What does the quote "if they killed him tonight, at least he would die alive" mean in The Book Thief?  

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Max is prepared to die, but hiding and fighting for his life is better than waiting for death to come. 

Max is Jewish, and during World War II in Germany that was very dangerous.  His family wants him to have a chance, so he tries to escape to Hans Hubermann’s house.  He has a secret, which is that his copy of Mein Kampf has a key taped to the inside cover.  No one would question a man walking around with Hitler’s book! 

His legs ached terribly, but he was nearly there— the most dangerous place to be. Close enough to touch it. (Ch. 24) 

For Hans, it is better to go on the run and try to get to his hiding place than to sit at home and wait for the Gestapo to come get him.  Death would come faster that way, because he would be killed or taken to a concentration camp.  It was better to take a fighting chance. 

As he travels, he is wary. 

He warned himself. “Keep your eyes open.” (German children were on the lookout for stray coins. German Jews kept watch for possible capture.) (Ch. 24) 

Max knows that for the entire time he is travelling between his house and Hans’s house, he risks someone turning him in. Someone just has to suspect that he is a Jew, and that’s it.  So while he carries on, he is also terribly frightened the entire time.

Max is one of a kind.  Even when hiding in the basement, he never loses his desire to stay alive.  In his mind, he is fist-fighting Hitler.  He paints books in his spare time.  When there is an air raid warning, he stands outside and looks at the night sky while everyone else is in shelters.  Even when captured, Max is brave and strong.  He has the will to live.


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