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Does the book "Boy in the Striped Pajamas" work well as a historical document?

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bigkuya | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 16, 2009 at 6:16 AM via web

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Does the book "Boy in the Striped Pajamas" work well as a historical document?

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ophelious | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted November 16, 2009 at 7:04 AM (Answer #1)

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Whether the book "Boy in the Striped Pajamas" works well as a historical document depends on your definition of "works well."  In the sense that it calls attention to the Holocaust, and portrays the horror of the concentration camp, it works well.   Does it work well as a "historically accurate history?"  Not as much, but it is not that far away.

First, there was indeed a real concentration camp called Auschwitz.  That part is true.  It was surrounded by a fence.  That part was true.  And horrible things happened inside.  That much was true as well.

Critics take issue with the things that are stretching history.  First, take Schmuel.  In the real Auschwitz little children like that didn't last long.  They were too young and weak to accomplish any work and were therefore killed quickly.  That pretty much knocks the premise of the book on its head.

Secondly, the fence ouside of Aushwitz was electrified.  Bruno would have been zapped had he tried to get under it.

Third, the fence was frequently checked for the type of "escape route" that Bruno used to get in...a hole to crawl under.  The guards would not have overlooked something like that.  It would not have been as simple to get into, or back out of, the camp.

Fourth, Bruno himself.  He is impossibly naive in the book.  He is depicted as an eight year old yet he has no understanding of what the camp is.  He thinks its a farm.  I know that 8 year-olds are  not exactly geniuses (well, most of them,) but most critics feel that Bruno would have had some inkling of what the nature of the camp was and that the condition of the people there would have provided him with ample clues to be wary of the place.

Critics also complain about the supposed ignorance of everyone in the book.  Even when the fires are burning and the smoke is rising from the stacks the people still won't accept that anything is going on at the camp and think that they are just burning old clothes.  Most people feel that anyone within a certain radius of the place would have had to have been blind in order to not have an idea of what was going on there.

Lastly, Schmuel.  Why does he never articulate his situation to his friend?  You would think that the boy would attempt to use Bruno in some way to help him (and others) escape.

So, there you have it.  Which side wins the argument?  Are the inaccuracies worth the exposure of a new generation to the horrors of the Holocaust?  How accurate must something be in order to be called a "historically accurate book?"  Isn't fiction, by definition, more or less made up?  That's for the reader (and the critics) to decide, so I'll leave that up to you!

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James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted November 16, 2009 at 6:54 AM (Answer #2)

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The novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas works fairly well as a historical document, I think, in the way that it allows us to see an important (and very difficult to understand) development in modern history -- the Nazi extermination of the Jews -- in solid, human terms. Several references in the novel are very real, such as the references to the Hitler Youth and (more importantly to the story) the Federation of German Girls (called "Bund deutscher Maedel" in German). These youth organizations were purely propogandistic and militaristic in purpose, and the novel captures very well the systems for indoctrinating the youth in Nazi Germany. What may be less convincingly historical -- to me, at least -- would be the innocence of the mother. I don't believe that the wives of overseers of death camps would not have known what was actually happening. This point is controversial, of course. Consider reading the text (and reviews) of the study Hitler's Willing Executioners for more discussion of how everyday Germans were connected to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

On a minor note, the novel's also not accurate in how the German boy misunderstands the term "Ausschwitz" (a place name that, in German, would sound more like "out sweat" than "out with").

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manofpan | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 30, 2009 at 11:50 PM (Answer #3)

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This book is as historically accurate as the Easter Bunny having sex with Santa Claus. The fact that a lone Jewish boy is by himself for so long in a concentration camp is ridiculous. The fact that it's supposed to be Auschwitz is just unbelievable. No child was alive more than 48 hours at Auschwitz after 1942. No child would be left alone in a camp unsupervised. No part of a fence would be left unsupervised otherwise LOTS OF PEOPLE would have escaped. The boys pass things back and forth threw the electrical fence and NO ONE NOTICES?! It's offensive that we are asked to suspend disbelief for so many things that COULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED. Why not just let Anne Frank live?

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