Summary Part Three: Mein Kampf
Summary of “The Way Home”
On the way home, Hans looks at Liesel's stolen book and gets an idea. He asks her to promise to keep a secret for him if he ever asks, the way he is going to keep this stolen book secret for her. She agrees. Hans goes to the Nazi headquarters to ask if his application for the party has been accepted. There he buys a copy of Hitler's book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle). The party members whisper that Hans will never be accepted.
Commentary on “The Way Home”
Liesel's book stealing is giving Hans the inspiration of how to help a Jewish friend to hide, as will be revealed. Mein Kampf was Hitler's autobiography, published in 1925, explaining his Nazi ideology. He wrote it while in prison for treason, for an attempted coup in Munich. The book explains the idea that Jews have a plot to take over the world. It also singles out Communism as a threat.
Summary of “The Mayor's Library”
Liesel begins to worry about stealing the book, because she knows who saw her do it. She dreads delivering laundry to the mayor's house. Rudy goes with her while Liesel knocks on the door, and the mayor's wife gives her the money for the laundry with no word of reproach. She is in her bathrobe as usual with a distant expression. One day, the mayor's wife motions Liesel to enter the house, and then she begins to fear she will be exposed. Instead, the mayor's wife shows her the library with hundreds of books. Liesel is in a state of wonder as she touches them. The mayor's wife sits wordless at a desk with the window open in all weathers, getting cold.
Commentary on “The Mayor's Library”
The library is a major revelation to Liesel, and so is the mayor's wife, who does not want to punish her but befriend and help her. It is a mystery why the wife, Ilsa Hermann, is so numb and distant. She is clearly depressed because she does not get dressed, and she does not talk. She sits in the library with the window open, freezing. She knows Liesel is attracted to books, and the mayor's library becomes a resource for the curious girl.
Summary of “Enter the Struggler”
Now the scene changes to Stuttgart, a city northwest of Munich, where a Jew is hiding in a friend's storage room. He is starving and imprisoned in a small dark space sitting on a suitcase for days. The friend finally opens the door, gives him food and a false identity card. He gives him a map and tells him there is a key taped inside the cover of the book. He will be back in a few days to help him escape.
Commentary on “Enter the Struggler”
This is the first glimpse of Max Vandenburg, the Jew on his way to the house of Hans Hubermann in Molching. He is almost dead but dependent on friends to keep him alive and help him escape. The story reminds us that there were those Germans who did not follow Hitler but who risked their lives to help the Jews and other oppressed people in the country. The punishment for sympathizers was as heavy as for the victims. Hans will not only risk his own life but the life of his family to save Max.
Summary of “The Attributes of Summer”
Liesel is spending a happy summer of 1940, reading and playing soccer. She likes The Shoulder Shrug with its main hero, a Jew, portrayed positively. While Liesel enjoys her childhood, Hans is worried at his lack of work and his son's disappearance from Munich. He knows the son is on the way to war. Liesel is allowed to read books in the mayor's library when she takes the laundry. She sits on the floor and reads while the mayor's wife sits at the desk and watches. Once, she finds a name in a book, “Johann Hermann.” The mayor's wife explains that was her son who died in World War I. She believes he froze to death, and ever since then she has been punishing herself by suffering, sitting freezing by an open window. Two of the boys Liesel plays soccer with are afraid of her since she beat them up: Tommy Müller, the half-deaf boy, and Ludwig Schmeikl. Though Rudy and Liesel are best friends, they are also rivals. Rudy teaches Liesel to swim in the river. It is stealing together that makes them close. The children are always hungry and learn how to steal food from farms and orchards. The Hubermanns live on pea soup and bread. Liesel and Rudy join a gang of child thieves led by Arthur Berg who steal food and divide it among themselves.
Commentary on “The Attributes of Summer”
The Molching children are starving, and their forays are serious, organized by a leader. Rudy and Liesel have to prove themselves. They get an abundance of apples, and Liesel eats so many that she vomits at home. Liesel plays with the boys and is able to keep up with them. In fact, they are afraid of her because she is so fierce in a fight.
The discovery about Ilsa Hermann's past throws light on her character and on the character of Germany itself that never recovered from the scars of World War I. Ilsa punishes herself for her son's death in the first war by embracing suffering as her credo. She starts to come to life when she watches the joy Liesel takes in the library books. Liesel is discovering the power of language.
Summary of “The Aryan Shopkeeper”
Frau Diller who has a shop in town is a fanatical supporter of Hitler, and the children cannot even buy something without giving a salute to Hitler. Rudy and Liesel find a penny on the ground and run to the shop to buy candy. They ask for mixed candy expecting a handful only to find out the penny will only be enough for one piece. They trade sucks on the one piece. Every day they search the ground for coins.
Commentary on “The Aryan Shopkeeper”
The children are just children and resist indoctrination. They do not think themselves poor when they find enough money to buy and share a piece of candy. Despite the terror and suffering around them, Liesel and Rudy are happy.
Summary of “The Struggler, Continued”
Max Vandenburg, on the other hand, is on the train making his way to find the Hubermanns. On the train he reads Hitler's Mein Kampf, the copy that Hans had bought and cleverly sent to him with the key to his house taped on the inside. Max was saved and hidden in Stuttgart by his childhood friend, Walter Kugler. Max escapes but is full of guilt because his family did not escape.
Commentary on “The Struggler, Continued”
The narrator creates suspense about Max going to the Hubermanns for safety. The connection between them is not clear at this point. Max is lucky to be getting aid from other Germans. He carries the guilt of being the only survivor of his Jewish family. The narrator notes the irony of Max passing for German, since he was German, at least before the war.
Summary of “Tricksters”
Rudy and Liesel are still stealing food in Arthur Berg's gang. They also steal in a more serious vein when they notice one boy delivering food to the priests at church on his bicycle. Rudy spreads water where the boy will ride his bicycle to the church. It becomes ice, and the boy falls on his bicycle. Rudy and Liesel take the basket containing the gifts for the priests: bread, eggs, and Speck. They take the spoils to Arthur who cooks a feast for the whole gang to eat.
Commentary on “Tricksters”
The children feel some guilt for stealing food meant for the priests, but the priests are fat, and they are hungry. Speck is pork fat, a luxury. They steal but they share with their gang. The narrator Death shows a future snapshot of Arthur the gang leader, seeing him holding his little sister in his arms as she dies. He refuses to put her down. Before Arthur moves to Cologne, he gives Rudy and Liesel a bag of chestnuts that they sell for candy money. These stealing adventures show how the children survive in times of war and starvation.
Summary of “The Struggler, Concluded”
After Max Vandenburg gets off the train, he has to walk for miles in the dark to find Molching and the Hubermann house. He finds it at the end of his strength and turns the key in the lock.
Commentary on “The Struggler, Continued”
Max finds shelter, but his guilt is always with him. Instead of relief, he feels guilt for putting these people in danger.