Lev and Kolya soon make peace with the girls. The girls haven't spoken to anyone but Germans in months, and they have no radio. They pepper Lev and Kolya with questions about if certain landmarks in Leningrad still stand. Lev and Kolya don't ask much about the girls, since the story is obvious: when Germans invade, men are slaughtered, women are sent to work as slaves, others flee, and the prettiest girls are kept for the Nazis' pleasure.
In Lev's description, the war doesn't just encompass killing and starvation; it at times necessitates psychological gymnastics like the girls must be experiencing as they grapple with their fates.
The girls give Lev and Kolya tea, bread, and baked potatoes with butter. Kolya asks if the soldiers ever bring eggs, and Galina says they did once. One girl, Lara, explains that the officers are in a house near the lake, and Kolya again asks about eggs. The girls laugh at what seems a joke.
We're reminded that the hunt for eggs seems like a hilarious joke, and forced to remember that while it is absurd in every way, it's still a life-or-death matter for Lev and Kolya.
Lara asks if Lev and Kolya are organizing partisans, and Kolya offers a swaggering non-answer that doesn't impress the girls. Kolya suggests to Lev that the house on the lake might be a good target to pick off Wehrmacht officers, but Nina, another girl, says the officers aren't Wehrmacht, they're Einsatzgruppen.
Despite the fact that the girls haven't been a part of Russian society for months, they're still aware that the NKVD are supposedly organizing partisans. This again alludes to how pervasive the newspapers' stories are.
Lev explains to the reader that Russians had gotten a crash course in German since the invasion, and at first Einsatzgruppen didn't sound as sinister as some of the other German words. However, the Einsatzgruppen are Nazi death squads, made up of handpicked killers from other branches of the military. They follow behind combat divisions and hunt Communists, intellectuals, Jews, and other targets.
The Einsatzgruppen are essentially some of the most sinister and feared members of the German army, as they do the more personal “cleanup” work after combat divisions have taken over an area. The fact that the girls are being kept by the Einsatzgruppen makes the house even more dangerous for Lev and Kolya.
Nina explains that the Einsatzgruppen don't generally bother with bombing cities, but the soldiers who visit them make bets on who can hit different buildings in Leningrad for fun. Lev thinks of the Kirov again and wonders if Vera, Oleg, and Grisha are dead because an officer gave the wrong coordinates and hit the Kirov instead of the Winter Palace.
Bombing the city is sport for the Einsatzgruppen. Considering the bombing that Leningrad is experiencing in terms of a game serves to further dehumanize the Nazis while simultaneously allowing the Nazis to distance themselves from the tragedy.
Kolya asks how many officers come. Olesya, a girl who doesn't speak, takes plates out of the room, and Nina finally answers that it's usually between two and four, and that they drive, and nearly always come at night. Kolya asks why the girls don't walk away, citing the fact that he and Lev left Piter at dawn and made it to the farmhouse. Nina, offended, asks if he thinks the Germans are stupid and would just let them walk away. Lara says to tell them about Zoya. Galina, another girl, leaves the room.
The Nazis are obviously keeping the girls here through psychological means, as the door to the farmhouse was unlocked. While Kolya seems to think he's being entirely logical, Galina's reaction to the mention of Zoya indicates that there's definitely more to the situation than what Kolya and Lev realize. This creates a sense of foreboding for the reader as the tale begins.
Lara says that the Germans loved Zoya, and that six men came for Zoya for every one that came for her (Lara). Zoya was only 14, had seen the Germans murder her parents, and was very afraid. She was brought to the house at the end of November with the rest of them, but panicked. Lara says that every night after the soldiers left, Zoya would cry for hours, and there was nothing they could do to help her. After a week, the other girls started to ignore her, and Zoya suddenly stopped crying. She was silent for three days, and the next day, the other girls didn't even notice that Zoya had left.
The reader is asked to think back to Lev’s statement that one must engage with the war by essentially either not thinking about it at all, or treating it as a story. In her fear and in light of the trauma, Zoya was likely unable to do that and unable to mentally escape. The other girls ostracized her because they recognized that disengaging from what was happening to them would be the only way to get through it.
When the officers came that night calling for Zoya, they didn't believe Lara or Nina when they said that they didn't know where she was. The officers went out looking for her. Lara says that Abendroth, the man who gives orders, led the hunt. He always got Zoya first when he came, and then would drink plum schnapps and sometimes plays chess with Lara. Nina says that Abendroth is the worst of them.
This is the first the reader hears of Abendroth, who becomes the primary antagonist of the story. Even before Zoya's story is fully told, it’s clear that he is both powerful and evil. Benioff also mentions that Abendroth plays chess, which is something that will be important later.
After a few hours the Nazis returned with Zoya, who was dirty, bruised, and naked. Zoya had taken Lara's coat and boots, and Abendroth told Lara to get the saw. Nina begins crying as Lara continues the story. The officers held Zoya down. Abendroth made Lara give him the saw and then made her, Nina, Galina, and Olesya stay in the room and watch as he sawed Zoya's feet off, one at a time, while Zoya screamed. When he was done, Abendroth stood, bowed, and said that this is what happens to girls who walk away. The girls tried to wrap Zoya's legs, but there was too much blood.
While it appears as though there was never a question of Abendroth's authority, notice that here he makes a show of performing his power for the Nazis as well as the other girls. He leaves no room to question his power, as he's even able to make Lara complicit in what he did to Zoya. In a more overarching way, Abendroth's actions demonstrate the utter cruelty and depravity of which humanity is capable.
After a few minutes of silence, Kolya confirms with the girls that the German soldiers come at midnight. Lev thinks he won't be able to sleep after hearing about Zoya. Kolya tells Lara and Nina that tomorrow they need to head for the city, and the farmhouse won't be safe for them after tonight.
Everyone is visibly shaken after hearing about Zoya. Kolya's conception of himself as a hero shows here, as he makes it clear that he's going to attempt to kill Abendroth and (hopefully) rescue the girls and avenge Zoya.