In the story, a young girl named Liesel Meminger is sent away to live with a different set of parents while her mother is away. Liesel doesn’t know if it’s because the Nazi party took her away or what, but she becomes introverted until the man she is forced to call Papa shows her how to read. From there she rescues books from a Nazi book burning, and ‘borrowing’ them from the library of the rich couple her surrogate mother does laundry for.
A young Jewish man comes to their house, knowing that he can find refuge from Papa because Papa was rescued by the boy’s father in WW1. Not only are there books that the Nazis should have burned but now there’s a Jew hiding in this tiny house, forcing the family to adapt to situations as fast as they seem to happen.
The movie is subtly powerful. The narrator, the angel of death, doesn’t make his presence or his voice overbearing in the story. He’s just a quiet observer, remarking about this young girl and the curious things she did. The flow of the movie progresses in a way that you aren’t sitting on the edge of your seat wondering what happened, but your mind’s tightening like a spring, ready for the inevitable ending.
Everybody doesn’t die. But even those that do, the narrator doesn’t make it out to be the horrific, painful event we expect. He mentions people ‘coming into his arms’ and meeting him when he comes for them. He becomes a very human character, and the people like Papa and Liesel become the wonderful, extraordinary characters.
But we both know what to expect from WW2 movies: violence, the sheer brutality, the unfathomable capacities of man for good and evil. That’s why movies about World War 2 are still being made, why there are still books being printed, and why we still talk about it. Those movies hold a special place in my mind. From Joyeux Noel to Saving Private Ryan, and more recently The Monuments Men, this is where we see the real explosion on mankind’s capacity. Technology abounded after the war, science fiction took off as a medium of expression, television and movies breached every story and subject, people became empowered to protest for what should happen, rather than what politicians allowed to happen, and Man looked to the reached of space and believed they were reachable. It also meant the capacity for evil. Hitler was the first, but since then, we have had Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, and each of the Kim Jongs (North Korea).
What I still find unbelievable is that despite the heartbreak we see from the survivors and the wealth of information we have available about that time period, there are still people that don’t believe the Holocaust happened. That’s why I’m glad I have these.
These are Reich pfennig (100 pfennig equals 1 Deutsch mark). When I started seeing these coins from the 3rd Reich at an antique shop, I had to find the right ones. Ones that clearly showed the Swastika and the eagle. This is a piece of that history. I can touch it and know that there are stories like The Book Thief and experiences like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and horrors as real as Auschwitz and Dachau.
A good movie should be able to trigger memories, and while The Book Thief got put on the back burner by other blockbusters, it’s a movie I believe will linger with us. Just as the narrator said at the end, this will haunt us.