INTERVIEW BY PAUL SALFEN
videography by Alex Kinter
THE BOOK THIEF is a beautiful story about an ugly time in human history. Death narrates the story, musing as to what brought him to spare a young girl named Liesel as he comes for her brother while on a train. Their desperate mother is being forced to give them up for adoption in Germany during World War II, as she is an accused communist. After an impromptu, hasty burial, Liesel is taken alone to face adoptive parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson), a new town, and derision by her new schoolmates. She is unable to read, but Han’s gentle humor and persistence wins her over as he teaches her the alphabet. She becomes fast friends with Rudy (Nico Liersch), her partner in book and food thievery.
One day, a young jewish refugee named Max (Ben Schnetzer) comes to the door and the family chooses to hide him from the Nazis, because during the previous war, Max’s father served in the German Military with Hans, and gave his life so that Hans would live. Village life and loyalties are torn apart as neighbors turn on each other under the watchful eye of the Nazis. Max is confined to the cold basement, where he falls ill, and he Liesel pass the time talking and reading.
A book burning is organized to celebrate Adolph Hitler’s birthday on April 20, 1940. Liesel goes back to retrieve a book that was left smoldering, because having just learned to read, she values books and words. When Liesel hears a Nazi spokesman calling for death to communists as well as Jews, she realizes that Hitler is likely behind her father’s disappearance, her brother’s death, and her mother’s disappearance. She develops a hatred for Hitler which she must hide.