In December 1940, Werner participates in more training exercises. One day, Bastian asks Helmut Rödel, a tough, mean child, to point to the weakest boy in the group. To Werner’s horror, Helmut points to Frederick. Bastian orders Frederick to run, just as Ernst did—the other boys will have to catch him before he reaches the tree. Frederick runs fairly fast, but not fast enough to beat the rest of his peers.
There’s a distance growing between Frederick and Werner. They seem similarly unsure about Nazi ideology, but Werner is excelling at the school, so it’s much easier for him to get swept up in his own success and ambition, whereas Frederick is unpopular and “weak,” and so has no reason to embrace the ideas that punish and exclude him.
Bastian demands that Frederick prove that he’s not the weakest. He orders Helmut to beat Frederick with a heavy hose. Frederick withstands the beating, but only barely. Bastian orders everyone to sing a patriotic German song, and then he dismisses his students. Werner can’t force himself to look at Frederick. The narrator notes that Werner is now almost fifteen years old.
It’s no coincidence that the chapter ends with the fact that Werner is nearly 15—the age at which he would have been sent to work in the mines, had he remained in Essen. Either way, he is “losing his innocence” at about the same time. Whether it’s doing dangerous manual labor or becoming complicit in bullying and violence, either way Werner is no longer a child.