Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapters 65-66

In the sixty-fifth and sixty-sixth chapters of The Book Thief, we learn where Hans Hubermann was sent and job he was given, and Rudy shows Liesel how her father inspired him. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Book Thief.

Things get worse, and then they sort of get better. I’ll take the joy where I can find it.


Surprisingly, Zusak doesn’t give us a long time to wait to share with us what happened to Hans Hubermann in those first few weeks away at war. I suppose I expected it to at least be five to ten chapters before we’d see him again, but now it feels necessary for him to tell this story right here to give us insight both into the world war and the strange turn Hans’s life has taken.

Unfortunately, Alex Steiner and Hans were not kept together, though neither of them was sent into actual fighting either. Alex is sent to Austria to do mending. Hans is sent right back to Stuttgart, where most of this story began, and given a job with the LSE, the Air Raid Special Unit:

The job of the LSE was to remain aboveground during air raids and put out fires, prop up the walls of buildings, and rescue anyone who had been trapped during the raid. As Hans soon discovered, there was also an alternative definition for the acronym. The men in the unit would explain to him on his first day that it really stood for Leichensammler Einheit–Dead Body Collectors.

Short of being put on the front lines, I can’t imagine a worse position. He has to stay aboveground during air raids? I suppose I’d never even thought about people being needed to do this job, but it does make a lot of sense. Which is why it also makes sense that this is where Hans is sent as well, since his crime made him particularly unwanted.

I was shocked that not only does the head sergeant ask Hans what he did to get sent there, but Hans ACTUALLY TELLS THEM. It doesn’t end like I expected:

When Hans explained the bread, the Jews, and the whip, the round-faced sergeant gave out a short spurt of laughter. “You’re lucky to be alive.” His eyes were also round and he was constantly wiping them. They were either tired or itchy or fully smoke and dust. “Just remember that the enemy here is not in front of you.”

Hans was about to ask the obvious question when a voice arrived from behind. Attached to it was the slender face of a young man with a smile like a sneer. Reinhold Zucker. “With us,” he said, “the enemy isn’t over the hill or in any specific direction. It’s all around.” He returned his focus to the letter he was writing. “You’ll see.”

I was still confused about this, as I imagine Hans was, too. What the hell does that mean???

In the messy space of a few months, Reinhold Zucker would be dead. He would be killed by Hans Hubermann’s seat.


The answer isn’t given to us quite yet, but Zusak describes to us what Hans’s daily routine comes to look like. Despite that the details are different every single time, there’s a pattern to it all. Essentially, the LSE is almost like a janitorial crew in a sense, moving through towns to clean up what they can, or heading to places that might be hit next so they can help during the bombing.

From the beginning, it was clear that they all owned a seat.

Reinhold Zucker’s was in the middle of the left row.

Hans Hubermann’s was at the very back, where the daylight stretched itself out. He learned quickly to be on the lookout for any rubbish that might be thrown from anywhere in the truck’s interior. Hans reserved a special respect for cigarette butts, still burning as they whistled by.

So….their truck is blown up? That’s all I can guess at this point.

Hans does clean up for the most part until the end of November 1942, when he gets to experience his first air raid from aboveground. The entire city, unnamed, is surrounded with a thick smoke, buildings crumbling, rubble suffocating:

Fires were burning and the ruined cases of buildings were piled up in mounds. Framework leaned. The smoke bombs stood like matchsticks in the ground, filling the city’s lungs.

In this specific instance, Hans and three of his group, including the sergeant, are busy watering down a fire and each other, just to be safe, when a building falls behind them, coming to rest just a few meters behind Hans Hubermann. As they get away from the smoke and dust enveloping that part of the city, I wondered if these men were wearing any sort of protection on their faces. Zusak describes how the dust becomes like “paste” due to the water from the hoses and their own sweat mixing on their skin, and this sort of becomes a thing that happens to these men as they work through these various cities:

All four men were plastered with the gray-and-white conglomeration of dust. When they stood up fully, to resume work, only small cracks of their uniform could be seen.

The idea that the country’s least wanted men are getting the filthiest job is not lost on me.

Hans finds small joys in his work, though, which is most certainly what Hans does well. In this case, traveling from city to city, they’re tasked with trying to find anything possible to help hold up the leaning and sagging buildings, and Hans’s uniquely creative mind is adept at the task:

He almost came to enjoy finding a smoldering rafter or disheveled slab of concrete to prop those elbows up, to give them something to rest on.

I couldn’t help but think of Liesel when reading this line. In his own way, this is what he did for her as well, to find the things at his disposal to prop her up after her traumatizing entrance into 33 Himmel Street.

Despite this, the joy can’t always hold back the horrors of war, and Hans comes to understand just how horrific this job is and why only the worst of the worst are assigned it. It’s the people. It’s always the people.

What Zusak describes here is some of the most disturbing shit I’ve ever read, and I know that it’s either a word-for-word transcription of a story told to him by his grandmother or maybe it’s culled from anecdotes, or maybe it’s just not hard to imagine that the second World War could produce such miniature tragedies with such a ferocious tenacity. Sometimes, Hans would come across someone screaming a name, and though the name was different each time, it ended in one of two ways:

As the density subsided, the roll call of names limped through the ruptured streets, sometimes ending with an ash-filled embrace or a knelt-down howl of grief. They accumulated, hour by hour, like sweet and sour dreams, waiting to happen.

The horrors and the visual assaults are so frequent that, as Zusak describes, “Hans would need to perfect the art of forgetting.” What else can you do? You either detach yourself from it all, or it will get under your skin and haunt you.

One of those assaults involves an older man who wanders towards Hans, who is trying to stabilize a building:

A bloodstained was signed across his face. It trailed off down his throat and neck. he was wearing a white shirt with a dark red color and he held his leg as if it was next to him. “Could you prop me up now, young man?”

Hans picked him up and carried him out of the haze.

And before I even get a chance to process this (I had to read it twice to catch what Zusak was describing), Death puts this moment into context for us:

* * * A SMALL, SAD NOTE * * *
I visited that small city street with the man
still in Hans Hubermann’s arms. The sky was
white-horse gray.

Good god.

It wasn’t until he placed him down on a patch of concrete-coated grass that Hans noticed.

“What is it?” one of the other men asked.

Hans could only point.

“Oh.” A hand pulled him away. “Get used to it, Hubermann.”

How do you get used to something like that? Hans has been through war before, but something is so personally terrifying about an event like this. But Hans has a job to do, and concerning himself strictly with that is the only way to distract himself from the details. Develop a routine, find comfort in the normalcy of inanimate objects. Work work work work work.

Sometimes even that doesn’t work.

After perhaps two hours, he rushed from a building with the sergeant and two other men. He didn’t watch the ground and tripped. Only when he returned to his haunches and saw the others looking in distress at the obstacle did he realize.

The corpse was facedown.

It lay in a blanket of powder and dust, and it was holding its ears.

Oh christ, who is it?

It was a boy.

Perhaps eleven or twelve years old.

I can’t. I just can’t. Of course, my brain went straight to Liesel, who’s just a year older than this dead boy in the dust and rubble.

Not far away, as they progressed along the street, they found a woman calling the name Rudolf. She was drawn to the four men and met them in the mist. Her body was frail and bent with worry.

“Have you seen my boy?”

“How old is he?” the sergeant asked.


Oh, Christ. Oh, crucified Christ.

My thoughts exactly. Even worse, the woman calls out to the boy, calling him “Rudy,” and now it’s impossible for Hans to think of anything but his family and friends on Himmel Street, and he breathes a prayer, hoping they are safe.

“How was it down there?” someone asked.

Papa’s lungs were full of sky.

This is so fucked up.


It’s hard for Liesel, far away from her father, to think of anything but the three men taken away from Himmel Street. Liesel’s imagination wanders, wondering what their lives are like, what they are doing, what they’re thinking, and above everything else, missing them dearly.

One afternoon, she lifted the accordion from its case and polished it with a rag. Only once, just before she put it away, did she take the step that Mama could not. She placed her finger on one of the keys and softly pumped the bellows. Rosa had been right. It only made the room feel emptier.

That emptiness seems to appear everywhere that Liesel goes, and she can see it inside of Rudy as well, who misses his father in his own way as well. Sometimes he’ll explain what appears in his father’s letters, but this only causes Liesel to miss her own father more, since his letters are nowhere near as descriptive or detailed.

Even around town, she sees Alex, Hans, and Max in places and people she encounters, so she begins to appreciate the distraction that reading to Frau Holtzapfel provides her:

The old woman sometimes made tea or gave Liesel some soup that was infinitely better than Mama’s. Less watery.

Well, at least something is going right for Liesel.

The remainder of chapter sixty-six, despite being from Liesel’s point of view, focuses mostly on Rudy Steiner. After their fathers left Molching, there is just one more parade of Jews to Dachau. For Liesel, she entertains a largely illogical thought as she runs to watch the parade. Maybe Max Vandenburg will be in that parade. At least then she would know he was still alive. But then she’s torn: what if he’s not? Maybe he’s free. The ideas confuse and excite her as she rushes to Munich Street to watch the parade.

Rudy, though–brave and magnificent Rudy–has a much different idea for this parade. He arrives with two bikes and a bag full of quarters of pieces of bread. It was hard not to realize what Rudy had planned here, as it’s impossible not to think of the last time bread was involved in a parade of Jews. Riding out far ahead of the parade, Rudy reveals his plan to drop bread in the road for the Jews.

“I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

He slapped some bread onto her palm. “Your papa did.”

How could she argue? It was worth a whipping.

Oh, Rudy, I love you so much. Why do you have to die?

The two of them assemble into their hiding places to watch the parade, and as the first Jew hungrily snatches up a piece of bread and shoves it in his mouth, Liesel’s imagination gets the best of her. Wondering if the Jew is her Max, she tries to get a better view, upsetting Rudy, who knows they cannot risk getting spotted.

Unfortunately, despite being relieved that Max is not in that line of Jews marching to their certain death, the two of them get spotted.

They chose different directions, under the rafters of branches and the tall ceiling of the trees.

Just wanted to point out how fantastic this line is, giving the forest the appearance of a room. It makes the scene feel so much more claustrophobic.

Thankfully, Liesel only gets a boot to her behind from the soldier, who tells her to keep running. After running for a mile without stopping, it takes her forty-five minutes to return to Rudy at the bikes.

“I told you not to get too close,” he said.

She showed him her backside. “Have I got a footprint?”

I breathed a sigh of relief. At least for now, they were ok.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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27 Responses to Mark Reads ‘The Book Thief’: Chapters 65-66

  1. anninyn says:

    It doesn;t matter who's wrong or right in war. Innocent people die. Which is why war should always be the last resort, after everything else has failed.

    What I love about this book is it neither sugar-coats war, nor over-dramatises it. It doesn't say that feeling sympathy for the people caught up in this war makes you a sympathiser with the NAzi regime. It doesn;t forgive the Nazi regime, but it does point out that Germany wasn't made upof jack-booted fanatics, jsut people as fallible and human as anyone else. In doing so it humanises the 'enemy', and reminds us that in war we are fighting other people.

    By making the horror and fear so- normal, so matter of fact, so beautiful, it makes war look even more grotesque.

    • ldwy says:

      I agree with you so much. No one comes away from war innocent, and innocent people are affected. No matter what "side" you're on.

      I also agree with you about something I think this book does so so well, and you've articulated it better than I could have! …it neither sugar-coats war, nor over-dramatises it.

      Great comment.

  2. I cannot state strongly enough how much I love Rudy for doing this. ESPECIALLY in context of what happened to Hans. ILU RUDY.

    • cait0716 says:

      Yes! And I love the details about his stomach rumbling. As hungry as he is, he's willing to give up what he has. It's worth hunger, worth a whipping, to show a basic human kindness to the Jews. He's amazing.

  3. cait0716 says:

    I really love the parallels between Hans and Death in this section. Clearing the bodies and souls out of the way.

    Rudy is just the best person to ever exist. He can't die, he can't!

    It's interesting reading this story. Death is narrating using Liesel's journal. Ultimately, he only knows what she does (plus how everyone dies). That means that at some point Hans has to tell Liesel about his work on the front lines, just like Rudy eventually told her about being inspected at school. The framing adds an interesting layer to the story. Death is narrating, but we're seeing it through Liesel's eyes. How awful for a fourteen year old girl (or however old she is when she writes her journal) to have all this knowledge.

    • ldwy says:

      Perhaps Hans tells Liesel about his work, but I think its safe to say that Death was there as well. For instance, the poor old man whom Hans tried to carry to safety died in his arms-Death came to collect him. There were casualties at any location Hans' crew was sent to. I like to think of it in this way: Even if Death didn't recognize or care about Hans' story at the time, after reading Liesel's diary, I think he would remember. I kind of imagine that memory wouldn't fade for Death like for us. That he could choose to recollect particular instances. And so can supplement Liesel's story with his own. That's really just how I imagine it. I don't think there's any indication for or against this so far in the book. It's just another idea to add to the conversation.

      • monkeybutter says:

        I think Death said earlier in the book that he saw Hans during the war, doing those duties (I expect it was this scene with the old man), but he didn't realize it was him until later, so you're pretty on the nose. Hans is caked in plaster and mud, and Death is really busy, after all.

        • ldwy says:

          I'm glad you mentioned those earlier comments of Death's, Monkeybutter…my memories of the beginning of the book are a little vague at this point, but now that you mention it, I remember that too. I feel like that definitely informed my imaginings.

          When you're in the middle of a book for the first time, it's so easy to forget the details from earlier on. Then on a reread you realize all these little things that tie together (especially with a great writer), and it's amazing. That's why I don't really get tired of reading books over and over. Well, not all books, but you get the idea.

      • cait0716 says:

        Hooray conversation! Parts of the book are definitely from Death's perspective. There are things Liesel would have no way of knowing. But for a lot of it I find myself wondering how Liesel came to know the story. It's probably worth a re-read after I finish so I can try to tease out what Liesel knows and doesn't know. I hope this gets clearer the second or third time through.

  4. @BadlanAlun says:

    I wonder how much rebellion actually happened in Nazi Germany. I mean, I know there was some. Those three kids who left anti-Nazi fliers around and wereexecuted spring to mind. But smaller acts as well, like Rudy and Liesel's bread trail. I'm just wondering. I know massive amounts of propeganda aimed at the young and impressionable tends to dull minds and conform a population, but I still hope that people can see past such things. I will always remember a photograph I saw of a German rally at a shipyard during the second world war. Hitler was being driven past the crowds and the entire mob is raising an arm in salute. Except one man. He is risking death through defiance. I hope he survived.

  5. monkeybutter says:

    I love that Rudy is still so bold after seeing what has happened to his father and Hans. Whenever he's confronted by authority, it only makes him more determined to act out against it. He's a great kid.

    "With us,” he said, “the enemy isn’t over the hill or in any specific direction. It’s all around.”

    That line is great. They're fighting against the city around them, either the crumbling buildings or their dead inhabitants. The bombs can come at any time, but their work is to keep the city from falling apart. That's what will exhaust them, that's what will wear them down.

  6. How the hell does someone DIE BY SEAT?
    Well, if you're Georgia Lass, you die by toilet seat.

    • hilarius11 says:

      upvote for the Dead Like Me reference. Mark, next show you need to watch, Dead Like Me.

      • monkeybutter says:

        I actually ended up watching it because of someone's recommendation on Mark Reads months ago, and I love it. It's funny how often references to it come up in the comments. Mark totally needs to watch it if he hasn't already!

    • monkeybutter says:

      I can't believe I didn't think of that. You win.

  7. ldwy says:

    Fair point. I do agree that it would be horrific if a fourteen-year-old girl was writing a diary about these tragedies. and the idea of Hans relating these experiences to her seems so devastating. I don't know. Perhaps some combination of all these ideas we've been throwing around.

  8. monkeybutter says:

    Oh, I agree with you, I just meant to clarify that Death was there close to Hans at one point, but didn't notice it. Death doesn't have time to hang around during the war.

  9. lilygirl says:

    Death always talks about colors but there are very few bright colors in this descriptions. In this chapter Death saw white horse grey, in other places the colors of smoke, dirt. All the colors seem to be faded, dirty, drab, the colors of old streets, gutters, steamy sky. The colors of Death are earthy, muted, no bouquets of flowers

    Yet, to me, this is one of the most colorful books I have ever read. Zusak has an amazing gift to illuminate, cast color on the plain and everyday. Damn I love this book.

  10. Gabbie says:

    It lay in a blanket of powder and dust, and it was holding its ears.
    OHMYGOSH. This line rips me apart. It's just the image I get in my brain, this boy holding his ears because the bombs were probably hurting them. (among other things, but still) It just looks so desperate and innocent that I want to cry. D:

  11. widerspruch says:

    Ugh, the first part of the review made me cry. ;_;

  12. Anonymous says:

    Your reviews have inspired me to read the book myself, and now I'm even more interested in reading your thoughts. That's all I'm going to say.

  13. tigerpetals says:

    That's what I thought too.

  14. HieronymusGrbrd says:

    I was shocked that not only does the head sergeant ask Hans what he did to get sent there, but Hans ACTUALLY TELLS THEM.

    Hans may have been aware that everybody in this unit was punished for some small act of resistance, and even the Sergeant had not applied for this job, so why not tell them? The soldier who only kicked Liesel’s ass instead of arresting her in the next chapter, might have met Hans in the LSE if somebody had noticed this (or he might have met the other Hans Hubermann at Stalingrad).

    Also, the Sergeant’s comment: “You’re lucky to be alive.” made me reconsider what seemed to be a sadistic act in chapter 63.

    The local nazis don’t hate Hans (at least some of them, because not all our nazis are the same). “They” probably believe that Hans is too stupid to hide anything, and that musicians are not to be taken seriously anyway, so there was no reason to send the Gestapo to search his basement. Approving Hans’ application to join the NSDAP at last may in fact have been a kind attempt to protect this harmless fool. If somebody who “sabotaged the food supply by wasting bread on Jews” was not even a registered member of the party, he could probably not be trusted in the army and would have suffered an even worse punishment. (The sarcastic conclusion that “a member of the party would be happy to play a role in the war effort” may well have been the only way some minor official could express his disagreement to the laxly handling of this case.)

    But I’m german, so this may be just wishfull thinking, seeing more inner-party resistance than actually existed.

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