The next morning, Stingo was awakened by Nathan and Sophie knocking on his door and inviting him to go to Coney Island with them. Stingo was initially angry with Nathan but gradually accepted Nathan’s apologies and Sophie’s insistence that all three of them should be friends. While he got ready for the day out, Stingo ran into Morris again, who expressed his distrust of Nathan. Morris explained that the previous night, he had witnessed Nathan violently slapping Sophie while she passively laid still. Today, however, the couple was extremely affectionate with one another. Nathan revealed that Sophie was not Jewish. Nathan explained that when he first met Sophie, she was malnourished and ill due to having spent time in a concentration camp. Nathan also told Stingo that he was a cellular biologist with a degree from Harvard who worked for a large pharmaceutical company. Because of his medical knowledge, Nathan had been working to help Sophie become healthier.
As he spent more time with Nathan and Sophie, Stingo was drawn to the possibility of having friends, but he detected tension under their seemingly jovial attitudes. After only a short time, Nathan returned the conversation to Stingo’s Southern roots and brought up Bobby Weed, a Black man who had recently been gruesomely killed by white Southerners. Nathan bluntly stated that he believed that the way Bobby Weed was murdered was as bad as the acts committed by the Nazi regime. Stingo became angry, asserting that all white Southerners were not necessarily racist, but Nathan insisted that Stingo was simply avoiding responsibility for actions in which he was complicit. Stingo was frustrated with Nathan even though he had been sickened and horrified when he learned about the fate of Bobby Weed. Eventually, Sophie put a stop to the argument and urged both men to enjoy the day.
Sophie began to tell Stingo about her childhood. She grew up in Poland, in the city of Cracow. Both of her parents were professors, and valued art, music, and languages. Her parents were politically liberal and devout Catholics. Sophie grew up speaking Polish, German, and French fluently and dreamed of someday becoming a music teacher. Sophie confided that while Nathan often accused all Polish people of being anti-Semitic, her father had always tried to help Jewish people when they were being persecuted. When Sophie was quite young, she married a man named Casimir, who also taught at the university, and the two of them lived together with her parents. Sophie and Casimir had dreams of going to Vienna to advance their studies, but these dreams were put on hold when Germany invaded Austria.
Even when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Sophie hoped that her family might not be affected too badly. One day in November, Sophie was praying in church while her husband and father attended a meeting that had been called for all professors. She had a sudden premonition that something awful was going to happen and hurried to the location where the meeting was taking place. Sophie saw that all the professors had been rounded up and taken away. She learned that both her husband and father had been taken to a concentration camp and were killed a short time later. Sophie lost her faith in God after all the suffering and tragedy she witnessed. In particular, Sophie was tormented by having been unable to say goodbye to her husband and father and because she and Casimir had a fight right before he was taken away.
Stingo provides some additional details that he learned about Sophie as he got to know her during that summer. In the summer of 1947, Sophie had been in America for about a year and a half and worked as a receptionist in the office of a Jewish chiropractor named Dr. Blackstock. She had been living at the Zimmerman rooming house the entire time while also taking English classes. Although she had little money, Sophie immersed herself in books, music, and the bustle of New York City. She was generally happy with her new life but experienced a traumatic event in June 1946 (about a year before she met Stingo and also before she met Nathan). One day, while she was riding the crowded subway, a man squeezed behind her, reached under her skirt, and penetrated her with his fingers. Sophie froze and only managed to get off the car at the next stop, never knowing who it was who violated her.
This traumatic event sent Sophie spiraling into shock and depression. She confided in Dr. Blackstock, who suggested Sophie begin undergoing chiropractic treatments. Stingo notes that while he will include information according to what Sophie told him at the time, there were a number of cases where she lied or left out important facts. He alludes to the story she told about her childhood in Poland as an example of a case where some information was omitted but does not yet specify what that information was.