The Book Thief is framed by Death's contemplation of the worth of humanity, and Death's inability to reconcile the remarkable cruelty and the remarkable compassion of which human beings are simultaneously capable. Liesel's life story contains elements of both, and by the end of the novel, Death appears to be no more capable of judging humanity than at the novel's outset. Thus, Death tells Liesel that it is "haunted" by humans, just as humans are haunted by Death. A jaded metaphysical being so used to dying could only be fearful of -- and, at times, amazed by -- those who live.
As Liesel's brother died, Liesel was dreaming of listening "contentedly" to the literally glowing stream of words coming from Hitler's mouth. Yet Liesel could not speak well and had no understanding of the evil meaning of these words. Like the majority of the German people, Liesel was attracted in a childlike way to Hitler's oratory; as Liesel learns to read later in the book, she comes to understand the true horror of this. Hitler violently attacked the Jews in his speeches and preached hatred to his followers; Liesel's brother dying while fleeing persecution and poverty is juxtaposed with this.
Readers of The Book Thief may be familiar with fictionalized and non-fiction accounts of World War II from the viewpoint of the Allies or of European Jews who were forced into hiding during the conflict. Because this novel is written from the point of view of the Germans, readers may find themselves sympathizing with characters that were historically on the other side. Were there no Jewish characters in the book, it might be tempting to believe that Jews and Germans suffered equally during the war. Max’s presence serves to remind the reader of the vast difference between the Jewish experience of the Holocaust and the German experience of wartime privations. Whenever we find ourselves feeling sorry for Liesel and her family, Max’s presence reminds us that others had it much, much worse. It expands the scope of the novel from one family’s story to the story of millions who were forced into hiding and sent to concentration camps. The fact that Max is Jewish and develops a strong bond with Liesel also underscores the shared humanity between all the characters in the book.