The Book Thief
The Book Thief Chapter 31 Summary
A Short History of the Jewish Fist Fighter
- (Now we go back in time to look at Max's earlier life.)
- Max, born in 1916, grows up in Stuttgart, Germany.
- In the earlier days of his youth, his favorite thing is "a good fistfight" (30.3).
- When he's eleven he has his first fight with a kid named Wenzel Gruber.
- The fight is broken up before they have a chance to finish it.
- But Max likes the taste of the fight, and wants more.
- When Max is two, his father (Erik Vandenburg) dies. (See Chapter 29 for the details.)
- When he's nine his mother has no money left and has to sell their music studio/home.
- They move in with an uncle.
- Max hones his fighting skills and his love with six cousins.
- Max's trains seriously with his oldest cousin, Isaac.
- The uncle dies when Max is thirteen.
- A soft spoken man, the uncle has worked hard all his life for little reward.
- Death says the uncle dies of "something growing in his stomach. Something akin to a poison bowling ball" (31.17).
- (Thanks, Death, for being so specific.)
- The family gathers around the dying man.
- To Max, it seems like his uncle doesn't fight hard enough not to die.
- He swears he will never to succumb to Death.
- He says, "When death captures me […], he will feel my fist on his face" (31.25). Death loves it.
- After this, fighting becomes a much bigger part of Max's life.
- He'll fight anybody.
- His favorite fight is with Walter Kugler. It's Max's fifth fight.
- Walter is a more experienced fighter.
- But Max is persistent and manages to win the fight.
- Walter declares Max the victor, but says, "Next time I kill you" (31.52).
- They have thirteen more fights. Walter wins ten; Max wins three.
- In 1933 (when Hitler is voted Chancellor of Germany) Max and Walter trade their fisticuffs for "genuine friendship" (31.54).
- They both work jobs.
- In 1935, Max and the other Jewish employees in the engineering factory are fired.
- We are told that this is soon "after the Nuremburg Laws came in, forbidding Jews to have German citizenship and for Germans and Jews to intermarry" (31.54).
- (The Nuremberg Laws are something you have to read to believe. When you read them, it will probably clear up some of the questions you have about this story and about Germany under Nazi power. So, click here and read away.)
- Walter and Max see each other when they can.
- Things get harder and harder for Max who has to scrounge for any work available.
- Kristallnacht, otherwise known as "the night of broken glass" (31.60), happens on November 9, 1938.
- Many Jews are killed, but Max, now 22 years old, escapes.
- (Kristallnacht is the first time Jews are forcibly removed from their homes in mass, and sent to concentration camps. Some thirty thousand Jewish people are taken by the Nazis on this night (source).
- On this night, Max and his family are in their apartment, panicking and unsure of what to do.
- Someone knocks on the door.
- It's Walter, wearing his Nazi uniform.
- He's comes to hide Max.
- Max says he won't go without his family.
- They urge him to go, and his mother gives him a piece of paper that "could be [his] last hope" (65.76).
- Max goes with Walter and doesn't turn for a final glance.
- That will always "torture him" (65.80).
- Walter keeps him hidden for two years.
- During this time, Walter visits Max's family whenever possible.
- One day, they are gone.
- The news is very painful to Max, obviously, and his feelings of guilt increase.
- In the middle of 1939, after half a year of hiding, they decide to look at the paper from Max's mother. On it is Hans Hubermann's name and address.
- Walter pays Hans a visit (as we've heard), and everything is arranged.
- Max stays in hiding for another eighteen months, until Walter is sent to Poland.
- Now Max is in Molching, and Hans is making him coffee.
- The little girl has gone to bed, and now someone else is coming, the "wildcard" (mentioned at the end of Chapter 30).
- It's a woman and she speaks.
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