to be taken away. Max said goodbye to his family and left, tortured with guilt.
This again shows how drastically German society changed over the course of a few years, and the tragedy of average citizens suddenly being treated like monsters or criminals. Max choosing to escape and survive instead of to stay and be arrested with his family is another instance of survivor's guilt – Max is tortured simply by his desire to keep living, when others he loves have died.
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon
For the next two years Max hid in an empty storeroom where Walter had once worked. He found out his family had been taken away, and he despaired but still clung to life. One day Walter offered to find Hans Hubermann and ask him for help, and he returned with Hans's 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 trust in Hans. Back in the present, Rosa appears and sees Max.
Hans's earlier idea – when he purchased Mein Kampf from the Nazi office – is finally explained, and the two backstories come together. Max's suffering comes not only from fear for his own life, but also guilt for putting others in danger simply by existing alongside them. This is truly a society with corrupted morals – it is a crime just to keep a Jew alive.
Themes
Death Theme Icon
Books Theme Icon
Stealing and Giving Theme Icon