Summary and Analysis
Part 1: The Grave Digger's Handbook:
The Woman with the Iron Fist
Liesel begins to learn the dynamics of her new home, particularly of how Rosa runs it. Liesel has nightmares about her brother, and Hans sits in her room to comfort her. She trusts him because he doesn't leave her, and in the mornings he plays his accordion for her at the breakfast table, partly to annoy Rosa. Just as Rosa calls Liesel Saumensch, Rosa calls Hans the male equivalent: Saukerl. Liesel begins to associate the sound of Hans's accordion with safety.
She hides The Grave Digger's Handbook underneath her mattress. For her, the book signifies the last time she saw her mother and her brother. School is a struggle, because Liesel cannot read or write. She is placed with the younger children and feels ashamed.
She also begins her enrollment in the BDM: Bund Deutscher Mädchen, Band of German Girls. They meet from 3 to 5 on Wednesdays and Saturdays and learn skills like bandage rolling, sewing, and marching, and perform their heil Hitlers.
Liesel goes with Rosa to pick up and deliver the wealthy families' washing and ironing. Rosa doesn't like her customers and berates them to Liesel. She particularly dislikes the mayor and his wife, who live at 8 Grande Strasse. She sends Liesel to the door, and a woman in a bathrobe answers and hands Liesel the washing. Rosa says that the woman is crazy.
Down the street lives a woman named Frau Holtzapfel, who has had a disagreement with Rosa and spits on the door of their house each time she passes. Rosa makes Liesel go outside and clean it.
In this chapter, the dynamic between Hans and Rosa Hubermann is explored. Rosa has difficulty expressing affection, so she chooses to do so by calling those she loves names like Saukerl and Saumensch, terms that Liesel later associates with love. Hans, on the other hand, is playful and soft-spoken, and through his accordion playing and late nights spent with Liesel does she come to know his love.
The theme of Liesel's struggle with words continues in this chapter as she struggles to keep up in school. The other children tease her because she can't read, continuing the theme of words equipping their masters with power — something she does not have just yet.