What does the author mean when he says most Germans are "fond of pigs" in The Book Thief?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an interesting question to which we are not given a direct answer; however, the astute reader can figure out what the author means upon close inspection. In short, the author means that Germans use the words for “pig” and “swine” quite a bit (always as an offhanded insult) while the Nazis are pigs and swine themselves.

The scene in question happens quite early on in the book.  Liesel watches as Rosa Hubermann (Liesel’s foster mom) gets irate because Frau Holtzapfel spits on Rosa’s door every night (and never misses). As Frau Holtzapfel spits and the sound is heard inside, Rosa immediately yells out, “Schweine!” This word, of course, means “swine” in German. Immediately after this happens, our narrator (Death), says the following:

One thing I’ve noticed about the Germans: They seem very fond of pigs.

This idea is furthered by the fact that Rosa calls Liesel a “saumensch,” which means a “filthy pig.” This nickname first encourages Liesel to seek refuge in Hans’ arms, but Liesel realizes that Rosa Hubermann is different from the Nazis—rather, she is just one to hand out tough love.

It is important to realize, however, that Death’s statement about the Germans seeming "very fond of pigs" is a loaded one. Calling someone a pig is quite an insult. Therefore, this is also a slap in the face to the Nazis, who are the true “pigs” of the book. It is implied here that Nazis, who are “very fond of pigs,” are also only comfortable in their own company.

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The Book Thief

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