City of Thieves

City of Thieves Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kolya and Lev march through the woods outside of Leningrad. It's German-controlled territory, but there's no sign of the war at all. Lev finds himself happy, and thinks that Piter is a graveyard now. Kolya seems to feel the same way.
Once they're outside of Leningrad, Lev and Kolya don't encounter any signs of the war, and it seems strange to consider that the land is controlled by Germans.
Themes
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Kolya sees a scrap of paper and picks it up. It looks like a bank note, but it's obviously counterfeit. Kolya explains that the Germans drop counterfeit notes because it lowers the value of real money. Kolya flips the note over and reads the text on the other side, which is written by someone who obviously doesn't speak Russian. It guarantees safe return to "a free Russian" after the war. Kolya, smiling, says that the Russians invented propaganda and the Germans are just irritating the people they want to convert. He spears the note to a tree and lights it on fire, and he and Lev continue their march.
Kolya is trying to insert logic into the war by analyzing the Germans’ poor strategy. He alludes to the power of Soviet propaganda, which we've seen evidence of throughout the text. The egregious misspellings and poor grammar on the counterfeit note are played for humor, although the undertones and implications of it are also very sinister.
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After an hour, Kolya asks Lev if Jews believe in the afterlife. Lev explains that it depends on the Jew; his father was an atheist and his mother's not actually Jewish. Kolya says he thinks he has “Gypsy” blood, which Lev declares entirely untrue. Kolya returns to the subject of the afterlife and says that the New Testament is very clear. Lev says that the underworld is called Sheol, and mentions one of his father's poems called "The Bars of Sheol."
Lev is finally accepting Kolya's curiosity as just a part of him rather than viewing it as offensive. While Lev is finally discussing his father, we don't actually get any clear indication of what Lev himself believes. Still, we've seen how even being culturally Jewish has caused problems for both him and his father.
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Lev thinks that it seems odd to speak about his father, and that the words seem unsafe, even though he's in the middle of nowhere, but feels like he's happy to talk about his father and his work. Kolya asks what happens in Sheol, and Lev says that everyone goes there, good or bad, and it's dark and cold.
Notice how Lev's description of Sheol (the afterlife described in the Old Testament) mirrors the Russian winter that he and Kolya are currently enduring. This alludes to the idea that war, and the winter accompanying it, is hell on earth.
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Kolya says that last week he saw a soldier who had lost his eyelids to frostbite, as well as his fingers, toes, and some of his nose. He says he saw the man sleeping with no way to shut his eyes. Kolya says that he'd rather be blind.
The reader is reminded again of how horrific the war and the cold are. Kolya has seen horrendous things and believes at this point that he'll have to live with what he's seen forever.
Themes
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Both Lev and Kolya hear a howl. Kolya begins to follow the sound, and Lev follows Kolya through the snow. Lev spots tank tread marks that he knows aren't Russian as they reach the edge of a clearing, and gray and brown heaps are scattered across the snow. Lev thinks they're coats, but realizes they're dead dogs. Hearing another howl, Lev and Kolya spot a sheepdog dragging itself across the field by its front legs.
The horrors of the war continue and evidently aren't unique to the humans involved. While it's obvious that something terrible has taken place in the clearing, the cruelty is magnified when they notice that one dog is still alive and certainly suffering.
Themes
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Kolya instructs Lev to follow him to the still-living dog, telling him to not get too close to any of the dead dogs. As they approach the sheepdog, Lev sees boxes strapped to the dogs' backs. Kolya explains that the boxes are mines, and says that the dogs are trained to find food under tanks, starved, and then turned loose on German tanks. The Germans, however, clearly knew all about this plan, as the dogs have all been shot and there's no evidence that anything in the clearing has exploded.
While the Russian plan was good (if inhumane and cruel) in theory, in practice, it was all for naught. This points to the idea that during wartime, some things that people must do to survive or win really work to rob them of some of their humanity.
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Kolya asks Lev for his knife and approaches the sheepdog, who has finally given up on reaching the woods. Kolya kneels besides the dog, tells the dog he's a good boy, and slits the dog's throat. After a minute of silence, Kolya cleans the blade on the snow and says that they need to walk fast to make up for the lost time.
Kolya is once again shown to be kind, offering the dog release from its suffering. However, he and Lev have to move on quickly, both physically and emotionally, and detach from what they've seen.
Themes
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Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon