In September and October, I will be leading two discussions of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak for Sandusky District Library‘s One Book, One Community program. The following is a passage in which I found particularly powerful:

Not long before the sirens signaled the end, Alex Steiner — the man with the immovable, wooden face — coaxed the kids from his wife’s legs. He was able to reach out and grapple for his son’s free hand. Kurt, still stoic and full of stare, took it up and tightened his grip gently on the hand of his sister. Soon, everyone in the cellar was holding the hand of another, and the group of Germans stood in a lumpy circle. The cold hands melted into the warm ones, and in some cases, the feeling of another human pulse was transported. It came through the layers of pale, stiffened skin. Some of them closed their eyes, waiting for their final demise, or hoping for a sign that the raid was finally over.

Did they deserve any better, these people?

How many had actively persecuted others, high on the scent of Hitler’s gaze, repeating his sentences, his paragraphs, his opus? Was Rosa Hubermann responsible? The hider of a Jew? Or Hans? Did they all deserve to die? The children?

The answer to each of these questions interests me very much, though I cannot allow them to seduce me. I only know that all of those people would have sensed me that night, excluding the youngest of the children. I was the suggestion. I was the advice, my imagined feet walking into the kitchen and down the corridor.

As is often the case with humans, when I read about them in the book thief’s words, I pitied them, though not as much as I felt for the ones I scooped up from various camps in that time. The Germans in basements were pitiable, surely, but at least they had a chance. That basement was not a washroom. They were not sent there for a shower. For those people, life was still achievable” (p. 375 – 376.)