It is April, 1944. Werner and the troops travel to Vienna. There, they enjoy the fun of the town—good food and beer, etc. Werner remembers Dr. Hauptmann, and imagines him as a young man in Vienna, enjoying the nightlife. 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.
Werner can’t entirely understand why Volkheimer is being so kind to him. It’s possible that Volkheimer might have had romantic feelings for Werner—feelings which he could never express (homosexuals were sent to the Holocaust death camps along with the Jews). But it’s also possible that Volkheimer is simply a loyal, kind man—which makes it even more difficult to understand how he can be so cruel to prisoners.
After some nights of festivity, Volkheimer calls the soldiers together. They’ve received rumors of an enemy transmission in the city. Werner uses his equipment to find the house where the enemy signal is being broadcast. Volkheimer orders his troops to storm the building. Inside, the soldiers threaten the woman living there. Werner begins to wonder if his math has been correct—perhaps it’s a different house broadcasting the signal. After a long period of searching, Werner hears a gunshot. In another room, Neumann Two’s gun is pointed at the closet. Inside, the troops find a child with a bullet in its head. Werner prays that the child is still alive—but it’s not.
In this horrific scene, the German soldiers murder a child because of Werner’s false information. Werner is flooded with guilt—his poor decision caused a family to be attacked, and a young child to be killed for no good reason. The horror of World War II, Doerr, suggests, is that this horrific story is merely one of thousands of similar stories, in which innocent people are killed by mistake or chance.
The mother of the dead child begins to cry. Werner wonders how Neumann Two could have shot a child. Then he realizes 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 away.
Werner struggles to understand how this has happened to him, and realizes the truth: the German state has trained him—and all his comrades—to obey orders at all costs, even if the orders seem immoral. It’s entirely possible that the other soldiers in the army are going through the same inner struggle that Werner is experiencing—but like Werner, they’ve been trained not to express their feelings.