The year when Werner turns ten, the two oldest boys in his orphanage leave to join the Hitler Youth program. They are excited about fighting on behalf of the Nazis. Things begin to change at the orphanage, too—children are punished for reading or enjoying anything that’s not German: British books, French candies, etc. Frau Elena, who is French, speaks German more and more, and notices her neighbors looking at her strangely.
Doerr describes the changes in German society at the time by studying one small orphanage—something of a microcosm for the country as a whole. Weak students are bullied, foreigners are threatened, and there’s a growing sense of national and racial pride. The same was true in Germany as a whole.
Werner continues to develop an interest in the science of sound. He reads science magazines when he can find them, and constantly plays with his radio. Meanwhile, government officials visit the orphanage to tell the children about work opportunities in the mines. The officials tell the boys that they’ll be sent to work in mines at the age of fifteen. Werner thinks fearfully about his father, who died in the mines years ago.
The association between the mines and death is clear, especially since Werner’s father literally died in the mines. There’s also a symbolic kind of death that Werner sees in the mines: the death of his curiosity, his ambition, and his ability to explore the world beyond his orphanage in Essen.