Summary Part Four: The Standover Man
Summary of “The Accordionist: The Secret Life of Hans Hubermann”
In the kitchen Max asks if he addresses Hans Hubermann and if he still plays the accordion. Hans says yes. There is a flashback to show how Hans got the accordion. He was fighting in World War I as a young man. He became friends with a Jew named Erik Vandenburg (Max's father) who taught him to play the accordion. Erik saved his life, and Hans inherited the accordion, vowing to help the Vandenburg family if he ever could. Now, he is redeeming his promise.
Commentary on “The Accordionist: The Secret Life of Hans Hubermann”
The narrator explains in one of his asides that Hans is not well educated and has many Jewish customers as a painter. Like the Jews, he does not believe the hatred will continue and so refuses to become a Nazi. Nevertheless, Hans's work dries up because he is not a Nazi. He is tolerated in town because he is half-heartedly waiting for his application to the Nazi party to be approved, and he plays the accordion well in the local public houses.
Summary of “A Good Girl” and “A Short History of the Jewish Fist Fighter”
Max arrived in November of 1940 at the Hubermann residence at 33 Himmel Street, Molching, Germany. He was 24 years old, and he was exhausted. Hans tells Max not to worry about Liesel. They share a room while Max recovers. Max grew up in Stuttgart, and he was a fist fighter. Max found relief in boxing. He was a street fighter, with people betting on his fights. One boxing opponent who became his friend was Walter Kugler. After the Nuremberg Laws forbidding Jews citizenship and intermarriage, Max loses his job, but he and Walter stay friends. During Kristallnacht in 1938 when Nazis destroy Jewish homes and businesses, Walter knocks on Max's door in Nazi uniform, ready to help Max escape. For the next two years, he stays in hiding in a store room. Walter helps Max get to Hans. Hans had sent the copy of Mein Kampf with the key inside.
Commentary on “A Good Girl” and “A Short History of the Jewish Fist Fighter”
Max and Liesel are both survivors and both fighters. They will become good friends. They are also both refugees from minority groups, the communists and Jews. Max is haunted by his relief and willingness to be the sole survivor of his family. Max has grown up as a fighter, and he continues to beat the odds because he has a strong life force and will to live. His story also shows there were Germans who risked their own lives to help the persecuted. Walter, for instance, is a Nazi soldier sent to Poland to subdue that country, yet he is not so indoctrinated that he cannot help his boyhood friend. Max is worried about living with a young girl because children don't keep secrets very well. Max and Liesel, however, are each other's best medicine during this time of danger.
Summary of “The Wrath of Rosa” and “Liesel's Lecture”
The Hubermanns are afraid but rise to the occasion. They put Max to bed next to Liesel in her room, because he is so weak. The next day, Liesel is kept home from school so Papa can give her a lecture about what has happened. He takes her to the basement and tells the story of how he got the accordion and the debt to the Vandenburg family.
The kind Hans suddenly turns into a tyrant as he tries to explain to Liesel the danger of the situation. If she tells anyone about Max, he will destroy her books, he says, and they will take her away from him. They will all be taken away. She cries. She accepts her responsibility as part of the conspiracy.
Commentary on “The Wrath of Rosa” and “Liesel's Lecture”
When Mr. Steiner or Hans try to explain to the children how they must behave in Nazi Germany, the children have a hard time understanding, because the situation is so extreme and illogical. The only way the kind Papa can get Liesel's attention is to threaten her most precious possessions, her books. It is interesting to see the bully Rosa. quiet and heroic for once. This is the more moving because the Hubermanns are not educated or political people; they are just very decent and brave.
Summary of “The Sleeper” and “The Swapping of Nightmares”
Max sleeps for three days. When he recovers, he moves voluntarily to the basement. Hans puts a mattress beneath the basement stairs and puts up a wall of his painter's drop sheets. At first Liesel avoids the new family member, but finally Papa makes her go to the basement for her reading lessons, and so she has to befriend Max, who shares her books. When it is found he is emaciated from hunger and cold, they bring him upstairs at night to sleep by a fire, and he goes back to the basement during the day. In the evening by the fire, Max tells stories about his life and makes friends with Liesel and the Hubermanns, and Hans plays the accordion. Both Liesel and Max have nightmares at night, and sometimes they share them. For her 12th birthday, Liesel receives a book from her parents called The Mud Men. She gives Max a hug because he feels bad he cannot give her a present. He decides to make her something.
Commentary on “The Sleeper” and “The Swapping of Nightmares”
Max feels constantly guilty that he does not deserve any kindness for being a Jew. Hitler's persecution reaches into his mind and soul. Max becomes angry as he reads Mein Kampf, Hitler's book against the Jews. Meanwhile, Liesel reads books at the mayor's house including a few pages every time of a murder mystery, The Whistler, about a murderer who whistles as he commits his crimes. There is an implied symbolic connection between the murderer, the whistler, and Hitler, the murderer of Jews. The Hubermanns' lives have altered, but they have to act as if everything is the same to avoid suspicion. The surprise is that Rosa finally comes out as a good person in a crisis. Liesel now lives in two worlds, one secret one in her home and one outside in the town. Words, both reading and writing, become the way Liesel and Max become friends, and the way they survive.
Summary of Pages from the Basement
Max makes Liesel a book about his life as a present. He takes out pages of Mein Kampf and paints them over with white paint. Then he writes and illustrates his own story, called The Standover Man. He makes himself look like a bird because Liesel had said his hair looked like feathers. He says he has been afraid all his life of men standing over him, men of authority. He learned to be a fighter. Now, standing over him is a girl, not a man. The girl and he have things in common, such as dreams and fists. On her birthday, she gave Max a hug. She is the best standover person of all. Liesel reads the book three times and then goes to the basement to thank Max. He is asleep, and she falls asleep with her hand on his shoulder.
Commentary on Pages from the Basement
The book Max makes (illustrated by Trudy White) are like a children's drawings and story. He is trying to tell Liesel how much her friendship means. They are both war orphans living a nightmare life, and yet, there is love and loyalty. Writing and drawings are still used in this way in war zones for children and adults to heal their trauma. The irony of his painting over Hitler's book to write of his friendship is satisfying to him and a denial of Hitler's propaganda that Jews and Germans do not belong together.