The Reader Part 2, Chapters 13-15 Summary

Bernhard Schlink

Part 2, Chapters 13-15 Summary

In June, all involved in the trial go to Israel to finish hearing testimony, but while there, the judge and prosecutors make a sight-seeing trip, extending their visit. While the trial is away, Michael plans to devote more time to his studies, but this does not happen. Instead, he is consumed with images of Hanna, both real memories, and sights created by his imagination. He imagines Hanna in a black uniform, hard-faced, standing in front of the church. He imagines her in the presence of a young girl who is reading to her before Hanna sends her back to Auschwitz. And then Michael imagines Hanna as he knew her, putting on her stockings, standing in his father’s study, riding her bicycle. Michael knows that all these images are unfair to the real Hanna, the Hanna that he knew. Soon the images merge with Michael’s images of the camps. There are so few photographs and documents of the camps that document their true horror. All that we know now is based on the spectacle created by the media. Michael says that all we really have left are clichés.

Michael decides to visit the remains of a concentration camp to challenge the persistent cliches, but he cannot get a visa in time to visit Auschwitz. Instead, he goes to Struthof in Alsace. He hitchhikes and is picked up by a driver on his way to a small nearby town. When Michael tells the driver where he is going, the driver falls silent. After some time, the man asks Michael why he wants to visit the camp, and before Michael can respond, the driver asks him if he wants to understand the reasons why people murder. Michael nods, and the driver says that people are so indifferent to each other that it is just as easy to murder as it is to not. The driver tells Michael about a photograph that he once saw of soldiers shooting Jews who were lined up in front of a quarry. A supervisor sat on an overlooking ledge—the look on his face morose yet satisfied. Michael asks the man if the supervisor was himself, and the man suddenly halts the car and kicks Michael out. Michael walks the remainder of the way to the camp.

Michael ends up visiting Struthof twice in his life: once during the trial and again later in life. When he is older, Michael sees the peaceful snow-cover at the camp and recalls his first visit after having been dropped off by the angry driver. During that visit, he tried to re-create the horrors of the camp as he stood among the barracks, but in the end, he only felt empty inside. In his mind, the images of Struthof mingled with the clichéd images of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.