Summary Part Two: The Shoulder Shrug
Summary of “A Girl Made of Darkness”
The narrator says that the Germans love to burn things, which led to Liesel's second act of book thieving. The second book was called The Shoulder Shrug and was snatched from a book burning ritual in the streets by the Nazis in 1940. Liesel is called a girl made of darkness because she is proud of stealing books. She stole it from the fire celebrating Hitler's birthday, April 20. It is an act of hatred against Hitler.
Commentary on “A Girl Made of Darkness”
Liesel is just a girl but already full of despair and hatred against Hitler for the loss of her family. She does not understand politics, only the act of violence. Instead of shrinking in fear, Liesel responds to injury with anger. This chapter is merely an introduction of the event of the book burning which is told in several chapters.
Summary of “The Joy of Cigarettes”
Liesel is settling in to her life in Molching. She loves her foster parents, especially Hans Hubermann, and she is getting used to Rudy as a best friend. Her reading is improving. She has finished The Grave Digger's Handbook and has received two books for Christmas which Papa got for her by trading his most precious treasure, his cigarettes that he rolls himself from his tobacco ration. He gives her Faust the Dog by Mattheus Ottleberg and The Lighthouse by Ingrid Rippinstein, which she reads over and over. Mama is insulted that Hans did not trade cigarettes to get her a present. So Hans trades his tobacco for a box of eggs instead of the shoes she had wanted.
Commentary on “The Joy of Cigarettes”
The harsh living conditions during the war, with rationing and not enough food or work, is demonstrated in this scene showing Hans as an affectionate family man. He lavishes all his love on Liesel. Hans Junior briefly shows up at the holiday and argues politics with his father. The son is a Nazi, and Hans Sr. is not. This becomes dangerous for the family but shows Hans's courage and sense of truth. He is poor and uneducated but nobody's fool.
Summary of “The Town Walker”
Rosa's laundry business begins to decline, people saying they can't afford it. Rosa lets Liesel deliver the laundry to customers because she is a poor child and will get more sympathy. Liesel likes meeting the people of the town. Sometimes Rudy comes with her.
Liesel decides to start writing letters to her mother, now that she can write. She sends them to the woman who arranged the foster home for her. There has been no word of her mother. She overhears Rosa and Hans talking about it and realizes that something bad was done to her. She continues to write letters. Another laundry customer cancels. When Liesel does not get a birthday present, she decides to give herself one by sending all the letters to her mother in one envelope using washing money for the stamp. Rosa gives her a beating for spending the money until she finds out what it was for. That is when Liesel understands she will never see her mother again. This explains her behavior at the book burning on Hitler's birthday.
Commentary on “The Town Walker”
Liesel was never told why her mother had abandoned her. She becomes angry as she realizes Hitler is behind her family's suffering. Meanwhile, Rosa's laundry business is failing. First, the economic situation is bad for the German people since all the money is going for the war effort. Second, Hans is not a member of the Nazi party and so his standing is getting more shaky in the town. People know that the Hubermanns are getting money for taking care of the orphan, Liesel, and think they are not to be pitied. Liesel herself makes many friends by delivering the laundry, which will help her survive this terrible time.
Summary of “Hitler's Birthday, 1940”
The foster care woman has explained to the Hubermanns that their office has lost contact with Paula Meminger, Liesel's mother. Still, Liesel continues to check the mail box every day. In honor of Hitler's birthday, there is to be a parade, march, and a bonfire of banned books in the town square. Liesel will have to attend as a member of the Hitler Youth Groups. The Hubermanns' children visit for the day. Both live in Munich. Hans, Jr. is a Nazi, and Trudy is a nanny. The father and son argue. Hans Sr. is known as a painter of Jewish houses and has been branded a Jewish sympathizer, for painting over the graffiti on their houses and stores. Hans has applied to be a member of the Nazi party for the sake of safety, but they will not accept him. Hans Jr. says his father must be for or against Hitler and calls him a coward. Hans Jr. walks away from his family in disgust, and they never see him again.
Commentary on “Hitler's Birthday, 1940”
The narrator, Death, is able to add some ironic commentary about this scene, saying he wishes he could say that Hans, Jr. was a big success in his life but simply observes he is on his way to Stalingrad. He refers to the bloody German invasion of Russia in which the Germans were defeated. Hans Jr. will die a horrible death for his loyalty to Hitler.
Summary of “100 Percent Pure German Sweat”
Liesel and the other Hitler Youth Group kids march and sing in the square as the people clap. Tommy Müller gets into trouble because he is partially deaf and cannot hear the orders, stumbling into the other kids. Then, a thousand people gather to watch the burning of subversive books. Liesel feels this is a crime, for all books are sacred to her. Death remarks, however, that humans love to watch destruction. There are speeches against Jews and communists. Liesel has been told she is part of a superior race, but when she hears the word, “communist” she thinks of her mother, her father, and her dead brother. The boy that Liesel beat up at school, Ludwig, is trampled and injured by the crowd, and Liesel helps him to get away, so they become friends.
Commentary on “100 Percent Pure German Sweat”
This scene is one of national hysteria with Germans in essence burning their enemies in effigy, trying to get rid of their thoughts in books. The narrator Death describes the unreasoning mob that comprises the Nazi cult. Liesel, however, is not becoming indoctrinated. She is having a revelation, more fully described in the next scene.
Summary of “The Gates of Thievery”
Liesel is waiting on the steps of the church for Papa to take her home as the fire becomes ashes and people leave the square. She asks Papa if her mother is a communist and if the Führer Hitler took her away? He says yes. She starts yelling that she hates Hitler. Papa slaps Liesel and says she must never say that in public. He makes her practice saying “Heil Hitler!” with her arm upraised.
Commentary on “The Gates of Thievery”
The author makes it clear how the people live in fear. The speech of a careless child could endanger the whole family. The author also hints that Hans Hubermann is nervous, for he is contemplating committing the worst crime a German can do at this time, hiding a Jew. This is a bit of foreshadowing. Hans Jr had called his father a coward, but his humanitarian behavior is always courageous, and will be shown in his taking in Max the Jew.
Summary of “Book of Fire”
As Hans chats with someone in the street, Liesel edges near the burnt out fire, seeing some unburned books near the bottom of the pile. She grabs the closest book she sees and slips it into her uniform. The book is still warm and uncomfortable in her dress. Silently, the mayor's wife watches her but says nothing. This is the theft of the book, The Shoulder Shrug.
Commentary on “Book of Fire”
It becomes clearer that Liesel enjoys stealing the books more than being given them. (The books Liesel steals have fictitious titles.) In this case, there is great symbolic value in rescuing the book from the fire for it is like striking back at Hitler, the killer of her family. It also has a foreshadowing symbolism. The book is being burned because it has a Jewish protagonist. Snatching it from the fire is like rescuing a Jew from the Holocaust, which is what Hans Hubermann is about ready to do. The mayor's wife here and in other places watches Liesel sympathetically and never gives her away.