Page 414. " and they would all smile at the beauty of destruction "

Creative Commons AttributionDominos - Credit: aussiegall
Dominos featured on the covers of early editions of The Book Thief. Zusak uses dominos as a metaphor for the devastation caused by the Nazi government, and also for the tumbling of lost lives: a seemingly endless list of one after another after another after another.

Page 415. " Our school is one of the finest ever established "

The Nazi Party established special schools for boys who showed signs of physical greatness. Called Adolf Hitler Schools, they were set up to train the leaders of the future. Boys were usually sent away to AH Schools when they were as young as 12, and education consisted of six years of hard physical training. When pupils graduated they were usually sent to the Army. The very best candidates would go on to Order Castles (Ordensburg), which were schools for intensive military training.

Page 419. " The doctor scratched his scalp and coughed. His cold was killing him "

Excessive coughing is a symptom of Tuberculosis (TB). TB was common in the 1940s, and there was no effective treatment until 1946. Doctors working in Nazi concentration camps used prisoners to conduct medical experiments as they searched for cures and vaccines against tuberculosis, yellow fever, hepatitis and other deadly diseases.

Page 423. " Hans Hubermann was to be drafted into the German Army. "

During World War II, conscription to the German Army began with men aged 18 to 26 years. As the stock of soldiers was depleted, the Nazis began drafting men aged 27 to 33 years, then 34 to 44, followed by 45 to 54, and finally aged 55 to 64.

We don’t know what age Hans is, but he is likely to be over 40, which explains why he wasn’t conscripted until 1942, three years after the onset of war.