The Power of Words in The Book Thief

Instructor: Shelley Vessels

Shelley has taught at the middle school level for 10 years and has a master's degree in teaching English.

While you may not realize it, the power of words and of reading is extraordinary. Many of us take for granted that we can read pretty much whatever we want to, at any time. But in Nazi Germany, and in 'The Book Thief,' this wasn't so. Read this lesson to find out more.

Reading: Pleasure or Pain?

Have you ever groaned at free reading time in school? Or, have you complained about meeting your weekly reading goal with your independent reading book?

How do you think you'd feel if you weren't able to choose what books you could read at all? In Hitler's Germany, citizens were not allowed to read what they pleased. Censorship was alive and well in Nazi Germany - meaning that you could be told what you could and couldn't read. Liesel, the main character in The Book Thief, experiences this first-hand and goes to great lengths to get her hands on reading material.

Hitler, Power, and Words

Hitler understood that words are power, and that knowledge is power. The more he could restrict his citizens, the less likely they could learn something that would guide them to an uprising. By squelching his citizens' ability to seek out their own information, he could limit what they knew and increase his own power.

In fact, along with censoring books, he also circulated his own words and vision for Germany in Mein Kampf, his own book, in an attempt to further control his people. His plan was that at some point in the future, the only books in existence would be Nazi-approved. The propaganda, which is misleading political information meant to persuade, circulated through these books would further empower Hitler.

Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
mein kampf

How was he able to keep people from reading books? Well, he simply had them burned. In The Book Thief, there is a powerful scene in which the Nazis round up people's books up by going door to door in the village, and then celebrate Hitler's birthday with a ceremonial book-burning bonfire.

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