Study Guide

The Book Thief Chapter 55

By Markus Zusak

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Chapter 55

The Sound of Sirens

  • Hans buys a radio with money saved from the summer.
  • This way, they'll hear about any air raids in advance.
  • Yet, there's no warning on this night in September.
  • Hans wakes Liesel.
  • The family goes down to the basement to Max.
  • Hans tells Max it's awful he can't go with them to the Fielders' house. The Fielders' basement is deep enough to function as a bomb shelter.
  • Max had made them promise to go there when they discussed it weeks ago.
  • The people of Himmel Street carry the things they care most about and hurry toward shelter.
  • Papa (who has even left behind his accordion) sees Frau Holtzapfel carrying a big suitcase, and he helps her.
  • (You might remember Frau Holtzapfel from earlier in the novel. She and Rosa are in a long-time feud. She spits on the Hubermann door, every time she passes it.)
  • A total of 22 people take shelter in the Fielders' basement.
  • In addition to the Hubermanns and Frau Holtzapfel, we have the Steiners, Pfiffikus, a young man, and the Jenson family.
  • Rosa and Frau Holtzapfel are kept apart.
  • Frau Holtzapfel is very afraid.
  • Rosa is one of the most frightened people in the shelter, only a little less frightened than Frau Holtzapfel. She holds Liesel, singing quietly to her.
  • Rudy, his parents, his brother, and his four sisters are near them.
  • Pfiffikus isn't whistling.
  • We are given the third word from Liesel's dictionary: "Angst – Fear" (55.38).
  • At one point, Alex Steiner reaches out to hold the hand of his oldest son, Kurt.
  • This sets off a chain reaction. Everybody is holding somebody else's hands, and they are all in a rough circle.
  • Death says:
    The Germans in the basement were pitiable, but at least they had a chance. That basement was not a washroom. They had not been sent there for a shower. (55.44)
  • (As we note in the summary of Chapter 53, "shower" was often a euphemism for "gas chamber" in concentration camps.)
  • Liesel is holding hands with Rudy and Rosa, but thinking of Max.
  • Not long after this, they hear three sirens, signaling the end of the air raid.
  • The people of Himmel Street leave the Simpson's basement and head for their homes.
  • When Rosa, Liesel, and Hans get home they immediately head for the basement.
  • They can't find Max.
  • He speaks, and Liesel sees that they have been looking at him, all along – "His jaded [worn, weary] face [is] camouflaged among the painting materials and fabric" (55.65).
  • Max has a confession to make.
  • He couldn't stop himself from creeping upstairs and peeking out the window—it's been almost two years since he's looked outside.
  • Nobody is mad at him about it.
  • Hans wants to know what Max saw.
  • Max says, "There were stars. […] They burned my eyes" (55.73).
  • Rosa lets Liesel read A Song in the Dark to Max, all night, while he works on his book.
  • This chapter ends with a quote from Max's book: From a Himmel Street Window, […] the stars set fire to my eyes (55.78).

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