Quote 1

“We must all just keep ourselves safe until this is all over. That’s what I intend to do anyway. What more can we do than that after all? It’s not up to us to change things.”

Maria speaks these words to Bruno in Chapter 7. Upon learning that his family had to leave their beloved house in Berlin, Bruno complained about having to uproot his life. When directed toward his parents, his complaints had little effect. So, Bruno sought solidarity elsewhere and asked Maria, the family’s maid, what she thought about the family’s move. Bruno assumed that Maria would take his side and support him in his complaints, but she refused to state an opinion of her own. She explained how Father had supported her through tough times in her life. Father had paid for her mother’s medical expenses as well as her funeral. He had also given Maria a job when she was on the brink of destitution. For these reasons, Maria concluded that Father was a good man and didn’t want to criticize him or his decisions. Likewise, she encouraged Bruno to respect his father and simply accept their new situation without hoping to change it. This is the sentiment she expresses in the quote above.

However, Maria’s advice to Bruno has chilling implications, particularly since the narrator provides evidence that she does not support Father’s work as the commandant of Out-With Camp. In Chapter 2, for instance, Maria made an oblique comment that showed her disapproval. When Bruno complained that one of the soldiers in the house looked too serious, Maria responded: “Well, they have very serious jobs. . . or so they think anyway.” Maria’s comment slyly criticizes the soldiers and their commitment to the cause. Clearly, she has less faith than they do in the importance of the mission at Out-With. And yet, despite her disapproval, Maria refused to speak out against the atrocities she knew the soldiers were committing just outside the house. Instead, she convinced herself that she bore no personal responsibility for what was happening at Out-With. She expressed this belief to Bruno when she said she simply intended to keep out of harm’s way, then asked, “What more can we do than that after all?” Maria believed that she could avoid responsibility for what was happening at Out-With by willing herself into a state of ignorance. As the reader sees, however, her silence made her complicit in the violence.