City of Thieves

City of Thieves Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
An hour before sunset, the company reaches a schoolhouse built during the second Five-Year Plan. The Wehrmacht are using it as a command center, and many of the Germans head inside. The remaining soldiers still on duty prod the prisoners along the side of the schoolhouse into lines, where an Einsatzkommando is sitting in a folding chair.
The Five-Year Plans were designed to transition the Soviet Union from an agrarian society to an industrial one. The Einsatzkommando in his folding chair has a degree of absurdity to it, as it's a normal, banal image of a very evil and dangerous man.
Themes
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
The Einsatzkommando addresses the prisoners, telling them to not be afraid, and that they're on the same side. Soldiers hand out newspapers to the prisoners, as the commander says that victory for Germany is also victory for the Russians. He explains that every prisoner will read a paragraph aloud, and those who are literate will be taken to Vyborg to work as translators, while those who can't read will be working in steel mills in Estonia.
The Einsatzkommando's promise of where prisoners will be taken should raise some eyebrows, as it's become extremely clear throughout the novel that the Nazis aren't interested in actually embracing any of the people they conquer.
Themes
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon
Many prisoners take the test very seriously. The Nazis joke with the Russians, some of whom make up articles. The literate prisoners try to read impressively, and Kolya rolls his eyes and suggests reciting 60 stanzas of a famous poem. Vika grabs Lev's arm and tells him he doesn't read. The Germans test the man on Kolya's other side, and Lev tries to get Kolya's attention, shaking his head at him. Lev hopes Kolya understands.
Kolya once again demonstrates his inability to remain silent when he should and doesn't appear to take the test seriously, which creates a sense of danger and suspense for the reader. This is heightened when Lev doesn't get to tell Kolya explicitly that he should pretend he doesn't read. Also Vika once again shows herself to be much more experienced and savvy than the other two.
Themes
Literature and Storytelling Theme Icon
Survival Theme Icon
Kolya and the Nazi banter for a moment, and then Kolya laughs and tells the Nazi he can't even fake reading. He insists on staying to see if his friends can do better. The Nazi, moving on to Lev, says that he looks Jewish. Kolya tells the Nazi that they tease Lev about it all the time, but they know his family and he's not Jewish. Lev purposefully fails the reading test, and then it's Vika's turn. She doesn't even try, and the three join the group of illiterate prisoners. The prisoner who betrayed Markov is standing outside the circle.
It seems as though Kolya is able to get a degree of special treatment from his captors thanks to how charming he is, as he's allowed to stay and watch Lev and Vika perform the test. His charm likely saves Lev in this instance, and Vika's decision to not even try to read likely saves her from being outed as female. We again see that Markov's betrayer is still being ostracized from the group.
Themes
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Lev asks Vika if the commander leading the test was Abendroth, and Vika answers that Abendroth is a rank above the man who was testing them. The soldiers form the literate prisoners into lines and instruct them to march, and the prisoners seem proud as they move in front of the wall of the schoolhouse, not understanding their fate. The Nazis then fire at the literate prisoners, killing all of them.
In this brutal scene, the Nazis prove once again that they're not to be trusted. This also calls into question what will become of the illiterate prisoners. The hunt for Abendroth continues, but it's indicated that he's nearby and their meeting will come soon.
Themes
Survival Theme Icon
Russia and World War II Theme Icon