Part 2, Chapters 4-6 Summary
Michael attends the trial every day, and his professor is glad someone is there to brief the other students on the events of the trial from day to day. During the trial, Hanna keeps her eyes fixed on the bench—only once does she look at the audience and at Michael. During breaks, the other defendants meet with family members, but Hanna remains seated alone. Michael watches Hanna’s body language while she is being discussed during the trial. He notes how her body slumps slightly when she is being wronged, yet she never allows her head to fall. Michael also thinks about their past relationship, but the memory is “like a retrieved file.”
As the trial continues and Michael imagines Hanna guilty as accused, he goes numb. He recognizes this numbness in others present during the trial—the lawyers and especially the judges. But Michael’s peers are repeatedly horrified by the trial because they only attend it once per week. Michael recalls the numbness in Holocaust survivor literature that he has read, and he questions what he and others of the second generation should do with their knowledge about the horrors of the Holocaust.
The indictments are read during the second week of the trial. Hanna and four other women have been charged for their role in the death of a group of women at a small satellite camp outside Auschwitz. The camp was nearly destroyed during an early bombing, and female prisoners from Auschwitz were regularly marched to the camp to reconstruct the buildings. In an ensuing attack, a church building holding many female prisoners was bombed, and the guards—Hanna included—refused to open to the doors to the church, leaving the prisoners inside to burn.
Hanna objects to the discussion of her actions. She claims that neither she nor any of the other guards had keys to the doors of the church and, therefore, could not open the doors. However, she already signed a statement that claims she had a key to the church doors. During her testimony, Hanna admits that she and the other guards openly discussed which prisoners would be sent back to Auschwitz from the satellite camp. The judge questions whether Hanna knew she had been sending prisoners to their deaths. Hanna claims that the old, sick prisoners had to make room for the new. Then she asks the judge what he would have done in the same situation, suggesting that she as a worker had no choice but to act as ordered by her supervisors. The judge provides a paltry response to her question, leaving Hanna apparently confused about what her actions should have been.