John Boyne's story The Boy in the Striped Pajamas illustrates the the very best of humanity is possible even in the most horrific circumstances.

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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There are elements of John Boyne's novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas that could be considered reaffirming of the human experience, but they are few and far between, as one could expect from a story about the Holocaust. The German plan to completely exterminate the entirety of Europe's Jewish population and its success in almost reaching its goal leaves little room for optimism, as the Germans benefited in their efforts by anti-Semitic elements across the continent, especially in Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine. Part of the point about the Holocaust, after all, is the extent to which tens of millions of Europeans simply went along with extermination programs while tens of millions of others were active supporters and/or participants. To suggest, therefore, that Boyne's novel should include representations of the "very best of humanity" is to place on The Boy in the Striped Pajamas an unrealistic expectation.

If there is one obvious example of humanity at its best in Boyne's story, it is, of course, nine-year-old Bruno, whose friendship with the young Jewish prisoner, Shmuel, represents the innocence and purity of youth untainted by the prejudices of older generations. At the end of Chapter 19, Bruno exclaims his unqualified love for his only true friend, stating "You're my best friend, Shmuel . . . My best friend for life." As the boys are led off with the Jewish prisoners to their deaths in the gas chambers, Bruno's love for his friend is again expressed, this time wordlessly:

“...Despite the mayhem that followed, Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel's hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let go.” 

The Holocaust could not have happened had the German population, as well as the populations of some of the countries occupied by the German Army, not been complicit in its conduct. That Bruno stands out for his humanity, and that he is but a young boy, is Boyne's ultimate indictment of humanity as it existed during that period of time.

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