Summary and Analysis Part 1: The Grave Digger's Handbook: The Jesse Owens Incident



Death recounts the night after the 1936 Summer Olympics, after Jesse Owens wins his fourth gold medal. On this night, Alex Steiner, Rudy's father, discovers Rudy at the Hubert Oval track, covered in charcoal. Rudy explains he only wants to be like Jesse Owens. Alex tells him that his family belongs to the Nazi Party, and while Alex doesn't hate Jews or Jewish shopkeepers, he says that Rudy should be grateful that he has blonde hair and blue eyes, that these things will keep him safe. Rudy shouldn't go around painting himself black. Alex also silently admits that he's relieved that Jewish shopkeepers are going out of business since he himself is a tailor and could use the extra work.


Through the use of Alex Steiner's character, Death illustrates how persuasive Hitler's propaganda is. Even a good man like Alex Steiner considers the idea that he might be better off with less competition. He is worried about his family and wants to do what he can to ensure their safety. If that means going along with the Nazi Party, then that is what he will do, which is what many people living in Germany at the time decided to do. They decided to keep their families safe.