Summary and Analysis
Part 4: The Standover Man:
The Accordionist (The Secret Life of Hans Hubermann)
In World War I, Hans befriends a Jew named Erik Vandenburg who teaches Hans how to play the accordion. Erik saves Hans's life by nominating Hans as the soldier with the best handwriting, which allows Hans to help write letters while the rest of the men fight. Every man in his company is killed. Hans keeps Vandenburg's accordion and, when the war is over, takes it to Vandenburg's wife, who says Hans can keep it. Hans plays it for her and for her son, and then tells the woman that if there's anything she ever needs, she can contact him.
After Hans returns to Molching, he hesitates to join the Nazi Party, but his business suffers because of his non-affiliation, so he fills out an application. In the meantime, he helps paint over the defaced door of a Jewish shopkeeper, Joel Kleinmann. As a result, he is denied entry into the Nazi Party, but is placed on a waiting list. After Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass — two days of violent attacks against Jews in November 1939 — Hans's house is searched. Upon finding nothing suspicious, the Nazis allow him and his family to stay in Molching. What saves him is his application and the fact that the people of Molching love his accordion playing.
Six months after Liesel arrives, Hans is contacted by Walter Kugler, who asks if Hans is willing to keep the promise he made to Erik Vandenburg's wife.
This chapter serves to develop and explore the character of Hans Hubermann, revealing from where many of his motivations throughout this story come. Erik Vandenburg saves Hans twice, first during the war and later with his accordion, since Hans is allowed to stay in Molching because of his playing. This chapter also tells the back story of how Hans came to know Max Vandenburg and why Hans chooses to help him. He is keeping the promise he made to Max's mother.
Words also played a role in saving Hans's life; by writing letters, he was able to avoid battle.
Hans's sense of loyalty and fairness is apparent in how he learns early on that he must keep up the facade of wanting to join the Nazi Party while doing what he can to act according to his true beliefs.