When Werner first sees the passing train full of prisoners, he thinks that prisoners are sitting and leaning against piles of sacks. Then he realizes those sacks are human corpses. The sight shocks him, and he incredulously asks Neumann Two if the prisoners are sitting on their dead. Neumann Two simply answers, “Bang. Bang Bang.” In other words, the overwhelming magnitude of death has made it impossible for these prisoners to behave in ways that Werner considers ethical. War destroys the humanity not only of its perpetrators, but also of its victims. These prisoners have been robbed of their free will just like Werner feels robbed of his. Yet Werner also can’t help feeling responsible for the ways in which his actions have unconsciously supported the horror he sees.
Death also has a dramatic impact on Etienne and Marie-Laure but in a very different way: Madame Manec’s death inspires Etienne to take up her cause. He has been living as if his life is predetermined, but he now begins to take responsibility for his own actions by resisting the Germans. Joining the resistance makes him feel hopeful and alive, so much so that he increases his risk even further by broadcasting music once he has read the series of numbers.