The Price
Chapter 5

Trial and Sentence

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You kill me for no reason at all. I haven't committed any crime. All I've done is tell the truth.
Summary
The boys were all subjected to a kangaroo court [1] at this point. Karl-Heinz says they he was assigned a defense attorney, but that the man could never have actually tried to defend him: "If he had said anything in my defense he'd have been arrested himself at once." Besides, Karl-Heinz suspected the attorney may have just been an informer, secretly trying to get him to confess to more than he had already.

Karl-Heinz' father was able to make it to the opening statements, but he and the other attendees, including the press, had to leave after an hour and a half. After this, the court spent six hours on the actual trial, most of which was focused on Helmuth.

Helmuth was very "cool…clear… and smart." He explained everything he'd written, why, and even where he'd gotten the ideas. He even said he'd done it all "Because [he] wanted people to know the truth." The court sentenced him to death.

Everyone else was allowed back into the courtroom for the sentencing. Karl-Heinz was sentenced to five years hard labor, Rudi to ten, and another friend to four.

They were placed in holding cells, where Karl-Heinz tried to convince Helmuth that they wouldn't actually kill him, but he knew better. Karl-Heinz' father was allowed to see him for two minutes. He also got to say goodbye to Helmuth, after which they were all taken their separate ways.

Helmuth, the author later learned, was held in a maximum security cell for two-and-a-half months, "with no blankets or clothing allowed, lest he hang himself." After being informed one morning that he would be executed that evening, he famously wrote three letters: "one to his grandparents, one to his mother, and one to the Sommerfeldt family." That night, he was beheaded by guillotine. His grave is still unknown.

"Nine months later… Helmuth's mother and grandparents were killed in a bombing raid on Hamburg." The letters he wrote them were destroyed, but the one to the Sommerfeldts survived, and the text is provided in the book. In it, he expresses his faith in God, and his gratitude that God knew he was innocent.

Karl-Heinz closes this chapter with an expression of his guilt that Helmuth had to die while the others got to live.


References:

[1] kangaroo court (merriam-webster.com) <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kangaroo%20court, accessed 2021-02-09.>
Analysis
In the opening paragraph, Karl-Heinz states that "we had already been found guilty even before our trial." This is commonplace in illegitimate, tyrannical governments. Later, the author tells Helmuth, "They're just trying to make an example of us so that others don't do what we did." In fact, this last statement matters even more to the tyrants than any actual guilt. They must assert the supremacy of the state, and make sure that no one else has the audacity to try to take a stand. All of these things are what make a kangaroo court what it is.
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