The Book Thief: Portrayal of the Nazi Germany

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The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, written in 2005, is about a young girl named Liesel Meminger who is growing up during the harsh years of World War II. A story told by the narrator of death allows the readers to fully understand how ten year old Liesel develops in a violent, injustice world. The Book Thief, takes place in a town named Molching, Germany during the period of the Holocaust where Adolf Hitler has taken over Germany. World War II began in the year of 1939 due to Hitler’s invasion of Poland drove Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany. Over the next six years, this bloody, messy war destroyed large amounts of property and killed millions of innocent people. Hitler targeted the Jewish people, as 6 million Jews were murdered in Hitler’s Nazi Concentration camps in part of Hitler's solution known as the Holocaust. Hitler believed that the Germanic race was the purest race and was superior to any other race. Adolf Hitler believed his superior race of “Aryans” would take over the world completely. Hitler created Concentration Camps, which were where Jews were sent to be killed, beaten, starved or forced to complete hard extensive work in terrible conditions, due to their race and differences. Hitler’s army, known as the Swastikas, ran over 57,000 Concentration Camps under Adolf Hitler’s commands. The events that took place in the Holocaust are very relevant in the novel, The Book Thief, as young Liesel encounters many of them. The portrayal of life in Nazi Germany depicted in The Book Thief is accurate and is shown throughout the book within the book burnings done by the Nazi’s, Hitler Youth, and the bombings that took place in World War II.

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A reason as to how the portrayal of life in Nazi Germans depicted in The Book Thief is accurate is shown throughout the book burnings that occurred. On the date of May 10th, 1933, Nazi student groups carried out public burnings of books they claimed that were “un-German.” The book burnings took place in 34 towns and cities. Many of the books that were burned were works of Jewish writers that were seen as threatening and not useful to the German. Book burning is referred to as being the ritual destruction by fire of books or other written materials. The book burnings stood as a huge symbol of Nazi intolerance and showed how the Nazi censored many things throughout their control. Nazi German was known for being harsh and burning many things, which is shown multiple times throughout the book, The Book Thief. The novel states, “The Germans loved to burn things. Shops, synagogues, Reichstags, houses, personal items, slain people, and of course, books. They enjoyed a good book burning, all right-.” (Zusak, 84) The quote demonstrates how the German army burned many things out of hatred and evil intentions, due to them wanting to be the most superior race. Synagogues are a peaceful place, where Jewish people attend to pray and come together. In the quote it mentions how the Germans burned down many Synagogues due to their hatred of this specific religion. Liesel’s love for reading books is so strong, which is why she focused on the fact that books were being burned. Liesel figures out a clever way to steal books throughout the novel, which is how the title The Book Thief was created, due to her drive of curiosity. The second book that Liesel stole on April 20th, 1940 was named The Shoulder Shrug, this Book was stolen at a book burning event out of anger and hatred. Liesel continued stealing books as a hobby throughout the book, as they allowed her to escape from all the hardships that were occurring at the time. Liesel's thievery teaches us her to read and write as the book progresses.

Another reason that shows how the portrayal of life in Nazi Germans was depicted accurately in The Book Thief is due to a youth, named Hitler Youth. German boys and girls were forced by law, from the ages 10-17, to attend Hitler youth, which was an organization set up by Adolf Hitler in 1933 for educating and training the young. The first Hitler Youth for girls was titled, “Jungmädel,” which in English is translated to “Young Girls.” This youth was for ages 10-14, which is the youth Liesel attended in the book. Hitler Youth educated girls on the beliefs of Hitler and taught them to be loyal to him. Book Thief, Liesel shares the experience of being in Hitler’s Youth for young girls, as it states, “The Book Thief went and changed into her Hitler Youth uniform, and half an hour later, they left, walking to the BDM headquarters. From there, the children would be taken to the town square in their groups.” This quote in the novel, demonstrates how the mandatory Hitler Youth group is seen as a routine to young Liesel. All the young girls don’t think much about this mandatory group, as it has just become part of their everyday lives, such as something as simple as school. Liesel did not see the Hitler Youth group as something useful or important. Liesel Meminger was mostly caught up in the fact that she could use this mandatory “education” as a way to steal books to her benefit. Liesel’s experience in the Hitler Youth group in the novel, The Book Thief, is similar to about eight million young Germans who also had to attend this mandatory Youth group.

The last reason that shows how the portrayal of life in Nazi Germany was depicted accurately in the novel, The Book Thief, is throughout the deadly bombings that occurred during the Holocaust and World War II. True stories, such as Anne Frank mention how families were forced to hide and live in basements in fear of being caught throughout the war. Bombings were a threat to every human that was alive during the period of World War II, for safety many sheltered in basements for survival. In the novel it demonstrates how the people of Hummel Street made their way to the Fielders’ basement, who are friends of Liesel’s parents that live six houses down. This all occurred quickly in January of 1939, which was the start of a harsh time for many families. The Germans in the basement that were in hiding, due to the bombings, were more lucky than the Jews, due to their their race but still feared the deadly bombings that occurred. A quote that is stated within the novel says, “That basement was not a washroom. They had not been sent there for a shower.” (Zusak, 376) This quote is Liesel Meminger explaining how she felt about this basement was not seen as being a quick stop for the families. Liesel recognized that the bombings were going to be dragged on for a drastic period of time and that all the families could not leave. In total, 22 people piled and were squished into the Fielders basement. This was miserable and very common as stories such as Anne frank describe the horrible conditions that many people were living in small spaces. Liesel’s love for reading helped her through these tough times as she started to read one of her stolen books titled, “The Whistler.” Liesel read to the people as a way for everyone to escape from all the bad times that were occurring during the Holocaust and to lighten the mood as the sound of the bombings went off.

The portrayal of life in Nazi Germany depicted in the book, The Book Thief is accurate and shown throughout the book within the book burnings done by the Nazi’s, The Hitler Youth created by Hitler and the bombings that occurred during World War II. During the period of time of World War II and the Holocaust, those three major events occurred and were described thoroughly throughout the book written by Markus Zusak. A book narrated by the scary topic of death gives the reader an interesting view on the harsh times that happened. Markus Zusak used this historical fiction book to demonstrate just one of the many stories that could have occurred during this awful period of time. The reader gets to emotionally and mentally connect to the protagonist character, Liesel Meminger, who grows up and develops throughout the story. The story allows the reader to better understand the events in Nazi Germany, and how awful those times were for millions of Jews.

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