Study Guide

The Book Thief Chapter 17

By Markus Zusak

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Chapter 17

Hitler's Birthday, 1940

  • Liesel is still checking the mail in April, even though Frau Heinrich (the foster care lady) tells the Hubermanns that she has no idea where Liesel's mother, Paula Meminger, is.
  • Molching, and the rest of Germany, are busy getting ready to celebrate Hitler's birthday—"There would be a parade. Marching. Music. Singing. There would be a fire" (17.2).
  • Fuel is being gathered. So is literature.
  • There's going to be a huge bonfire in the center of town, and the Hitler Youth members are required to be there.
  • The Nazis are going door to door in Molching asking people for material from the old Germany. The Jewish houses on the Jewish street were looted once again for books and other literature.
  • We are told that Hitler's birthday will "be a full day of burning and cheering" (17.5).
  • But that not all. It will also be a day of "book thievery" (17.5).
  • At one point, the Hubermanns are in a panic because they can't find their Nazi flag. If the flag isn't on display during the festivities they could be arrested. Luckily, they find it in time.
  • Hans Junior and Trudy come home to eat that day.
  • Hans and his son are in conflict because Hans Junior is a dedicated member of the Nazi party, and Hans the elder wants nothing to do with it.
  • At one point, Hans has succumbed to the pressure and applied to join the party, but he committed an offense which has kept his application on hold. The offense was painting over anti-Semitic slogans on a Jewish house.
  • Today, Hans Junior asks his father if his application has ever been accepted.
  • Hans says they haven't, and Hans Junior begins to get upset.
  • He points at Liesel and says, "What trash is this girl reading? She should be reading Mein Kampf" (17.31).
  • He accuses his father of not being patriotic, of not being behind Hitler.
  • Then he calls his father a "coward" (17.38) and storms off.
  • Hans follows his son and tries to convince him to come back.
  • Even Rosa calls out to her son when she sees him walking away. But he keeps on walking.
  • Death tells us that things won't turn out nicely for Hans Junior.
  • He will meet his tragic end in Russia, in Stalingrad.
  • In 1942 and the beginning of 1943, Death will be in Stalingrad, working overtime.
  • History Snack: Death is referring to what's known as the Battle of Stalingrad, where Germany invaded Russia. It's considered one of the bloodiest battles in World War II history. Around half a million Russian soldiers died in the battle, plus German soldiers and civilians. Historians estimate that some sixteen million Soviet civilians lost their lives in World War II (Source).
  • When Hans comes back to the kitchen, Liesel asks him to explain Hans Junior's words.
  • Hans tells her not to worry about it and reminds her that she needs to go to the bonfire.
  • So, she puts on her Hitler Youth uniform and heads on out.

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