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The Book Thief is a film adaptation of the book of the same name, depicting World War II. Throughout the film, “Death” narrates the story of Liesel Meminger, a survivor of World War II. It begins with Paula Meminger travelling with her children to their new foster home. On the journey to Molching, Werner, Liesel’s brother dies. Soon after, Liesel begins to adjust to her new parents – Hans and Rosa Hubermann. She also becomes friends with Rudy Steiner. Liesel spends four years with the Hubermanns before the town of Molching is bombed by the Allies. This causes most of the townsfolk to die along with Liesel’s loved ones. The Book Thief is a genuine portrayal of life during World War II and the effects of the war on civilians. It focuses on one of the most significant points, that all German civilians were not accepting of Nazi Germany and did not blindly follow the rules. It provides us with enough information to truly understand the lives of both the survivors and victims of the war. To sum it up, the purpose of this project is to understand the events of the war from the view of both a survivor and victim, along with the effects it had on them.
In 1939, Paula Meminger finds a couple who agree to adopt Liesel and her brother, Werner, in order to protect them. During the journey to Molching, where the foster family lives, Werner dies of pneumonia. This indicates the family’s poverty as many impoverished people died of diseases due to the inability to pay for health services. Paula was then most probably sent to a concentration camp. The death of her brother and Liesel’s separation from her mother marks the beginning of many such devastating events. We find that she expresses her misery by often looking at the picture of her brother she keeps with her all the time, along with writing letters to Paula frequently. Around this time, Hitler had invaded Poland in September 1939, which proved to be an immediate cause for the war. While France and Britain gave Germany an ultimatum, Germany attacked France. Finally, Britain and France declared war on Germany.
The period between September 1939 and April 1940 remained peaceful as there was very little fighting during this time. The film also gives us a glimpse of one of the turning points of the Holocaust – Kristallnacht, “The Night of the Broken Glass”. Police officers and Hitler Youth ransacked Jewish businesses. Along with that, they beat and killed Jews inside. The film then gives us a glance at Max Vandenburg and his mother, who he soon had to, unfortunately, leave in order to protect himself. The 50th birthday of Adolf Hitler on 20th April was celebrated as a national holiday throughout Nazi Germany and other parts of the world. On the day of Hitler’s birthday, the townsfolk of Molching celebrate by burning items that were considered “anti-Germany”. Some of these burnings were specifically for books. At the end of the event, Liesel, who was devastated at witnessing the burning of books, finds one that has not been burnt and steals it. Hans soon finds out about Liesel’s stolen book, when she asks him about her mother being a communist. When Hans implies that Hitler might have hurt her mother, Liesel proceeds to say, “I hate the Führer!” Hans alarmedly tells her that she cannot say such things. This was because people who disrespected Hitler were considered to be anti-Germany. They were sent away to concentration camps.
Max Vandenburg, a Jew, comes to live in hiding with the Hubermanns. Liesel’s parents tell her that it was extremely important that she did not tell anyone about him. Max begins to form a friendship with Liesel which eventually lasts a very long time. While some children could live and pass-off as non-Jews, most Jews considered sending their children to German families who would agree to hide them until the war was over. These children posed as non-Jews and had to conceal their Jewish nature thoroughly. This required a great many things, the most important being false identity papers. For Max, this was a hard task, and hence he lived in hiding in the basement of the Hubermanns. In those days, even finding rescuer families was quite difficult. Fortunately for Max, Hans was in his debt as Max’s father had saved his life during World War I.
During this time, air raids began to occur more frequently than usual, causing people to hide in bomb shelters. While in a communal bomb shelter, Liesel reads to the rest of the civilians there. This comforts and soothes them and distracts them from impending horrors. More policemen then begin to search basements in order to find Jews, on the event of which the Hubermanns hide Max under a large Confederate flag in the basement. One day, the policemen arrest a Jewish man, for whom Hans stands up for. This, in turn, proves only to be unfortunate since they push him to the side and take his name. In order to protect the Hubermanns, Max leaves. Soon, Hans receives a letter telling him that he has been conscripted into the army and must leave immediately. This proves to be increasingly agonizing for Rosa and Liesel. During this time, many men were obliged to spend a certain period of time in the military. During Hans’ absence, Liesel witnesses Jews walking to the concentration camp while people watched them as if it was a parade. She then finds herself seeing Max among these people and screams for him, only to be thrown on the sidewalk. These forcible movements of prisoners of Nazi Germany towards or between concentration camps were generally known as death marches.
One night, during the end of the 1943 year, the town of Molching is bombed by the Allies and the air raids do not go off. This causes the death of dozens of civilians. Liesel’s parents, as well as Rudy and his family, are killed in the blast while Liesel herself survives since she was in the basement. She is heartbroken when she sees the corpses of her parents. German cities and towns were specifically bombed by the Allies in order to destroy munition factories, weapon warehouses and eradicate enemy troops.
Two years after the death of Liesel’s loved ones, she begins working in the tailor shop belonging to Rudy’s father. Max enters the shop and asks for Liesel and they are both overwhelmed with joy when they finally reunite. The beginning of 1945 started with the evacuation of concentration camps such as Auschwitz and resulted in even more death marches. Soon enough, more camps were liberated such as Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen and Sachsenhausen. May 8 marks VE “Victory in Europe” Day while September 2 marks VJ “Victory over Japan” Day. On September 2, Imperial Japan surrendered after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This, in turn, brought the war to an end.
To sum it up, the film provides us with information about the events taking place during World War II. This includes the oppression of the victims and the lengths they had to go, in order to protect themselves and their families. While some victims survived, some were also sent to concentration camps. We also conclude that many Germans were not accepting of Nazi Germany and also assisted and protected many victims. Besides this, the film also helps one understand the complications faced by both survivors and victims of the war from their own point of view. An example of this is that of the main character, Liesel. We are able to understand her sufferings on a personal level. One also becomes familiar with the victims’ hardships, such as Paula Meminger. She had to separate with and send her children to a foster family in order to protect them. Another significant example was Max Vandenburg, a Jew who had to separate from his mother and went into hiding with the Hubermanns. So to conclude, it can be said that the Book Thief not only helped us to understand the events taking place during World War II but the effect it had on the vast number of survivors and victims. We also get a brief understanding of the development of some characters who witnessed the war firsthand.
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