set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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How does the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas relate to history?

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, based on the book of the same title, tells the story of a child's perspective on the Holocaust, one of the world's most major historical events. From the fight to survive in a Nazi concentration camp to the daily life of a Nazi official and his family, the film has many significant historical details.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of Bruno, a young German boy whose family moves from Berlin to the countryside, where his father, a Nazi official, has just become commandant of a concentration camp. The family lives alongside the camp, and one day Bruno meets and becomes friends with Shmuel, a Jewish boy on the other side of the barbed wire fence. The boys, too young and innocent to fully understand what's happening around them, become close friends.

The novel and film both seek to show audiences what the Holocaust was like through the eyes of children who were living during it. Other stories, such as Lois Lowry's Number the Stars, have tackled similar themes. The story also shows the vast difference in the lives of a Jewish boy and a privileged German boy of the same age during that time period. Bruno's family lives in a spacious home and enjoys being served their meals, while Shmuel is struggling to survive just a short distance away.

While the book and film have both faced criticism for their portrayal of the Holocaust, many have agreed that it brutally shows just how horrific the event was for the world and for humanity as a whole. It brings history to life and forces audiences to face the devastation of the Holocaust outside of a history textbook.

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The movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is based on the book of the same title written by John Boyne. The movie provides a child's perspective in examining the horrors of World War II, particularly the injustices and sufferings of the Holocaust. In the movie, the main character, Bruno, lives a life of privilege due to his father's leadership in the Nazi party. Bruno is fairly oblivious to what his father does and instead lives in a true child's world, full of exploration and make-believe. In his explorations, he finds and befriends a boy, Shmuel, who is inside Auschwitz. They begin meeting at a fence that separates them, enjoying simple childhood conversations and games. Bruno has no experience on which to base his new friend's surroundings and asks questions about what he perceives as the boy's much more interesting and adventurous life. Bruno becomes envious of the life that he imagines Shmuel lives inside the camp and eventually digs a hole under the fence to join his friend inside the concentration camp (still entirely oblivious to what the camp really is). He soon finds himself in a gas chamber, and both boys perish at the hands of the Nazi soldiers.

There are many historical details in the movie: the camp itself, the life of privilege of the Nazis at the expense of other groups of people, the extermination of masses of people based on nothing more than race, the fact that Nazis were willing to kill innocent children, and images of people suffering inside the camp. The movie falls a bit short on the true horror that prisoners suffered, perhaps because it is all processed primarily through a child's vantage point.

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John Boyne’s 2006 novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and director Mark Herman’s 2008 film adaptation relate to history by virtue of the fact that the story takes place during a real-life event, World War II, and focuses on an important component of that event, the Holocaust.

Boyne’s novel and the film that followed seek to educate audiences on perhaps the worst period in human history, the deliberate and systematic effort at exterminating Europe’s Jewish population, along with other categories of humanity deemed unworthy by the National Socialist Party of Germany, the Nazis, such as homosexuals and the disabled. In an age when recent surveys indicate that knowledge of the Holocaust is diminishing among young adults, the historical context in which The Boy in the Striped Pajamas takes place elevates Herman’s adaptation of Boyne’s novel to a higher cultural plane than would otherwise be the case. The story of the friendship of two young boys, one the privileged child of the commander of the most notorious of Germany’s concentration camps, Auschwitz, and the other, Shmuel, a Jewish boy imprisoned in that camp, allows for the drama inherent in the book and film to inform as well as to manipulate the emotions of readers and audiences. Bruno’s education into the realities of the world in which he was born culminate far too late. He naively and innocently goes to his death alongside his friend.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas relates to history by depicting history. While the film was subjected to criticism for its portrayal of the Holocaust, it did make an effort at illuminating the scale of the tragedy and inhumanity present in Europe during the period depicted. Shmuel is flesh and blood and his relationship to Bruno allows for the latter to belatedly discover the extent of the horrors to which his family has been complicit.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas relates to history through its poignant tale of a Nazi officer's son who befriends a boy in the Auschwitz concentration camp.  The movie is based on a book written by John Boyne and was published in 2008.  Although the novel is fictional, the story contains many historical elements.

For example, the story is told through the eyes of Bruno, the son of the Nazi commander, and Bruno describes one evening when his father has an important guest, known to Bruno as the 'Fury' which is actually Adolf Hitler.  Bruno also makes friends with another young boy named Shmuel, who lives on the other side of a fence (in Auschwitz).  Boyne uses Bruno's perspective to show the chilling circumstances of a Nazi death camp through a young, innocent child's eyes. 

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