Discussion Topic

The Book Thief's connections to the historical context of the Holocaust

Summary:

The Book Thief connects to the historical context of the Holocaust by depicting life in Nazi Germany, especially the impact on ordinary citizens and Jews. The story highlights the persecution, censorship, and propaganda of the era, as well as the devastating effects of war and genocide through the experiences of the protagonist, Liesel, and her interactions with Jewish characters hiding from the Nazis.

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How do books in The Book Thief connect to the historical context of the Holocaust?

Books are important as material objects, as representations of the knowledge contained in them, and as symbols of the human connections made through them. The Nazis did conduct public book burnings such as the one that Liesel witnessed. Hitler’s government also banned “subversive” art and imprisoned creative and political dissidents. Although Liesel is actually committing a crime by stealing, her role as a book thief can be compared to that of resistance activists who opposed the Nazi regime. Similarly, Ilse Hermann acknowledge Liesel’s borrowings from her home and agrees to provide her with books. In doing so, she is encouraging the girl to learn information that might have been banned. While the Mayor’s wife is not speaking out against the Nazis and so can be considered complicit, she is taking an individual stand to help one person, which can be interpreted as a subversive act.

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How does The Book Thief by Markus Zusak relate to the Holocaust?

The definition of a holocaust is the complete devastation or destruction of something, mostly by fire. Millions of Jews were killed during World War II and sent to crematoriums, thereby being destroyed by fire. But a holocaust can be anything that suffers mass destruction. Zusak's The Book Thief deals with the subject of the Holocaust from a young German girl's perspective. She experiences it by witnessing specific events associated with how the Nazis systematically destroyed the Jewish population.

First, Liesel witnesses the suffering of a Jewish man who hides in her family's basement. It is damp and cold down in the basement, but he would rather take his chances with a lonely existence until the war is over than suffer the tortures of a concentration camp. When she sees a large group of Jews walking down the streets of her hometown, she quietly thinks the following to herself:

"I have one of you in my basement! she wanted to say. We built a snowman together! I gave him thirteen presents when he was sick!" (393).

Many free people helped to hide Jews from the Nazis, and Liesel suffers with the man in her basement while he is there. She witnesses the toll it takes on his mind and body while he waits and prays for it all to end.

Next, the little girl sees her father stoop to help a Jew when a group makes its way through the streets.

"The Jew stood before him, expecting another handful of derision, but he watched with everyone else as Hans Hubermann held his hand out and presented a piece of bread, like magic" (394).

The above passage shows the love and compassion of a German for a Jew as the latter is marched towards a death camp. The man throws himself to the feet of the bread-giver and thanks him. As a result, the Jew is whipped six times, and then Hans gets his beating. The Jew keeps walking on towards death and to take his place among others in the Holocaust.

The Book Thief does not focus on the concentration camps for its main story, but it certainly addresses their existence. The main characters witness the devastation and the destruction of the Jews as they hide or march through the streets to their deaths. The book shows a different perspective on the Holocaust and that not all Germans were Nazis who murdered Jews.

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