All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

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Frank Volkheimer Character Analysis

Frank Volkheimer is the huge, intimidating, and morally ambiguous staff sergeant who works as an assistant at Werner Pfennig’s school, the National Institute, and later commands Werner through his time in the German army. He can be tough and cruel, especially with prisoners of the German army, but he’s always gentle with Werner, and saves Werner’s life on more than one occasion. It’s left unclear how loyal Volkheimer is to the German army—it’s suggested that he’s willing to ignore orders from his commanders because he values his friendship with Werner more highly. In spite of his sins during World War II, Volkheimer is arguably “good” at heart, and his loyalty to Werner motivates much of the action in the final 100 pages of the book.

Frank Volkheimer Quotes in All the Light We Cannot See

The All the Light We Cannot See quotes below are all either spoken by Frank Volkheimer or refer to Frank Volkheimer . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Fourth Estate edition of All the Light We Cannot See published in 2015.
Four (8 August 1944): Atelier de Réparation Quotes

Atelier de réparation, thinks Werner, a chamber in which to make reparations. As appropriate a place as any. Certainly there would be people in the world who believe these three have reparations to make.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig (speaker), Frank Volkheimer , Walter Bernd
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:

In 1944, Werner and his fellow soldiers are stationed in France. During a bombing by the Allied air force, Werner and his peers are trapped below the ground in a small, dark room--the atelier de réparation (basically, a repair room). Werner notes the irony that he's trapped in a room intended for "reparations" (i.e., payments). In a moral sense, Werner and his fellow Nazis certainly have reparations to make--they have to atone for the crimes they've committed against innocent people.

Werner's thinking in this scene suggests that he's fully aware of the sins he's committed as a Nazi. Based on his experiences in the military academy, one might think that Werner truly believed that he was doing the right thing by joining the Nazi army. Instead, it seems that Werner was lying to himself all along: he recognizes that he was committing war crimes by working for the Nazis. Trapped below the ground, Werner seems to be condemned to a version of hell--beneath the earth, he's forced to relive his horrific crimes again and again.

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Seven (August 1942): White City Quotes

Volkheimer who always makes sure there is food for Werner. Who brings him eggs, who shares his broth, whose fondness for Werner remains, it seems, unshakable…

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig , Frank Volkheimer
Page Number: 366
Explanation and Analysis:

Werner has been shipped out to fight for the Nazi army in Russia. During his time in Russia, Werner witnesses the Nazi soldiers committing terrible crimes against their enemies. And yet Werner also sees Nazis showing remarkable kindness. One soldier, Volkheimer, takes good care of Werner--sacrificing his own happiness for Werner's sake again and again. It's strange to think that the same soldier who's so tender to his friends can be so brutal to his enemies.

Volkheimer's behavior in this passage suggests how thoroughly the Nazis have trained their soldiers to do evil. Even Volkheimer, someone who seems like a highly moral, responsible man, shows no signs of protesting when he's ordered to kill women and children on the opposing side of the war. Nazi propaganda is so strong and pervasive that it compels its soldiers to do evil while believing that they're doing good.

Werner waits for the child to blink. Blink, he thinks, blink blink blink. Already Volkheimer is closing the closet door, though it won’t close all the way because the girl’s foot is sticking out of it, and Bernd is covering the woman on the bed with a blanket, and how could Neumann Two not have known, but of course he didn’t, because that is how things are with Neumann Two, with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.

Related Characters: Werner Pfennig , Frank Volkheimer , Neumann Two
Page Number: 368
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Werner has directed his fellow soldiers to a house, where, he believes, a family is hiding a radio. When Werner and his fellow troops arrive at the house, they find no evidence of a radio of any kind. Before the troops leave, a soldier, Neumann Two, is startled and shoots a child. Werner then watches the body of the dead child in horror.

Werner's behavior in this scene makes it clear that he feels personally responsible for the child's death. By calculating the location of the secret radio--a location that, it quickly becomes clear, was improperly calculated--Werner allows Neumann Two and the other soldiers to murder innocent women and children. If there is a silver lining in this scene, it's the fact that Werner seems totally aware of his situation: he's aware that as a Nazi soldier, he's ordered to obey, look out for himself, and repress any feelings of guilt or compassion. In short, the Nazi "facade" is cracking--Werner is beginning to see how corrupt and hypocritical his Fascist orders have been all along.

Nine (May 1944): The Girl Quotes

Neumann One raises a single steady hand. His mouth is expressionless, but in the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, Werner can see despair. “In the end,” murmurs Volkheimer as the truck heaves away, “none of us will avoid it.”

Related Characters: Frank Volkheimer (speaker), Werner Pfennig , Neumann One
Page Number: 424
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Volkheimer, the commander of Werner's corp, sends Neumann One and Neumann Two to the front line, where the German army badly needs reinforcements. The soldiers are terrified, but Volkheimer insists that they're going to face the same fate that everyone will experience in the end.

Volkheimer, it would seem, is saying that Neumann One and Neumann Two are going to the front lines to die--a fate that everybody experiences in the end, and which Volkheimer and Werner will probably experience very shortly. The mood of the passage is quiet and hopeless: the fact that the German front lines are now begging for reinforcements is a sign that the German war effort is crumbling away--it's pretty clear now that the Allies are going to win the war. In no small part, the passage is so hopeless because it conveys a sense of fatalism: the idea that people have no control over their destinies. Werner began his military career believing that he could use his engineering training to freely choose a future for himself. But now, at the end of the war, his traumatizing experiences in battle have taught him that there's no such thing as freedom--people have no choice in the face of the vast movements of war and history.

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Frank Volkheimer Character Timeline in All the Light We Cannot See

The timeline below shows where the character Frank Volkheimer appears in All the Light We Cannot See. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Zero (August 7, 1944): Cellar
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Werner Pfennig sits in the Hotel of Bees, manning Her Majesty. His staff sergeant, Frank Volkheimer, walks by him and shouts, “it’s starting.” The military engineer, a man named Bernd, rushes... (full context)
Two (8 August 1944): Trapped
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...see Bernd, the engineer, screaming. Bernd’s face is covered with dust, and he seems terrified. Volkheimer, lying close by, gently closes Bernd’s mouth. Werner realizes that Volkheimer is using his military-issued... (full context)
Three (June 1940): Blackbirds
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Werner considers his teachers. There is Volkheimer, “the giant,” who is an older teenager and an assistant to the professors. Although he... (full context)
Four (8 August 1944): Atelier de Réparation
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Werner looks at Bernd the engineer, horrified. Volkheimer is trying to free everyone from the ruins of the hotel—he’s trying to hack through... (full context)
Four (8 August 1944): What They Have
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Under the Hotel of Bees, Volkheimer continues to hack at the debris barring his escape. In between his attempts, Volkheimer offers... (full context)
Five (January 1941): Entropy
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
One evening, Werner and Volkheimer discuss the prisoner who died. Volkheimer claims that the professors bring out the prisoner every... (full context)
Five (January 1941): Nadel im Heuhaufen
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Late at night, Werner, Volkheimer, and Dr. Hauptmann go outside to test their transceiver. The purpose of the device, Hauptmann... (full context)
Five (January 1941): You Have Other Friends
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...helping him whenever he can. Late at night, Werner and Hauptmann test their transceiver with Volkheimer’s help. (full context)
Five (January 1941): Intoxicated
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
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...the National Institute, there are always rumors of Germany’s glorious victories against Russia and England. Volkheimer is sent away from the school to become a sergeant in the army. The students... (full context)
Six (8 August 1944): The Death of Walter Bernd
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...stops talking, then sits upright and begs for water. He looks up and stares at Volkheimer and Werner. He explains that he visited his father last year. His father had asked... (full context)
Six (8 August 1944): Making the Radio
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...radio at the age of eight, with Jutta sitting next to him. As he works, Volkheimer looks at him, hopeful. (full context)
Seven (August 1942): East
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
...front, Werner notices a big man who looks oddly familiar—it’s the assistant from the Institute, Volkheimer. (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Volkheimer
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
After reuniting with Volkheimer, Werner meets his other fellow soldiers. There is an engineer named Walter Bernd, who’s very... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Sunflowers
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...is “as blonde as Hitler, as slim as Goering, and as tall as Goebbels.” Only Volkheimer insists that the soldiers stay disciplined. (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
...and Werner detects a signal. He realizes that there is a large, unusual “object” nearby. Volkheimer orders his soldiers to proceed on foot. They reach a house in the middle of... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Hunting
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
...continues monitoring radio transmissions on the Russian front. Whenever he finds a new radio transmission, Volkheimer and the troops go to kill the broadcasters. The troops travel through Minsk, Prague, and... (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
At times, the troops will be passing by a trainload of prisoners. Sometimes, Volkheimer will have the train stopped, and he will switch boots, shirts, or coats with a... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): Fever
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
...fever during his time in the army. His fellow soldiers take care of him, and Volkheimer offers him coffee, but Werner declines. Werner continues to find illegal transmissions, about one or... (full context)
Seven (August 1942): White City
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
...He wonders if Dr. Hauptmann is stationed on the frontlines. He also considers how kind Volkheimer has been to him—Volkheimer always makes sure Werner has enough food. (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
After some nights of festivity, Volkheimer calls the soldiers together. They’ve received rumors of an enemy transmission in the city. Werner... (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...the truth—everybody, himself included, follows orders, even when the orders call for horrific behavior. Quietly, Volkheimer announces, “There’s no radio here.” Werner and the other troops leave the house and drive... (full context)
Eight (9 August 1944): The Heads
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...call for help. He can hear only static on the receiver. He turns and sees Volkheimer, sitting in the dark. He asks Volkheimer if he liked being called “the Giant” in... (full context)
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Werner contemplates using the electrical wire in Volkheimer’s light to repair the radio. This could give them another full day in which to... (full context)
Eight (9 August 1944): The Beams
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Under the hotel, Werner tries to fix his radio. As he works, Volkheimer mentions that his great-grandfather was a sawyer (person who saws timber) for the navy. Above... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Edge of the World
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
While touring the army, Werner receives a letter from Jutta. Volkheimer reads the letter to Werner while they ride in a truck. Jutta tells Werner that... (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...music over the radio. Werner and his peers are going to France to investigate further. Volkheimer nods and says, “It won’t take long.” (full context)
Nine (May 1944): “Claire de Lune”
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
...else has noticed the sudden look of excitement on his face. After a few minutes, Volkheimer asks Werner if he’s found anything. Werner hesitates, then says that he’s found nothing. (full context)
Nine (May 1944): Antenna
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
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Eight soldiers are permanently installed at the Hotel of Bees, including Werner, Volkheimer, and Bernd. Werner continues to listen to the radio broadcast he remembers from his youth,... (full context)
Nine (May 1944): The Girl
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
One day, a messenger tells Volkheimer that the army needs two more Germans to come to the front. Volkheimer sends Neumann... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Entombed
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...Jules Verne. On the other side of the city, Werner listens to Marie-Laure’s voice. As Volkheimer listens along with him, Werner admits the truth: he’d discovered Marie-Laure’s voice, and the source... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Final Sentence
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
...the sound of artillery, and the room shakes. He hears the “shallow defeated breaths” of Volkheimer, who’s sitting next to him. (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Music #2
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
It is late at night in Saint-Malo. Werner sleeps beneath the hotel—only Volkheimer is awake. He fiddles with the radio, trying to find a clear station. Suddenly, he... (full context)
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
Volkheimer stands up and begins stacking heavy pieces of timber and masonry into one corner. Then... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Out
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Volkheimer has just detonated a grenade. Werner looks up and sees a mound of stone and... (full context)
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Volkheimer and Werner stagger through Saint-Malo, barely able to believe that they’re still alive. Volkheimer passes... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): The Simultaneity of Instants
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Science and “Ways of Seeing” Theme Icon
At the same instant that Marie-Laure is listening to all this, Volkheimer is walking down the streets of Saint-Malo, looking desperately for food. Also in this instance,... (full context)
Ten (12 August 1944): Light
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...prison, Werner is rushed to the hospital. In his delirium, Werner thinks he can hear Volkheimer’s voice, and he imagines his father standing in front of him. Werner remembers building a... (full context)
Twelve (1974): Volkheimer
Fate, Duty, and Free Will Theme Icon
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In 1974, Frank Volkheimer lives in Pforzheim, Germany. He is 51 years old and works as a TV repairman.... (full context)
Twelve (1974): Jutta
World War II, the Nazis, and the French Resistance Theme Icon
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...reminds her of the bullies of her youth in the orphanage. The man—introducing himself as Volkheimer—informs her that her brother, Werner, died just outside of the town of Saint-Malo. Volkheimer explains,... (full context)
Interconnectedness and Separation Theme Icon
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Jutta tells Volkheimer that she needs a moment alone. She goes into the kitchen, and is surprised to... (full context)
Twelve (1974): Duffel
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Volkheimer has just left Jutta’s house, leaving behind a duffel bag of Werner’s possessions. Jutta tries... (full context)
Twelve (1974): Visitor
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...model house—Jutta doesn’t know exactly how the house made its way from the grotto to Volkheimer to her. Nevertheless, she says that she wants Marie-Laure to have the model house—better Marie-Laure... (full context)