The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a fictional tale of the unlikeliest of friends: the son of a Nazi commandant and a Jewish concentration camp inmate. Written by John Boyne and published in 2006 by David Fickling Books, the story was made into a major motion picture in 2008.
The novel, set in Nazi Germany, begins when nine-year-old Bruno and his family must move from their lovely home in Berlin to a new house in an unfamiliar place called "Out-With." Tempted to explore his new environment, Bruno is told that there are certain places that are "Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions." Unable to fight his adventuresome spirit, however, Bruno ventures forth into the unknown one afternoon.
Bruno comes upon a fence that he follows until he sees a young boy sitting on the other side of the fence. The shoeless boy is wearing striped pajamas and a cloth cap. Bruno also notices that the boy is wearing an armband with a star on it. Bruno makes fast friends with the boy, Shmuel, and they quickly discover that they share the same birthday. The boys discuss their families and where they are from. At the end of their first meeting, Bruno asks Shmuel why there are so many people on his side of the fence and what they are doing there. A few days later, Bruno's father has dinner guests; the man's name is "the Fury" and his date is called Eva. Bruno instantly dislikes the couple. Bruno's sister Gretel, whom he refers to as "the Hopeless Case," is smitten by the man and tries hard to impress him and his lady friend. Bruno, however, is disgusted by his sister's behavior and her budding romance with a young soldier.
Much like Bruno hears "Auschwitz" as "Out-With," he also incorrectly hears "the Führer" as "the Fury." Boyne masterfully tells the story from Bruno's perspective; it is clear that the innocence of Bruno's childhood remains intact despite the fact that he is living on the periphery of a death camp and has met Adolf Hitler.
Bruno continues to explore the woods near his house and often finds himself at the fence spending time with Shmuel. Bruno brings him food, and the friends lament the fact that they cannot explore together or play a game of football. Shmuel confides in Bruno that he is unable to find his father and he is worried. Bruno vows to help Shmuel look for his father; to that end, Shmuel promises to get Bruno some pajamas so that he will blend in on his side of the fence.
One fateful day, Bruno sheds his clothes, dons the pajamas, and sneaks onto Shmuel's side of the fence. As the boys search for Shmuel's father, the soldiers herd the prisoners, Bruno among them, into the gas chambers where they meet their untimely death hand in hand.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas explores the beauty of a child's innocence in a time of war, the common desire we all have for friendship, and the fences—both literal and figurative—that we must all navigate and choose whether or not to break down.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a story about childhood innocence, friendship, and the importance of breaking down the fences we put up around ourselves.
The novel is told from the perspective of nine-year-old Bruno, the son of a Nazi commandant. Bruno arrives home from school one day to find the family's maid packing their things. Unbeknownst to Bruno, his father has been selected to oversee operations at Auschwitz (which Bruno hears as "Out-With") and the family will be joining him. Bruno is devastated to leave his home, his friends and his grandparents in Berlin. The situation becomes even worse when the family arrives at their new home which is stark and isolated. Bruno is instructed by his parents that there are certain rooms that are "Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions." This includes the vast property behind the house which seems to beckon Bruno. With no idea what is happening just behind his home, Bruno laments the lack of children his age and fun activities in "Out-With."
Bruno's twelve-year-old sister, Gretel, is an all-too-eager believer in the Nazi rhetoric being espoused to German youth. Her zeal for Nazi ideology increases when the family moves to Auschwitz and she develops a crush on a Nazi soldier, Lieutenant Kotler, who is a frequent visitor to the family's home. Bruno instantly dislikes Kotler, who patronizes him. Gretel is an all-too-eager student of Herr Liszt, the tutor hired by the children's father to home school them. He unabashedly promotes Nazi propaganda and anti-Semitism of which Bruno is skeptical.
From his bedroom window, Bruno can see hundreds if not thousands of people wearing pajamas working on what Bruno believes to be a farm. When Bruno's desire to explore gets the best of him, he embarks on an adventure which leads him to an endlessly long fence. Bruno follows the fence and after walking for quite a while, he sees a boy sitting by the fence. Bruno approaches him and notices that he is wearing the same pajamas as everyone else on that side of the fence along with a striped cloth cap. Bruno makes note of the boy's filthy feet which are bare. Bruno is struck by the boy's sad eyes and ashen skin. Shmuel introduces himself and the two strike up a conversation. They soon discover that they share the same birthday: April 15, 1934. Bruno realizes how lonely he has been since the family moved to "Out-With." He misses his friends from school, Martin, Karl and Daniel. Shmuel tells...
(The entire section is 1125 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
When nine-year-old Bruno comes home from school one day, he is surprised to find the maid, Maria, packing up all his belongings. He tries to remember if he has done anything “particularly naughty” in the past few days that would warrant him being sent away as a punishment. He asks his mother, “a tall woman with long red hair that she bundle[s] into a sort of net behind her head,” what is going on. He is somewhat relieved to notice that her things are being packed, too, by Lars the Butler.
Bruno’s mother goes into the large dining room, where the Fury, accompanied by a beautiful blond woman, had come to dinner the week before. Bruno notices that Mother’s eyes are “more red than usual” as she tells him that the whole family will be going on “a great adventure.”
Mother explains that the Fury has “big things in mind” for his father and is sending him to a place where there is “a very special job that needs doing.” Bruno has never been entirely sure what his father does; unlike his friends, whose fathers are ordinary workers like greengrocers or teachers or chefs, Bruno knows only that his father wears a “fantastic uniform” and that there are always other men in uniforms and women with typewriters visiting him in his office, which is “Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions.”
Bruno’s discomfiture is intensified when he learns that the place to which they will be going is quite far away. The family’s house in Berlin will be closed up for the present, and Bruno will not be able to return to his school. Bruno is particularly upset that he will have to say goodbye to Karl and Daniel and Martin, who are his “three best friends for life.” When he protests, his mother first tries to reason with him. She says that in light of all the recent changes in the city, it might be safer if they move away. When this argument fails to convince Bruno, she snaps at him, telling him curtly, “We don’t have a choice in this.”
Disconsolate, Bruno goes upstairs, wondering whether their new home will be as nice as the one in which they are living now. Bruno loves their house in Berlin, which has five stories and a fine banister for sliding down. The banister goes all the way from the very top floor, which has a window from which he can see clear across the city, to the ground floor, where he jumps off into the dining room. In between are the floors for the bedrooms (his...
(The entire section is 547 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
To Bruno’s extreme disappointment, everything about the family’s new residence is the exact opposite of the beloved home in Berlin. The new house is the only building standing in “an empty, desolate place,” and it is small, having only three stories instead of five. All of the bedrooms are crammed together on the top floor, the servants sleep in the basement, and the ground floor contains a kitchen, a dining room, and an office for Father, which Bruno assumes is governed by the same stern restrictions as the office back in Berlin. Bruno thinks that his new home is in “the loneliest place in the world” and it seems that, in this God-forsaken place, there is “nothing to laugh at and nothing to be happy about.”
Bruno is so concerned about the family’s new living arrangements that he dares to tell his mother directly that he thinks it was a “bad idea” to move here and that the family should all just go back home. Mother replies, “We don’t have the luxury of thinking.... Some people make all the decisions for us” and that they will have to “make the best of a bad situation.” Bruno feels helpless; something inside him tells him that “the whole thing [is] wrong and unfair and a big mistake,” and he cannot understand how all of this can be happening.
Having been reprimanded by his mother for his persistence in voicing his concerns, Bruno goes upstairs to help Maria unpack his things. He tries to talk about the situation with the maid, asking her what she thinks about what is going on, but Maria is curiously evasive. There is a noise outside in the hallway, and Bruno sees the door to his parents’ room opening. To his surprise, a young man with “very blond hair” and the same type of uniform as his father comes out of the room carrying a box; after giving Bruno an uncomfortable nod, he goes down the stairs. Bruno asks Maria who the young man is, and Maria replies that she thinks he must be “one of [his] father’s soldiers.” Bruno says he does not like the man, and Maria tells him that it might be best for him to steer clear of the men who work in his capacity.
Bruno is sadly lamenting that there does not look like there will be anyone to play with in this new place other than his sister Gretel, when his eye is caught by a small window in the corner of his room that stretches from the ceiling down into the wall. He walks toward it, hoping that he might be able to see all the...
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Chapter 3 Summary
Bruno’s sister, Gretel, at age twelve, is three years older than him. He is “a little scared of her”; from as far back as he can remember, she has made it clear that she is in charge. Gretel has always been a challenge to her other family members—Bruno thinks of her as The Hopeless Case, and he has heard his parents refer to her as “Trouble From Day One.”
Gretel is a constant source of irritation for Bruno. She hogs the bathroom regularly, oblivious to his need to use it too, and she has a large collection of dolls arranged on shelves in her room that seem to stare at Bruno, watching whatever he does. Gretel also has “some very unpleasant friends” who make fun of Bruno, tormenting him about his small stature. This is “a particular sore point” for him because he knows he is small for his age, and Bruno reflects that perhaps one good thing about having to stay in the new house for a while is that, by the time he returns to Berlin, he will hopefully have grown to be as tall as the other boys in his class.
Bruno runs into Gretel’s room. After being predictably reprimanded for entering without knocking, he expresses to her his unhappiness with their new living arrangements. For once, Gretel agrees with him, telling him that Father has said that they will be staying there for “the foreseeable future.” When Bruno asks her how long, exactly, that will be, Gretel sagely informs him that they might be there for as long as three weeks, which seems to both children to be an eternity. Gretel also tells Bruno that the name of their new home is Out-With and explains that whoever held Father’s position before him had not done a very good job and had been forced to leave precipitously. Bruno concludes that his family is “here at Out-With because someone said out with the people before [them].”
The greatest source of frustration for Bruno at Out-With is that there is no one for him to play with. He complains to Gretel about how much he misses Karl and Daniel and Martin, his three best friends, and adds that the children in this new place do not look very friendly. Gretel is momentarily confused because she had not been aware there were other children living there. Bruno takes her into his room and invites her to look out his window with him. Something about the way Bruno is acting makes Gretel feel nervous, as if she might not want to see the children after all, but her curiosity overcomes her....
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Chapter 4 Summary
Directly below Bruno’s window is a small, well-tended garden with pavement surrounding it and a wooden bench highlighted by a plaque. Further out, however, the scenery changes drastically, and it is this sight that so astonishes Gretel when she looks out of the window.
About twenty feet past the garden and the bench is a huge fence topped with bales of barbed wire extending as far as the eye can see. The ground beyond the fence is barren, and there are dozens of low huts and large, square buildings with smoke stacks. What surprises Gretel the most about the scene, however, are the people who are apparently living within the enclosed area. They are all male: “small boys and big boys, fathers and grandfathers...they [are] everyone.”
Gretel wonders who the people are and why there are no women among them. She also does not understand what sort of place this is; it is so desolate and “nasty-looking.” Thinking carefully about what she is seeing, Gretel proposes that this must be the countryside, which she has learned about in geography class; in the countryside, there are “huge areas like this where people live and work,” growing food to send to the inhabitants of big cities like Berlin. Bruno, however, who has learned a little about the countryside in school as well, argues that this cannot be the case because there are no animals here and the barren soil does not look like it could sustain any crops. In the end, Gretel concedes that perhaps this is not the countryside after all.
Both children continue to muse about the situation outside Bruno’s window, trying to make sense of what is happening “not fifty feet away from their new home.” There are people everywhere in the area behind the fence; some are standing perfectly still before a soldier, desperately trying to keep their heads up, while others are pushing wheelbarrows from one side of the camp to the other. Many of the people are on crutches or have bandages around their heads. Overall, the atmosphere is sinister and full of dread. Bruno and Gretel are particularly intrigued when a group of children being harassed by a group of soldiers emerges from a hut. The soldiers rudely force the children into a single line, then laugh at them, and Gretel suggests that perhaps what they are witnessing is “some sort of rehearsal,” ignoring the fact that several of the children appear to be crying.
Gretel concludes that the children on...
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Chapter 5 Summary
Bruno reflects upon his final morning in Berlin. The house had looked empty, “not like their real home at all.” Father had already left the city a few days earlier, and Bruno remembers that his mother had been very nervous. With tears in her eyes, she had said abstractedly:
We should never have let the Fury come to dinner...some people and their determination to get ahead!
An official car with flags on the front had taken the family to the train station where two trains had been waiting on opposite tracks; oddly, both trains were headed in the same direction. Hordes of people surrounded by soldiers were gathered by one of the trains, but the one Bruno and his family boarded, a very comfortable train, had been almost empty. Bruno, who had only been able to catch a glimpse of the crowd waiting to get on the other train, had thought it curious that some of those people had not been directed to the empty seats still available on the train he was riding.
Bruno has not had the opportunity to speak to his father since coming to Out-With. Father, who looks “very smart in his freshly pressed uniform” and his carefully lacquered hair, is present at the new house but always seems to be surrounded by soldiers fighting for his attention. Thoroughly disturbed by the sight outside his window, Bruno feels an urgent need to talk to his father, so, gathering his courage, he goes to his office and taps tentatively on the door.
Father happens to be alone at the moment in the impressively furnished room. He invites Bruno to enter and seems delighted to see his son. He asks Bruno what he thinks about their new home, and Bruno truthfully replies that he is very unhappy with it and believes that they should all go home. Indulgently, Father tells Bruno that Out-With is their new home nonetheless, and that he needs to give it a chance. When Bruno persists with his complaints and even breaks into tears at the thought of having to stay at this awful place, Father remains firm, suggesting that his son needs to accept the situation and trust that his elders know what is best for the family.
Desperate, Bruno asks what his father has done wrong to have made the Fury send him and his family to Out-With, and Father reacts by laughing and telling him that he does not understand the significance of his new position. When Bruno continues to protest, Father quietly but unyieldingly...
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Chapter 6 Summary
Out of boredom a few days later, Bruno is lying on his bed staring at the ceiling when he notices the paint above his head is cracked and peeling. This observation only adds to his unhappiness with his new home. He decides petulantly that he “hate[s] it all...absolutely everything.” At this point, Maria the maid walks in carrying a stack of laundered clothes. Bruno attempts to strike up a conversation with her, asking her if she is as dissatisfied with their new living arrangements as he is.
Maria is very cautious in responding to Bruno’s question. She finally addresses his concern indirectly by telling him how much she had enjoyed the garden back in Berlin. When Bruno persists, she says that what she thinks is not important. Bruno retorts, “Of course it’s important...you’re part of the family, aren’t you?” Maria comments wryly, “I’m not sure whether your father would agree with that.”
Bruno, beside himself with frustration, asserts that Father has made “a terrible mistake” in bringing them here; he mutters under his breath, “Stupid Father!” Maria reacts strongly to his insolence, admonishing Bruno that he must never speak thus about his father, who is “a good man...[who] takes care of all of us.”
In a rare moment of candor, Maria reveals that her mother had worked for Bruno’s fraternal grandmother, who had been a great singer and entertainer. When his grandmother had retired, she had remained friendly with Maria’s mother and had given her a small pension. Times were hard, however, and when Maria’s mother had been taken ill, Bruno’s father had paid for her hospital expenses and given young Maria a position with the family out of the goodness of his heart. Because she knows that Bruno’s father can be a man of great kindness, she will not allow Bruno to speak disparagingly about him, although she wonders aloud how such a man can act as he is apparently doing now. Bruno is confused, but before Maria can explain herself further, Gretel barges in and rudely orders the maid to prepare a bath for her.
Maria has been with Bruno’s family since he was three years old. Although it seems to him that she has always been around,
washing the clothes, helping with the shopping and the cooking...taking him to school and collecting him again,
he has never until this moment considered her a person “with a life and...
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Chapter 7 Summary
After several weeks at Out-With, Bruno concludes that he had better find a way to keep himself occupied or else he will surely lose his mind. One Saturday, when neither Mother nor Father is at home, he decides to make a swing in a large oak tree a good distance from the house. For this project, Bruno will need a rope and a tyre. He finds some rope in the basement of the house, but to secure a tyre he will have to ask Lieutenant Kotler.
Lieutenant Kotler is the soldier Bruno encountered on his first day at Out-With. The young man has been seen frequently around the house since that time, coming in and out “as if he owned the place.” Bruno dislikes the lieutenant although he does not fully understand his own feeling, but as there is no one else to ask about a tyre, he sets out to find him.
On most days, Lieutenant Kotler is dressed sharply in his carefully pressed uniform, but today Bruno finds him outside the house in street clothes, deep in conversation with Gretel, who is “laughing loudly and twirling her hair around her fingers” as she interacts with the young man. Bruno is instinctively disgusted with his sister’s flirtatiousness. Wanting to take his leave as quickly as possible, he states his business directly, politely asking the lieutenant if he knows where he can find a spare tyre.
The lieutenant responds by making a joke Bruno does not understand. Gretel, irritated by her brother’s interruption, tells the lieutenant, whom she addresses as Kurt, that he must excuse Bruno’s stupidity, as he is only nine. Bruno snaps back that Gretel is only twelve and shouldn’t be pretending to be older than she is, embarrassing her in front of the lieutenant.
Lieutenant Kotler finally arranges to get Bruno the materials he needs, rudely ordering Pavel, an old man who prepares and serves the evening meal for the family each day, to take the boy to the storage shed and fetch him a tyre. The harshness with which the he addresses Pavel makes Bruno feel ashamed. When Bruno gets his tyre, he goes to the tree and spends the bulk of the afternoon constructing a swing. When he is done, he lies flat across its center, using his feet to push himself higher and higher.
When the swing is at a particularly high point, Bruno loses his grip on the tyre and plunges to the ground. When he rises, he discovers that he has sustained quite a wide gash on his knee. Fortuitously, Pavel comes out of the...
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Chapter 8 Summary
Bruno misses his paternal grandparents terribly. Grandfather, who is retired from his job running a restaurant, is seventy-three years old and, in Bruno’s estimation, is “just about the oldest man in the world.” Grandmother, in contrast, is sixty-two; to Bruno, she “never seem[s] old.” Grandmother has long, red hair and green eyes because of Irish blood somewhere in her family. She loves to have parties and is an accomplished singer; one of her favorite pieces to perform is La Vie en Rose.
Grandmother has secret hopes that Bruno and Gretel will someday appear on the stage too, and at every Christmas and birthday party, she arranges for them to put on a simple play with her for Mother, Father, and Grandfather. In these plays, Grandmother always sings, Bruno does a magic trick or two, Gretel dances, and at the end Bruno recites a long poem by one of the Great Poets. Although Bruno does not understand many of the words in these poems, the works “somehow [start] to sound more and more beautiful the more he read[s] them.”
Sadly, the last play Bruno and Gretel performed with Grandmother had ended in disaster. It was Christmas, in the weeks after the Fury and the beautiful blond woman had come to dinner and Father had been promoted to Commandant. Father had worn his new uniform, which had a great number of decorations on it. Everyone had applauded when he appeared, and Grandfather in particular had been pleased beyond measure. But Grandmother had seemed singularly unimpressed. After she and the children had completed their traditional performance, she had given voice to her dismay, saying:
Is this where I went wrong with you, Ralf? I wonder if all the performances I made you give as a boy led you to this...dressing up like a puppet on a string...standing there in your uniform...as if it makes you something special. Not even caring...what it stands for.
Grandfather had tried to silence Grandmother, telling her that they had “discussed this in advance.” He declared that it made him deeply proud to see his son helping his country “reclaim her pride” and, in doing so, being elevated to “such a responsible position.” Mother had also tried to intervene, pointing out how handsome Father looked in his new uniform, but her suggestion had only served to agitate Grandmother further. Bruno and Gretel had been sent up to their rooms at this point, and...
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Chapter 9 Summary
As time passes, Bruno’s memories of home start to fade and he begins to adjust to his life at Out-With. Things remain pretty much the same: Gretel is “less than friendly” to him as usual and the soldiers go into and out of Father’s office for meetings every day. The servants continue with their jobs, and Lieutenant Kotler still acts as if he owns the place; when Father is not there, he spends his time flirting with Gretel or “whispering alone in rooms with Mother.”
One day Father announces that it is time for the children to resume their education, and he hires Herr Liszt to tutor them. Herr Liszt is a dour man who is “particularly fond of history and geography.” Although Bruno prefers literature and the arts, his new teacher dismisses these subjects as unimportant. It appears that Herr Liszt’s primary objective is to educate the children about The Fatherland and “all the great wrongs that have been done” against them as proud citizens of the country. Bruno hopes he will finally learn the reasons behind what he sees as the greatest wrong done to him in his short life: being taken from his beloved home in Berlin and relocated to Out-With.
Herr Liszt’s preoccupation with history leads Bruno to remember things in his immediate past; for him, history is personal, and a larger concept of it is nebulous at best. He recalls how much he had liked to go exploring, and he decides that it would be fun to resume this pastime in his current environment. For months, he has observed from his window the people in their striped pajamas who live beyond the fence, but he has never really reflected upon “what it [is] all about” until now. He compares the people there, all dressed alike, to the men who come through his house at all hours, clothed in
uniforms of varying quality and decoration and caps and helmets with bright red-and-black arm-bands.
Bruno wonders what exactly is the difference between the two groups and who decides which people should wear the striped pajamas and which should wear the uniforms.
Although to Bruno’s knowledge none of the people in the striped pajamas has ever been invited to the house, he has seen the soldiers with them on the other side of the fence. When this happens, it is clear that the soldiers are in charge because the “pajama people” all jump to attention in their presence and, on occasion, some will fall...
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Chapter 10 Summary
Bruno walks along the fence for the better part of an hour. He does not see anyone or any opening that will allow him to cross over to the other side. Just when he is about to turn back, he spies a boy sitting in the dirt on the other side of the fence, “minding his own business, waiting to be discovered.” Cautiously, Bruno approaches him and says hello.
The boy is smaller than Bruno and wears the same striped pajamas as all the other people who live beyond the fence. When he hears Bruno’s voice, he looks up. All Bruno can see are “an enormous pair of sad eyes” staring at him; he is sure that he has never seen “a skinnier or sadder boy in his life.” The boy returns Bruno’s greeting. Bruno wants to ask him why he looks so sad but he does not want to seem rude.
Bruno sits on the ground by the fence, facing the boy. He learns that the boy is called Shmuel, a name Bruno has never heard before but which the boy says is very common on his side of the fence. Shmuel is nine, just like Bruno, and to their astonishment, the boys discover that they were born on the same day.
Bruno feels very happy to have found a friend. Shmuel says there are a lot of boys his age on his side of the fence but that they fight a lot, which is why he seeks solitude there where Bruno has found him. Bruno complains that it is not fair that Shmuel has so many friends with whom he probably plays “for hours every day,” and he resolves to talk to Father about the situation.
Shmuel tells Bruno that he is from Poland and that his mother, who is a teacher, has taught him to speak both German and Polish. Bruno, who has never heard of Poland, remembers his father’s frequent assertion that Germany, their homeland, is “the greatest of all countries.” He unthinkingly suggests to Shmuel that Poland is not as good as Germany. Shmuel does not respond to this observation. Bruno is uneasy because as he makes the statement it does not seem quite right to him, and he does not want to be unkind. He asks Shmuel where, exactly, Poland is located. After a short hesitation, Shmuel says that they are in Poland now.
Bruno has always had trouble keeping the names of places straight in his head, and he promises himself that he will pay better attention in geography class. Shmuel comments that, although they are in Poland, they are not in a very nice part of the country. Bruno tells Shmuel about Berlin and how nice it was...
(The entire section is 578 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
This chapter goes back to describe an evening in Berlin several months earlier, when the Fury comes to Bruno’s house and everything changes. Father returns home one day in “a state of great excitement” and announces that the Fury has invited himself to dinner on Thursday, two days from now, because he has something of great importance to discuss with Father. Bruno asks, “Who’s the Fury?” Father responds by telling him he is pronouncing the name wrong and proceeds to pronounce it correctly for him.
Although he tries, Bruno still cannot say the Fury’s name correctly. When Father does not believe that he really does not know who the Fury is, Gretel interjects in exasperation, “He runs the country, idiot.” Mother, who seems very nervous about the Fury’s upcoming visit, worries how she will get everything ready in time.
On Thursday, an hour before the Fury is scheduled to arrive, Bruno and Gretel receive “a rare invitation into Father’s office.” Although the children will not actually dine with the adults, Father reminds them about the importance of this evening’s visit and sets down a number of ground rules for their behavior. Three quarters of an hour later, the Fury arrives with a tall, blond woman, “the most beautiful woman [Bruno has] ever seen in his life.” After greetings are exchanged and the children are introduced, the Fury, whom Bruno thinks is “the rudest guest [he has] ever seen,” marches straight into the dining room and takes Father’s seat at the head of the table.
The blond woman, whose name is Eva, stays behind to talk to the children. The Fury imperiously “roar[s]” at her to come join him, “clicking his fingers as if she were some sort of puppy dog.” The woman, who in contrast to her partner is very kind, ignores him and continues her conversation with Bruno and Gretel until she is done; she does not seem the least bit intimidated by the Fury.
The Fury and Eva stay about two hours, and Bruno watches from his window as they are leaving. He notices that the Fury does not open the car door for Eva, nor does he join his companion when she pauses to thank Mother and say good-bye. Bruno thinks that the Fury is “a horrible man.”
That night, Bruno overhears his parents talking, as their voices are “unusually loud.” Father says something about having to leave Berlin to maintain his position at his job. Mother, who apparently does...
(The entire section is 475 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Bruno has asked Shmuel why there are so many people on his side of the fence and what they are doing there; Shmuel reflects upon his past in searching for an answer. He recalls that before he came there, he had lived with his parents and brother in a small flat in Cracow. Shmuel’s father had been a watchmaker and had given him a beautiful watch that was taken away by the soldiers.
Shmuel’s idyllic life began to unravel when his mother made an armband with a star on it for each member of the family, and they had to wear it whenever they left the house. Bruno says that his father also wears an armband, one that is “bright red with a black and white design on it.” Bruno draws the design on the ground so Shmuel can see it—it is a swastika.
Shmuel remembers that, after a while, his family was told they could not live in their house anymore. Bruno is delighted to hear that he is not the only one who has been forced to move against his will. He asks his new friend if the Fury had come to dinner at his house, too, just before everything had changed. Shmuel says no and goes on to tell how his family had been relocated to a part of Cracow where the soldiers had built “a big wall.” There, he and his parents and brother had to move into one squalid room with another family—eleven people crammed in all together.
Then one day soldiers in trucks had forcibly taken all the people to a train. Conditions on the train had been unspeakable. Bruno, remembering the two trains at the station when he had left Berlin, naïvely suggests that Shmuel should have ridden in the one that had brought him to Out-With. Shmuel goes on to describe a journey in an airless, stinking boxcar, an experience completely beyond Bruno’s comprehension. When the train had finally stopped, the people had been forced to walk a long way in the freezing cold. Shmuel’s mother had been taken away when they arrived where they are now, and he and his father and brother had been put in the little huts where they have been ever since.
Shmuel looks very sad as he tells his story, and Bruno cannot understand why, because in his mind, pretty much the same thing has happened to him. Bruno asks Shmuel if there are other boys on his side of the fence, and Shmuel responds that there are hundreds. Bruno assumes that they must play together every day and is indignant that he does not have the same opportunity. Shmuel then asks with embarrassment...
(The entire section is 563 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
Every afternoon, after his lessons are finished, Bruno takes the long walk along the fence and spends time talking to his new friend, Shmuel. One day as he is filling his pockets with food from the kitchen for his daily excursion, he notices the piles of vegetables waiting for Pavel to peel and is reminded of a question that has been bothering him. In confidence, Bruno asks Maria why Pavel told him he was a doctor on the day he fell from the swing. Maria is startled and at first lies, but she is clearly troubled. She looks out the window to make sure no one is coming and tells Bruno that Pavel was once a doctor “in another life.” Warning Bruno that he must keep what she is about to tell him a secret, Maria reveals to him what she knows about Pavel’s past.
When Bruno meets Shmuel a short time later, he tells him about Pavel, who also comes from Poland. Bruno tells Shmuel that Pavel, who had been a doctor in his hometown, fixed his knee when he hurt himself and that there will be trouble if Father hears about what Pavel has done. Shmuel, knowing that Bruno’s father is the Commandant, replies that in his experience soldiers “don’t normally like people getting better,” but Bruno does not understand. He changes the subject, asking Shmuel what he wants to be when he grows up. Shmuel wants to be a zookeeper, and Bruno wants to be a soldier like his father. Shmuel says that he would not want to be a soldier and adds that “there aren’t any good soldiers.” Bruno feels insulted and describes for Shmuel his father’s “impressive uniform” and
the big things...the Fury has...in mind for him because he’s such a good soldier.
Shmuel at first does not reply, then he very quietly says, “You don’t know what it’s like here.” Bruno tells Shmuel that he greatly dislikes one soldier in particular, Lieutenant Kotler; the simple mention of the lieutenant’s name causes Shmuel to turn pale and begin to shiver.
To Bruno’s great disappointment, Lieutenant Kotler joins the family for dinner that night. During the meal, Bruno complains about his lessons, especially history, which he finds hopelessly boring. Lieutenant Kotler reminisces that although his father was a professor of literature, he had enjoyed history most of all as a child. Mother innocently asks if his father still teaches, and the lieutenant replies that he does not know because his father...
(The entire section is 621 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Bruno continues to meet Shmuel by the fence in the afternoons. He asks every day if he can come over to Shmuel’s side so they can play together, but Shmuel says:
I don’t know why you’re so anxious to come across here.... It’s not very nice.
Bruno complains the difficulties of his own living conditions and even expresses envy over the advantages he thinks Shmuel has over him, which shows that he has absolutely no understanding of what life is like on the other side of the fence.
One day it rains heavily and Bruno is unable to go out to meet Shmuel. Bored, he is lying on his bed reading a book when his sister barges in and asks what he is doing. Unthinkingly, Bruno mentions that he should be with Shmuel right now. Gretel is instantly suspicious and demands to know if he has found someone to play with. Bruno considers telling Gretel the truth about his new friend, but after thinking about it he decides not to. Instead, he tells his sister that he has an imaginary friend. Bruno tries to act embarrassed to make his story more convincing, and he knows he has been successful when Gretel begins to make fun of his immaturity.
Because she also has nothing to do, Gretel plays along and asks Bruno what makes his imaginary friend so special to him. Bruno, realizing that he is being offered the opportunity to talk about Shmuel without revealing “the truth about his existence,” describes for his sister some of the things they talk about. Bruno says that he tells Shmuel about his life in Berlin and the friends that he still misses very much and that Shmuel in turn tells him about his family and
the adventures he had coming here...and the boys he used to play with but he doesn’t any more because they disappeared without even saying goodbye.
Bruno remembers that yesterday Shmuel had told him that his grandfather is missing and his father cries whenever he asks about him. As he repeats the things that Shmuel had said, Bruno becomes very quiet because he had not really understood how sad these things must have made his friend feel until he repeated them out loud.
Gretel interrupts Bruno’s reverie by commenting rudely that he had better keep the secret of his imaginary friend to himself or people will think he is mad. She says that she, at thirteen years old, is far too old to have an imaginary...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Father’s birthday is coming up, and Mother is planning a party for him with Lieutenant Kotler’s help. Repulsed by the soldier’s presence, Bruno decides to make a list of all the reasons why he hates him. The lieutenant never smiles, and Gretel flirts with him shamelessly. Also, when Father is away, the young soldier is always around the house with Mother, acting “as if he [is] in charge.” Sometimes he is there when Bruno goes to bed and is back before he gets up again in the morning. One time Bruno saw Lieutenant Kotler shoot a dog that was barking outside. He also has not forgotten what the cruel young man did to Pavel that evening at dinner when Pavel had dropped the contents of a bottle into his lap. In Bruno’s estimation, Lieutenant Kotler is a very unlikeable character.
Bruno is reading a book in the living room one day when Lieutenant Kotler accosts him and, feigning civility, torments him by taking the book and refusing to give it back. Just when Bruno manages to outwit the lieutenant and retrieve his book, his mother comes toward them. She does not realize that Bruno is there and addresses the lieutenant with a term of endearment, telling him that she has a little free time now. Mother is startled when she sees her son. She sends him to the kitchen because she needs “a private word” with Lieutenant Kotler. Bruno retreats to the kitchen in anger and receives “the biggest surprise of his life—there, sitting at the table...is Shmuel.”
Shmuel is delighted to see Bruno and explains that he has been brought by the lieutenant to the house to clean the tiny glasses because his fingers are so small. Shmuel holds out his hand to show him. Bruno observes that Shmuel’s fingers look like “dying twigs” and wonders if whatever is going on at Out-With is not “a very bad idea.” Bruno goes to the refrigerator, takes out some slices of chicken, and begins stuffing them into his mouth. When he realizes Shmuel is watching him with an indescribable intensity, he becomes aware of his thoughtlessness and offers him some.
Shmuel reacts with extreme ambivalence; he is clearly terrified that Lieutenant Kotler will come back. Not understanding the problem, Bruno puts some chicken into his friend’s hand. After a moment of hesitation, the starving boy gobbles it down. At that moment, the lieutenant enters and, perceiving immediately that Shmuel has been eating, asks him if he has stolen something...
(The entire section is 637 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
Almost a year has passed since Bruno and his family moved to Out-With. Grandmother dies, and the family must return to Berlin for her funeral. Bruno had missed his home acutely when they first had to relocate, but in the intervening time his memories of life in Berlin have slowly faded, and the two days they spend back home are very sad. Father is particularly remorseful because he and Grandmother had fought before she died and never made it up. Although he is very proud that one of the wreaths sent in her honor is from the Fury himself, Mother says that “Grandmother would turn in her grave if she knew it was there.”
When Bruno returns to Out-With, he finds that the house there has now become his home. Bruno realizes that things have improved markedly since they first came. For one thing, after much arguing between Mother and Father, Lieutenant Kotler has been transferred away. Gretel, of course, is inconsolable, but she is experiencing changes that result in her new tendency to leave Bruno completely alone. With the lieutenant’s departure, Gretel has decided she is too old to play with dolls and instead has adorned her room with huge maps of Europe that she studies constantly, moving pins around on them daily after consulting the newspaper.
The best thing about Out-With in Bruno’s estimation is “that he [has] a friend called Shmuel.” Bruno continues to visit Shmuel regularly, and he reflects on the strangeness of the arrangement because they never get to play together. Bruno begins to think more and more “about the two sides of the fence and the reason it [is] there in the first place.” Unable to understand why things are the way they are, he decides to consult Gretel about the phenomenon.
Gretel is experimenting with her hair when Bruno enters her room, and when he asks her about the situation at Out-With, she immediately interrupts him, telling him he is not saying the name of the place properly. Although she pronounces it correctly for him, he cannot tell the difference. He inquires about the fence and why it is there. Gretel, unable to believe that her brother is “perfectly serious,” at first laughs at him and then explains that the people on the other side of the fence, who are called Jews, must be kept together “with their own kind.” When Bruno asks, in all sincerity, what they are on this side of the fence, in contrast to the Jews, Gretel cannot give a good explanation other than...
(The entire section is 543 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
In the weeks after the discovery of lice in the children's hair, Mother's unhappiness with life at Out-With becomes increasingly noticeable. Bruno understands her situation perfectly because he remembers how lonely he had been before he had found Shmuel to talk to. Mother has no one, especially now that Lieutenant Kotler has been transferred away. One afternoon, Bruno overhears an especially vehement "conversation" between his mother and father. Mother declares that she "can't stand it anymore," and although Father argues that they "don't have any choice" because of the gossip that will occur if he lets his family return to Berlin without him, Bruno gets the sense that his mother might get her wish. Surprisingly, he is not sure how he feels about this possibility.
Despite his initial dissatisfaction with the place, Bruno has grown used to his life at Out-With and looks forward to his "afternoon conversations" with Shmuel. Bruno knows, however, that he can do nothing to influence the choices his parents will make, so he resolves to accept whatever happens without complaint.
Nothing unusual occurs for the next few weeks. Father is absent most of the time, working either in his office or "on the other side of the fence," while Mother takes "an awful lot more of her afternoon naps," and seems to need quite a few "medicinal sherries." Gretel remains secluded in her room, while Bruno continues to enjoy his time with his "secret friend."
Then one day, Father summons the children into his office and asks them if they are happy here at Out-With. Gretel replies that she is very lonely and misses her friends in Berlin. Bruno, on the other hand, says evasively that he "would miss people no matter where [he] went," and expresses the desire to return to Berlin only if the four members of the family can stay together. Father responds that although this will be impossible right now, as the Fury still has work for him to do, he is thinking about sending Mother and them back home, as he has come to the realization that this may not be "a place for children." Unthinkingly, Bruno comments that there are "hundreds of children here...only...on the other side of the fence," and Father, taken aback, asks him what he knows about "what goes on over there." Knowing that there will be trouble if he says too much more, Bruno answers carefully, saying only that he can see the children from his bedroom window, "all wearing the...
(The entire section is 469 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
Shmuel does not show up at their usual meeting place for a few days, and Bruno is worried that he will have to leave Out-With without saying good-bye. Finally, on the third day, Shmuel is there again at the fence, but he looks “even more unhappy than usual.”
He tells Bruno that something bad has happened and his father is missing. According to Shmuel, his father had gone Monday on “work duty with some other men”; inexplicably, none of them have returned. Bruno proposes that “there must be a simple explanation,” but he cannot think of what it might be. He offers to ask Father about the situation, secretly hoping that Shmuel will not take him up on his suggestion. To his relief, Shmuel says that this would not be a good idea because the soldiers hate the people on his side of the fence; as an afterthought, he adds that he hates them in return. Taken by surprise, Bruno asks if Shmuel hates Father too, and Shmuel does not answer. He has seen Bruno’s father, the Commandant,
on any number of occasions and [cannot] understand how such a man could have a son who [is] so friendly and kind.
After a long, uncomfortable silence, Bruno changes the subject, telling Shmuel that he is going back to Berlin. Shmuel asks Bruno how long he will be gone, and Bruno responds, “I think it’s forever.” Shmuel realizes sadly that he will never see Bruno again and laments that he will have no one to talk to anymore. Bruno wants to tell Shmuel that he will miss him too, but he is too embarrassed; instead, he suggests that someday perhaps his friend can “come on a holiday to Berlin.”
Bruno reflects that he and Shmuel have never had the chance to play together, and he wishes that they could do so “just once...just to remember.” When Bruno expresses the desire to see for himself what it is like on the other side of the fence despite his friend’s observation that he “wouldn’t like it,” Shmuel lifts the bottom of the fence a little and asks, “Why don’t you then?” Feeling his head “where his hair used to be but was now just stubble,” Bruno recalls that he looks just like Shmuel and suggests that if he had a pair of striped pajamas he “could come over on a visit and no one would be any the wiser.” Shmuel, who hopes that Bruno might be able to help him find his father, says that he can easily secure an extra pair of pajamas. The boys resolve to have one...
(The entire section is 451 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
On the day of Bruno and Shmuel’s scheduled “great adventure,” it rains heavily in the morning, and Bruno worries that he will not be able to see his friend before leaving for Berlin. Fortunately, the weather improves in the afternoon, and Bruno is able to make his way down the fence to their regular meeting place. When he arrives, Bruno finds Shmuel waiting for him with an extra pair of striped pajamas “exactly like the one he [is] wearing.”
Bruno tells Shmuel to turn his back then he Bruno strips off his own clothes and dons the striped pajamas. He notices that they do “not smell very nice.” When Bruno is ready, he tells Shmuel that he can turn around now. Shmuel finds it “quite extraordinary” how much alike they look; it is “almost...as if they [are] exactly the same.” Bruno comments that this experience reminds him of the plays Grandmother used to put on with him and Gretel. Grandmother always had the right costume for him to wear in any given situation and had told him:
You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person you’re pretending to be.
Shmuel lifts the bottom wire of the fence and Bruno squeezes underneath, getting muddy in the process. When the two boys are on the same side at last, each has an urge to give the other a hug but neither does. Instead, they walk toward the camp, and Bruno is astonished to discover that it is nothing like what he had thought it would be. Bruno had imagined that the huts would be “full of happy families” and that the children would all be playing schoolyard games together on the grounds. As it turns out, all he sees are crowds of people in striped pajamas sitting on the ground “looking horribly sad” and soldiers in their uniforms laughing or shouting at them.
Stunned, Bruno says that he does not like it here on the other side of the fence and thinks he should go back home, but Shmuel reminds him that he has promised to help find his father. Not wanting to break his word, Bruno stays. The two boys search for clues to Shmuel’s father’s whereabouts for an hour and a half, but they find nothing.
When the skies begin to cloud over again, Bruno tells Shmuel that he is sorry their efforts have been fruitless, and Shmuel, who had not really expected to achieve success anyway, nods sadly. As the two boys head back to the fence, there is a loud whistle and soldiers surround the area...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
After the incident on the other side of the fence, Bruno is never seen or heard from again. His parents are frantic when he does not return home that day, and soldiers are sent out immediately to search “every part of the house and...all the local towns and villages.” Mother, who had been so happy about returning to Berlin, ends up staying at Out-With for several more months, hoping for news of her son. Eventually, she decides that he must have made his way back home to Berlin by himself, and she goes to wait for him there. Gretel accompanies her mother and spends a lot of time alone in her room crying. Despite her rude and impatient attitude toward her brother, she misses Bruno very much.
In the initial days of the search, one soldier discovers Bruno’s clothes in a neat pile by the fence a good distance to the right of the house. He notifies Bruno’s father, the Commandant, who examines the area but cannot figure out what has happened to his son. It seems to the Commandant that his son has “just vanished off the face of the earth and left his clothes behind him.”
Father stays at Out-With for another year and develops a very bad reputation for his ruthless treatment of his soldiers. He is obsessed with thoughts about his son, and one day he finally develops a theory about what might have happened to him. Father returns to the place at the fence where Bruno’s clothes had been found. He again studies the area carefully, and this time he notices that the fence at that spot is not secured properly to the ground but leaves a gap large enough for a small boy to get through. He looks into the distance and conjectures about the probable chain of events leading to his son’s disappearance. When the horrible truth becomes evident to him, he falls to the ground in devastation and grief. A few months later, Father is removed from his command at Out-With, and soldiers are sent to take him away. The disgraced former Commandant goes without complaint because he no longer cares what happens to him.
The author closes his fable by commenting that the story about Bruno and his family “happened a long time ago.” He then adds with chilling irony, “of course...nothing like that could ever happen again...not in this day and age.”
(The entire section is 409 words.)