Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapters 63-64

In the sixty-third and sixty-fourth chapters of The Book Thief, everything gets worse. And worse. And worse. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.

The rapid downfall has begun.


On the ration cards of Nazi Germany, there was no listing for punishment, but everyone had to take their turn. For some it was death in a foreign country during the war. For others it was poverty and guilt when the war was over, when six million discoveries were made throughout Europe. Many people must have seen their punishments coming, but only a small percentage welcomed it. One such person was Hans Hubermann.

You do not help Jews on the street.

Your basement should not be hiding one.

I’ll admit that I had a different idea for where The Book Thief would go from this point, and reading about how hopeless Hans had been throughout the last few chapters regarding what he’d done, I think I got this idea in my head that he’d never have to face the “punishment” for what he did, that he’d never really get that justification. Perhaps he won’t, but as soon as I turned the page after finishing the last review and read the chapter of the title, I instantly thought that Hans was going to get his own visit, like that of the Steiners, but for a different reason.

He does get that visit and…good god. What the hell.

One Wednesday in early November, his true punishment arrived in the mailbox. On the surface, it appeared to be good news:

We are delighted to inform you that your
application to join the NSDAP has been approved

Unbelievably fishy and impossibly coincidental. But that’s only because it’s one half of the message:

On Friday, a statement arrived to say that Hans Hubermann would be drafted into the German army. A member of the party would be happy to play a role in the war effort, it concluded. If he wasn’t, there would certainly be consequences.

A blessing with a curse inside of it. FUCK. Everything Liesel loves is being taken away from her. Max. Rudy. Hans. It’s just Rosa and Liesel left in that house. I already feel lonely about it.

I had a funny thought when reading all of this, too. I love that so many of you told me to read this book. Interestingly enough, this was the #1 most suggested book that wasn’t a series. I’d been hearing so much about it, and quite a few said that this book seemed uniquely attuned to my personal taste. YOU WERE RIGHT. Except as soon as I read this revelation, my brain instantly went to FUCK YOU FOR RECOMMENDING ME THIS. HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME ENJOY THIS BEAUTIFUL WORLD ONLY TO HAVE IT ALL TORN APART.

But no one loves sorrow more than I do, RITE RITE RITE. AMIRITE.

(This is my coping mechanism, stop judging me.)

When Liesel comes home from that day’s reading with Frau Holtzapfel, she knows something is dearly wrong: the soup is burning and her parents are absently placed in the room. As she reads the letter her papa hands her, Death gives us another flash of the writer inside her brain:

* * * THE CONTENTS OF * * *
In the shell-shocked kitchen, somewhere near the
stove, there’s an image of a lonely, overworked
typewriter. It sits in a distant, near-empty room. Its
keys are faded and a blank sheet waits patiently
upright in the assumed position. It wavers slightly
in the breeze from the window. Coffee break is
nearly over. A pile of paper the height of a human
stands casually by the door. It could easily be

I’ll say it a million times: I’ve never read a book where I’ve had this thought process of mine spelled out for others to read. In seconds, my brain imagines lush images, details easily recalled with the right words and the poetic ramble of diction flowing from somewhere inside my head, and sometimes all it takes is a second in the real world, a behavior, a gesture, a small scene, to conjure up an entire story in my brain.

When I see people, I imagine their stories. I’ve never been able to control it. It happens to everyone I see, most especially the people I pass when I’m walking or riding my bike, or maybe it’s the woman across from me on the BART. I think it’s a reason why I largely stay silent in public. Without knowing any details, I can imagine entire stories for people, create these characters and chart their growth and imagine what brought them right here to this very moment to be sitting precisely in front of me or to pass me by on the sidewalk.

I have never read anything like this in my life.

It was a sign of the German army’s growing desperation.

They were losing in Russia.

Their cities were being bombed.

More people were needed, as were ways of attaining them, and in most cases, the worst possible jobs would be given to the worst possible people.

I read into this that it was an indication of why Hans and Alex Steiner were singled out in the way they were. This is not to say that had this happened a year earlier, neither of them would have been punished. They still would have been, but perhaps not in the manner they were here, or not with such severity and futility left over. But the Germans are not winning, and so those in power take it out on their own citizens.

Liesel looked now to Mama.

Rosa had a small rip beneath her right eye, and within the minute, her cardboard face was broken. Not down the center, but to the right. It gnarled down her cheek in an arc, finishing at her chin.

But out of everything I’ve read here in chapter sixty-three, I think I’m most heartbroken for Rosa Hubermann, who I believe we just read have her breaking point. The one constant throughout all of this, whether it’s her persistently angry sense of humor or her quiet compassion or her steady role as the caretaker of both Hans and Liesel, is Rosa. To see someone who is so dependable crack like this hurts my heart. Which makes what happens later even more unbearable.

But we’ll get there.

She looks up. She speaks in a whisper.

“The sky is soft today, Max. The clouds
are so soft and sad, and … “ She
looks away and crosses her arms. She
thinks of her papa going to war and grabs
her jacket at each side of her body.
“And it’s cold, Max. It’s so cold …”

I miss Max. I worry about what happened to him, what’s going to happen to him, and I am anticipating that we’ll never hear from him again. Maybe Death will give him an aside and that’s it. Maybe that’s all I can hope for.

I do know that from here on out, I can expect nothing but sadness. Because holy shit, y’all, this is some bleak shit.

“Our papa’s going, too,” Kurt said.

Quietness then.

A group of kids was kicking a ball, up near Frau Diller’s.

“When they come and ask you for your children,” Barbara Steiner explained, to no one in particular, “you’re supposed to say yes.”

So now Alex Steiner is heading to war, maybe with Hans Hubermann. And Rudy Steiner will stay in Molching, and in what will probably be no time at all, he’s going to die.

Damn it.


The name of this chapter intrigued me. I knew it was a reference to Rosa, but what promise was Hans keeping?

Most of this devastating chapter focuses on Hans, and Liesel watching Hans leave, then Rosa dealing with Hans’s absence. We start off with alcohol. And lots of it.

Not counting the glass of champagne the previous summer, Hans Hubermann had not consumed a drop of alcohol for a decade. Then came the night before he left for training.

He made his way to the Knoller with Alex Steiner in the afternoon and stayed well into the evening. Ignoring the warnings of their wives, both men drank themselves into oblivion. It didn’t help that the Knoller’s owner, Dieter Westheimer, gave them free drinks.

Surely, what else could you do in such a situation? Both men probably know their chances of coming back alive in a losing war such as this is pretty damn slim, so why not enjoy one last night of drinking? Hans gives the performance of his life on his accordion, apparently, though he doesn’t necessarily remember any of it. Death doesn’t give us the details. I love that he just defaults to Liesel’s imagining of it instead:

Liesel imagined the scene of it, and the sound. Mouths were full. Empty beer glasses were streaked with foam. The bellows sighed and the song was over. People clapped. Their beer-filled mouths cheered him back to the bar.

I’ve never known a character who does this so much like my own brain. I LOVE THIS BOOK.

Stumbling home drunk, there’s a hilarious scene where Hans accidentally thinks Frau Holtzapfel’s house is his own and, when he can’t get his key to work, he loudly pounds on the door in order to get inside. I literally have nothing interesting that I could say about it beyond stating that it made me laugh, but I wanted to mention it because the scene adds an interesting context to Hans’s farewell.

He falls asleep in the basement that night, and I couldn’t ignore the parallel to Max, both in that they were men Liesel loved and they both left her. In that basement, he sleeps soundlessly, like a corpse, so much so that Rosa actually has to wake him up by dumping a bucket of water on him. (What a very Rosa thing to do.) Zusak’s description of the post-water-dump is another one of his fantastic bits of writing:

Steam was rising weirdly from his clothes. His hangover was visible. It heaved itself to his shoulders and sat there like a bag of wet cement.


Awake and soaking wet, Hans has no choice but to move ahead. He has to get read. He has to go. And he has to ask Liesel one thing:

Papa spoke. With his wet hand, he made the girl stop. He held her forearm. “Liesel? His face clung to her. “Do you think he’s alive?”

Liesel sat.

She crossed her legs.

The wet drop sheet soaked onto her knee.

“I hope so, Papa.”

It felt like such a stupid thing to say, so obvious, but there seemed little alternative.

Truthfully, short of knowing for sure what happened to Max, there’s nothing that can truly comfort Hans Hubermann. Maybe he thought heading off to war would vindicate him or, even on a lesser level, just return some sort of balance to his conscious. It looks like it’s done neither, and the only thing that would actually give him peace would be Max in his basement. And he’s gone.
And he’s going, too.

* * * THE KITCHEN: 1 PM. * * *
Two hours till goodbye: “Don’t go, Papa. Please.”
Her spoon-holding hand is shaking. “First we
lost Max. I can’t lose you now, too.” In response,
the hungover man digs his elbow into the table
and covers his right eye. “You’re half a woman
now, Liesel.” He wants to break down but wards
it off. He rides through it. “Look after Mama,
will you?” The girl can make only half a nod
to agree. “Yes, Papa.”

And thus begins Hans’s own procession through Molching. The Steiners come to say goodbye, telling Hans to come back alive; he casually reminds them he made it through one world war already. The procession moves down Himmel Street, a parade of goodbye.

When they walked up Himmel Street, the wiry woman from next door came out and stoof on the pavement.

“Goodbye, Frau Holtzapfel. My apologies for last night.”

“Goodbye, Hans, you drunken Saukerl,” but she offered him a note of friendship, too. “Come home soon.”

“Yes, Frau Holtzapfel. Thank you.”

She even played along a little. “You know what you can do with your thanks.”

This is why I wanted to mention the scene with Frau Holtzapfel from earlier. I get the sense that everyone knows just how hopeless this whole situation is. I don’t know that Frau Holtzapfel believes it to be wrong as well, as she seems to clearly agree with Hitler, so I’m not comfortable stating that she might also know that what is happening to Hans is wrong. But she knows that it’s awful nonetheless: he is leaving his wife and thirteen-year-old daughter behind.

The goodbye between Liesel and Hans feels so permanent, which is funny because Death has already told us that Hans escapes him a second time this very year. (But he very well could be taken on a third time, so I’m not expecting his return at all.) Even if he does come back, it’s not going to erase the pain that is etched into Liesel’s heart in those last minutes with her father, who requests she look after his accordion, that she continue reading in the bomb shelter if there’s another raid. Despite being unable to say what she really wants to say, to beg her Papa to say, Liesel does find some words: “Will you play us something when you come home?”

Hans Hubermann smiled at his daughter then and the train was ready to leave. He reached out and gently held her face in his hand. “I promise,” he said, and he made his way into the carriage.

MY CREYS. And with no fanfare whatsoever, Hans Hubermann steps onto a train that takes him far away from 33 Himmel Street. The vacancy inside those he left behind seems to spread to the entire neighborhood, filling the space with an emptiness the envelops everyone and everthing there.

After twelve days of Alex Steiner’s absence, Rudy decided he’d had enough. He hurried through the gate and knocked on Liesel’s door.



At least the two of them could suffer together, I thought. But I get the sense that both of them haven’t spent much time together lately, so had things changed in that time? Had their grief and trauma affected their other relationships?

So far, the answer is no. The two of them walked straight out of Molching together, no destination planned, though this detail begins to bother Liesel when she notices that they’re not heading to any place that is at all familiar:

“Where are we going?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

She struggled to keep up. “Well, to tell you the truth—not really.”

“I’m going to find him.”

“Your papa?”

“Yes.” He thought about it. “Actually, no. I think I’ll find the Führer instead.”

As ridiculous as this is—and it is surely completely absurd—this is precisely something that Rudy Steiner would do without a thought to the logistics or ramifications of such a choice. This isn’t a metaphorical statement for him. It’s what he actually wants to do.

Faster footsteps. “Why?”

Rudy stopped. “Because I want to kill him.” He even turned on the spot, to the rest of the world. “Did you hear that, you bastards?” he shouted. “I want to kill the Führer!”

See? He means it. He doesn’t understand the situation like you or I, but to him, this is a perfectly logical jump.

It’s too much for Liesel, though, who doesn’t have Rudy’s stubbornness inside of her. If anything, her cynical side is starting to come out and this is just too ridiculous for her to continue. Stating that it’s getting dark, she tells Rudy that she’s going back.

Rudy stopped and watched her now as if she were betraying him. “That’s right, book thief. Leave me now. I bet if there was a lousy book at the end of this road, you’d keep walking. Wouldn’t you?”

GOD DAMN IT, RUDY. YOU ARE WALKING TO KILL HITLER. I don’t think this is the same as stealing a book from the library of a lady who lets you do it.

Liesel stands up to this assertion, but I fear she’s revealed too much:

For a while, neither of them spoke, but Liesel soon found the will. “You think you’re the only one, Saukerl?” She turned away. “And you only lost your father…”

“What does that mean?”

Liesel took a moment to count.

Her mother. Her brother. Max Vandenburg. Hans Hubermann. All of them gone. And she’d never even had a real father.

“It means,” she said, “I’m going home.”

I know what Liesel means, but does Rudy? Did she just sort of admit that someone else is in that house? It could be an entirely disposable line, of course, and it certainly was meant to elaborate on Liesel’s history of loss in just thirteen years, but I wonder if Rudy will ask her about this later.

Either way, Liesel turns back, alone at first, then joined by Rudy fifteen minutes later. They walk in silence, consumed by their fear and their own futility, stuck in a situation they cannot control.

No, thought Liesel as she walked. It’s my heart that is tired. A thirteen-year-old heart shouldn’t feel like this.

Liesel realizing this is just another moment of sadness in a chapter that seems to be drowning in it. None of this, however, can prepare me for what ends chapter sixty-four: Rosa Hubermann.

The two of them, tired in heart and mind and body, return home to furious mothers, but the kind of furious that feels more like an obligation to be angry than any genuine emotion. That night is like all the others, as Liesel’s thoughts wander to Max and her father and “intruders” and “ghosts.” But she hears a noise in the living room of her house and her curiosity gets the best of her.

It took her longer than she expected for her eyes to adjust, and when they did, there was no denying the fact that Rosa Hubermann was sitting on the edge of the bed with her husband’s accordion tied to her chest. Her fingers hovered above the keys. She did not move. She didn’t even appear to be breathing.

The sight of it propelled itself to the girl in the hallway.

I wonder how often Rosa did this. Or if this was the first time. Or if she never slept much, if she just hugged her husband’s accordion instead and that gave her the comfort she needed in his absence. Whatever it was, I read this section with a stone in my throat, my heart reaching out for Rosa Hubermann, even though she wasn’t real, knowing that what she felt was real.

The accordion remained strapped to her chest. When she bowed her head, it sank to her lap. Liesel watched. She knew that for the next few days, Mama would be walking around with the imprint of an accordion on her body. There was also an acknowledgment that there was great beauty in what she was currently witnessing, and she chose not to disturb it.

Seriously. Heartbreaking doesn’t even seem like the right word. My god. And upon learning that Rosa fell asleep like that? It’s shows how truly broken this whole situation really is.

Ugh. I can’t imagine this getting any worse, but I know that it has to.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in The Book Thief and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapters 63-64

  1. SecretGirl127 says:

    "The Promise Keeper's Wife" referred to the promise Hans made to Max's mother, that he would be there if they ever needed anything, and he was.

    The scene with Rosa and the accordion strapped to her just chokes me up. She loves her Hansi so much, and that's all that she has left of him. So sad. I love the image…and I love that even Liesel saw the beauty in the moment.

  2. mugglemomof2 says:

    wow- I forgot all about Hans going to war.
    Yeah- this book is amazing- but depressing as all hell 🙁

  3. I like how half of any given post about this book is just your gushing about how much you love this book.

  4. shortstack930 says:

    Such a depressing couple of chapters. I really hope Hans will return home. It's so sad to see Rosa broken like that when she has always seemed so tough.

  5. elusivebreath says:

    These are my favorite chapters, because, like you, I love ~all the sads.~ I'm not sure what it is about sad things, maybe that they are so moving, but give me a beautiful sad book like this and I will love it forever.

    Hans leaving hurt my heart even more than Max's leaving, because Hans and Liesel are so close. And Rosa, seeing her crumble is terrifying – like seeing the Doctor scared (speaking of, I just watched "The Impossible Astronaut" last night and OMG MOFFAT WHY).

  6. barnswallowkate says:

    Hans going to war makes me so nervous. My stomach got all wobbly =/

  7. ldwy says:

    Wow, I hadn't considered the promise that he made in this very chapter! Please, please, please let this be the promise he is able to keep. Please Please.

  8. ldwy says:

    Really great comment, I just wanted to say.

    Good memory! I forgot that mention of a plaster, I hope hope hope Hans comes home on medical discharge for nothing more serious than a broken bone!

    This book really sends home the message that nothing is fair.

  9. widerspruch says:

    Rudy's reaction breaks my heart in so many ways. He just. Wants to do something about all this and I bet he knows he can't but that doesn't prevent him from wanting to do so.

    And Rosa's has just got to be one of the most depressing scenes in the history of everything. Ugh, Rosa ;_;

  10. Ellalalalala says:

    Oh you have just reassured me SO MUCH, thank you thank you thank you!! 🙂 HANS IS COMING HOME!! 😀

  11. Phoebe says:

    Even if it was outright stated that Hans would come home from the war, I'd still probably be nervous. It's like when you get on a rollercoaster and feel like you're going to die even though it's been tested many times and thousands of people have ridden on it. THIS BOOK GETS ME SO NERVOUS!

  12. lanilani26 says:

    Hey Mark!
    I'm not reading The Book Thief, though I sometimes read your reviews or just log in to see what the site is up to. That's it, just letting you know that I miss you, this– impatiently waiting for a review (like I did with The Hunger Games) or just spending all weekend reading through your archive (like with the Harry Potter series).
    *waves* 🙂 :3

    • cait0716 says:


      I hope you rejoin us for His Dark Materials. The Book Thief is fun, but I miss the larger community that was present for some of the other series.

  13. flootzavut says:

    "It’s my heart that is tired. A thirteen-year-old heart shouldn’t feel like this."

    That kills me.

    And I'll say it again, I'm stoked that you like this book. Some people have the nerve to say Zusak is a bad writer or an unimaginative writer… blows my brain. I LOVE HIS WRITING!

  14. Gabbie says:

    Hans and Haymitch both start with an 'H,' so ready the part about poor Hansi going to the bar with Alex Steiner and getting drunk was a little too easy to read. LOL

  15. On the subject of imagining people's stories you should consider checking out: and both by the same person but it started out as a tumblr blog. A lady lives in the Netherlands I think and every day she writes little stories when observing the people she sees. Really lovely.

  16. Renea says:

    Thx for making the effort to describe the terminlogy towards the newcomers!

Comments are closed.