THE BOOK THIEF
It’s all Neuroticfitchmom’s fault. A month or so ago she raved about this book. I’m in favor of books that make one rave, so I stopped by the library and picked it up without even checking to see what it was about.
Generally I avoid Holocaust-related books and movies, because that is one of the few things that actually literally causes me to have nightmares. I don’t know why. It’s not a mystical ancestral memory or anything. As far as I know, no relative of mine died in the Holocaust. At that time they were all safely in the U.S., having been chased out of Russia by the Czar’s pogroms half a century earlier. You didn’t think Hitler was the first to think of murdering Jews as a tool of social and political control, did you?
The Book Thief is narrated by Death and traces the story of a girl who grows from child to young woman in Nazi Germany. Her kindly foster father is hiding a Jew in the basement, to the family’s ever-increasing peril. The girl suffers the deprivations common to war-time Germany, and through her eyes (and the eyes of Death), we see the systematic degradation, humiliation, starvation, torture, and finally murder of the Jews that were once the neighbors and friends of the people in her community.
In a scene now burned into my brain, a parade of filthy, skeletal, hollow-eyed Jews are marched through the girl’s town, watched by the German citizens, some approving, some horrified but unable to intervene. The kindly foster father, overcome with his own feelings, foolishly offers a crust of bread to an elderly man so weak he can barely stumble along. Both the old Jew and the foster father are whipped in the street by a Nazi soldier.
Now I’m glad I read the book even though the nightmares maybe coming, because this must not be forgotten, however unpleasant it is to hear about. And I realized why I am so obsessed with the state of religious issues in the U.S. Whenever political power or the lack thereof is attached to religion, the minority group is endangered.
And I realized this is why I have such a viscerally negative reaction to proselytizers. When someone tells me I’m going to hell because I’m not one of their group, I hear “we are better than you.” It’s a short hop-skip from “we are better than you” to “you are not entitled to the same rights we have.”
I think, or at least hope, that the people who pester me with their religious tracts believe they are offering me something of value, and that they do so with love. But the truth is, every time someone shoves a crucifix in my face I see swastikas in their eyes.
EDIT: When I wrote this I was not aware of the distinction between a crucifix and a cross. I thought the terms were interchangeable, but in fact I meant “cross.” Thanks to illgrindmyownthankyou for pointing out the error.