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For Max Vandenburg, those were the two most pitiful words he could possibly say, rivaled only by I’m sorry.
There was a constant urge to speak both expressions, spurred on by the affliction of guilt.
How many times in those first few hours of awakeness did he feel like walking out of that basement and leaving
the house altogether? It must have been hundreds.
Each time, though, it was only a twinge. Which made it even worse.
He wanted to walk out—Lord, how he wanted to (or at least he wanted to want to)—but he knew he wouldn’t.
It was much the same as the way he left his family in Stuttgart, under a veil of fabricated loyalty.
Living was living.
The price was guilt and shame.
For his first few days in the basement, Liesel had nothing to do with him. She denied his existence. His rustling
hair, his cold, slippery fingers.
His tortured presence.
Mama and Papa.
There was such gravity between them, and a lot of failed decision-making.
They considered whether they could move him.
In this situation, they were friendless and paralyzed. There was nowhere else for Max Vandenburg to go. It was
them. Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel had never seen them look at each other so much, or with such
It was they who took the food down and organized an empty paint can for Max’s excrement. The contents
would be disposed of by Hans as prudently as possible. Rosa also took him some buckets of hot water to wash
himself. The Jew was filthy.
Outside, a mountain of cold November air was waiting at the front door each time Liesel left the house.
Drizzle came down in spades.
Dead leaves were slumped on the road.
Soon enough, it was the book thief’s turn to visit the basement. They made her.
She walked tentatively down the steps, knowing that no words were required. The scuffing of her feet was
enough to rouse him.
In the middle of the basement, she stood and waited, feeling more like she was standing in the center of a great
dusky field. The sun was setting behind a...
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- Winter '13