pro patria mori
summary; It is good and sweet to die for one's country—because if you say a lie long enough, loud enough, and often enough, people are going to believe it—ten people who didn't.
a / n; done in vaguely chronological order. Please excuse the wonky verb tenses, I know. ._. Also, credit is due to Wilfred Owen for the title, ripped from his poem Dulce et Decorum Est, and Hitler for the middle part of the summary which is a paraphrase of one of his more notable quotes. It goes without saying the characters are all Zusak's (including Timothy Brooke's whose name is pure speculation on my part). I'm pleased with this, so I hope you are too.
i. Johann Hermann
The barbed wire was not his choice. To be fair, the war wasn't either. But he was German, his father was exceptionally German, his mother too. And what else, when the war came, could a German man do but fight? But die?
He would rather have been in his mother's library, writing his name in the fly leaves of books, his mother raking her fingers through hair like wheat; ten-years-old and gloriously alive.
What he gets instead is rust and blood (and he can't even tell the two apart as he hangs there) on wire like thorns and the hand of Death against his scalp.
ii. Erik Vandenburg
'A damn shame,' he thinks when he meets Death face to face. A damn shame because his cigarette is burning to ash on the ground, because he has a wife and a son, and because he left his accordion with Hans and if he was going to die he would have liked to show Death what he had whittled away his life doing.
Music, not killing.
"There's no chance for a do-over, is there?"
He thinks of Max, his bar-mitzvah, his wedding. He thinks of his wife, their studio, her eyes.
"I'm afraid not."
iii. Robert Holtzapfel
He doesn't know cold until he knows Stalingrad; cold like the knucklebones of Death as they coax him from his bed sheets.
His brother Michael—oh, he has a gorgeous face—white like bones and ice, a face he could dig his fingers into as he swam in and out of consciousness, not like the melting faces of the doctors when they change his bandages. The gauze always makes his toes itch.
Michael frowns when he tells him this, grabs his elbow and says, "I'm leaving soon, Robert, but me and Mama are going to be waiting for you. And when you get back, we'll drink ourselves under the table, okay? Because the war's over for us, okay?"
Robert likes the idea very much—drinking himself into a stupor, far away from the bombs and scarlet snow and the foul-smelling hospital beds.
Shit on the war, the glory, all of it.
iv. Hans Hubermann Jr.
Some men fought for the ideals, the glory, the honor. Hans Jr. fought for stubbornness, because even though he dreaded Russia with white-knuckle fervor, he dreaded more slouching his way towards Number 33, towards his mother who's cry of "Hansi!" haunted his nights, towards his father and his blasted accordion and lofty notions, toward the girl, even.
It was much easier to let someone else carry him to Stalingrad than to carry himself over his pride.
Incidentally, Michael hadn't so much gotten the facts wrong when he had spoken to Rosa Hubermann so much as he had told a kind lie—Hans was not alive, not that it mattered much when the news finally wormed its way to what was left of Himmel Strausse. It was Alex Steiner and Liesel who set their jaws against the weight of it; them only.
v. Timothy Brookes
When Timothy's engines fail over enemy soil, he prays.
He prays for his engines to start and when they don't he prays for a safe landing and when that seems unlikely he prays to be somewhere else—Rusty's Diner, maybe, where he took his first date, where he sucked down sodas and joked with his friends about the war in Europe.
What he gets instead is a stand of trees and a horde of German monsters, jeering in the shadows of his imagination—he'd seen what they'd done to the Jews, the ovens, the showers; they couldn't be anything less than monsters.
Timothy Brookes does not expect how beautiful these Aryans can be—a boy with lemon hair settling a bear against his neck—and it catches his breath.
Death crouches in the cockpit and sighs.
vi. Reinhold Zucker
Reinhold is very superstitious.
He had always believed in luck (and spite and cigarettes and gambling). That was the reason behind the seat, Hubermann's. He had always believed luck could be stolen, and if the Nazis could steal Jewish teeth and Polish homes and Zucker's life—because that's precisely how he saw it when his enlistment notice came up—then he could, at the very least, steal a bit of card luck.
He had always believed Death wore a white linen bed sheet or black cloak and had skeletal fingers. He believed Death rattled when he breathed and carried a scythe.
But Death has the face of a man and grabs his soul by the earlobe, and luck can't be stolen, either.
vii. Rosa Hubermann
She is asleep, finally, contentedly. She does not know that bombs are falling all around her or that something like a man is crouching near her bedside.
She is asleep and does not know that this is the end, that she will very shortly be serving her duty to the Fuhrer—not by keeping ration cards or hanging flags from the windows but by lying in her bed as bombs fall from the bellies of airplanes (because she is a Jew-sympathizer and law-breaker and this end is fitting, would make the Fuhrer smile beneath his mustache and clap her on the back with a chorus of 'Deutchland uber Alles').
viii. Hans Hubermann
Hans, on the other hand, is standing fully awake and fully dead when his home is crumbling into matchsticks.
He looks Death in the face and glances towards Rosa.
"There's no chance for a do-over, is there?"
And Death smiles at the ghost of a memory that Hans doesn't understand and shakes his head, "I'm afraid not."
"Well, then," he smiles only it's ever so bittersweet and says, "I'll go but I had rather it hadn't ended this way."
ix. Rudy Steiner
As Death is coaxing Bettina Steiner out of her brother's arms, he can't help but pause and look at the lemon-haired boy beside him and think 'this shouldn't be happening'.
But Death never had much of a say in who he took, least of all a bomb-blasted teenager with a broken spine and torn aorta.
However, he stops—for only a second, because there are bricks crumbling and beams snapping and lives he has to end all up and down Himmel Street—just long enough for the boy's dream-twitching eyes to stop, just long enough for a vision of Jesse Owens sprinting across the finish line as a red-lipped apple thief cheered to swirl into a picture of a charcoal-covered boy weaving through a stand of trees and then a crash—an airplane—a pilot with blood leaking from the side of his neck—a 'thank you' that isn't the voice of a dying man, but the voice of a teenage girl as he pulls a book from the frosty Amper—the cool hands of Death against his ribs.
The last isn't a dream.
x. Liesel Meminger
And she's alive only it's more like being dead on your feet.