After the death of the prisoner at the National Institute, the prisoner’s body is kept outside for a week. Over the next few days, Frederick is picked again and again as the weakest soldier, and each time, he’s forced to outrun the rest of the soldiers, then beaten for failing to do so. Werner tries to focus on his work in Hauptmann’s laboratory. Hauptmann continues to lavish Werner with praise.
The gruesome display of the prisoner’s body could be interpreted as a triumphant sign of German power, but its meaning is also more intimidating—the body seems to say, “obey, or you’ll get the same as me.” Werner, however, tries to avoid thinking about this, and instead focuses on the objective, ideal world of physics. The problem is that his amoral science will be put to work for immoral purposes.
One evening, Werner and Volkheimer discuss the prisoner who died. Volkheimer claims that the professors bring out the prisoner every year, always claiming he’s Polish, Russian, etc. Volkheimer adds, “Decency does not matter to them.”
Volkheimer seemingly has more perspective on the matter than Werner does. Volkheimer recognizes the truth about the Nazis’ methods (a truth Werner tries to avoid), even if he goes along with these methods himself.
In the coming weeks, the students bully Frederick by leaving dead animals in his bed and pushing him around. Werner tries to look out for Frederick by helping him with work and polishing his boots. One day in class, Hauptmann discusses the principle of entropy with his students. Entropy laws dictate that every process “must by law decay” over time.
Werner is trying his best to be a good person and help out his friend, but even these acts of kindness are a kind of cop-out, a way for Werner to ignore the real, overarching evil at the National Institute: its emphasis on torture, cruelty, and brute force. He will help Frederick in private, but not stand up for him in the face of authority.