Human Nature can be observed nowhere better than during periods of mass tragedy. In Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, the author explores the story of Max Vandenburg, a jewish man living in Germany during WWII. Max’s struggle reveals loyalty in human nature. In Max’s struggle, loyalty is manifested through excessive cruelty, self-sacrifice, and crippling guilt. Firstly, Max’s struggle reveals the how loyalty leads individuals to be cruel. As a jewish man in Hitler’s Germany, Max suffers first-hand through a plethora of horrors. He falls victim to one of history’s worst evils: the Holocaust.
Because of his ethnicity, Max is a target of systematic persecution at the hands of Nazis. Prior to the events of the novel, “Max, with the rest of the jews, was steadily rejected and repeatedly trodden upon…by 1938, it was difficult to imagine that life could get any harder.
” ( Zusak 192). When he first appears in the book, Max had been hiding for “two years…in an empty storeroom…
there was very little food.” (Zusak 194). Due to conscious decisions made by other human beings, Max is made to starve and to suffer isolation. He has been hurt, both physically and emotionally, and therefore . Tragically, in the end, Max is unable to evade the Nazis, who are all to willing to subject him to horrendous abuse. When he meets again with Liesel, a soldier whips him mercilessly. Even after some time, “the whip continued from the soldier’s hand.
It landed on Max’s face…Max hit the ground…” (513).
It is obvious that he has been hurt, but the soldier didn’t stop, showing that the soldier intended to hurt Max, and he was willing to do it. He does it thoroughly, without guilt or remorse. After the physical onslaught, the soldier is similarly willing to hurt Max emotionally. He then berates him, saying “Get up, you dirty asshole, you jewish whore-dog, get up, get up…” (514). The soldier utilizes extremely offensive terms, selected All this was for the minor infraction of pausing to talk to an old friend. Even as Max was suffering right in front of him, the soldier demonstrated a zealous willingness to keep on inflicting pain. This shows how Max’s personal struggle revealed a dark side of human nature: he himself is personally impacted.
However, even as Max’s struggle is impacted by individuals being cruel due to loyalty, his life is also changed by people whose loyalty leads to self-sacrifice. He is aided twice by friends who hide him, acting on their loyalty to do so. Firstly, his life is saved by Walter Kugler, who sneaks him into hiding during a mass smashing of jewish-owned business. Walter then hides him in a warehouse, bringing him food and water. When Walter can no longer help Max, he makes sure that Max is able to reach the next source of help, in the form of the Hubermanns. Even though they were poor and barely had enough to eat for themselves, Rosa insists that Max “be fed, as best as I she can.” (207).
She wanted to maximize the help that Max recieved, even though it meant that her own family would often go hungry. They build him a hiding spot with a mattress, and brought him hot water to wash himself. Not only do the Hubermanns attend to Max’s physiological needs, they help him mentally, and try to help him keep in touch with his desire to live in a bleak world. Hans and Liesel befriend him, with the former offering him conversation, and the latter bringing him all sorts of presents, such as toy soldiers, weather reports, crosswords, and snow. Max clearly benefits from this, stating that “Often I wish this would all be over, Liesel, but then somehow you do something like walk down the basement steps with a snowman in your hands.” (313).
The Hubermanns do so much to help max, despite the fact that they themselves were “fairly poor”, (131?) and by hiding a Jewish man, they were bringing immense danger upon themselves. Hans states that if they were caught, not only would the Nazis “drag that man up there Max away, and maybe Mama Rosa and me too- and we will never, ever come back.” (204).
Taking into consideration the danger and the difficulty associated with providing help to Max, force compelling the Hubermanns to do so must have been strong, intrinsic human nature. The help Max receives in his struggle demonstrates another aspect of human nature. In addition to human nature in others, Max’s struggle is shaped by his own human nature as well. He falls victim to one of man’s famous fatal flaws- extreme gullibility. When Adolf Hitler fills Germany with lies about Jewish inferiority, Max internalizes these ideas, and believes them thoroughly. Consequently, Max does not perceive his life to be valuable, believing *insert derogatory quote about jewish ppl here*. When Hans offers him a mattress underneath a basement staircase, Max thanks him profusely, insisting that it is “better than I Max deserve” (208).
Since Max believed Hitler’s false claims of Jewish inferiority, he does not think himself worthy of even the smallest of things.