set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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How would you describe Bruno's father throughout chapter 5 of The Boy In The Striped Pajamas?

Bruno's father throughout chapter 5 is cold, austere, and the epitome of the steely-hard professional soldier. At Auschwitz, he menacingly tells his soldiers about the mistakes that were made before his arrival, saying the camp was inefficient about killing prisoners. He expresses the Nazi attitude towards peoples deemed inferior, saying, "Those people ... well, they're not people at all, Bruno” when talking about the prisoners and “smiling slightly.”

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Throughout chapter 5 of The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, Bruno's father is the epitome of the steely professional soldier. He leaves Berlin ahead of his family, not considering how difficult the move is for them. Even after their arrival, he does not interrupt his busy schedule for a moment or two to greet them and welcome them to their new home. Bruno says,

Father … couldn't be disturbed by silly things like saying hello to him all the time.

The father arrives at Auschwitz and immediately throws a scare into the soldiers under his command, telling them about the mistakes that were made before his arrival to take control of running the camp. What the reader understands is that the camp had not been efficient and quick about killing the prisoners. In fact, when Bruno asks who the people in the huts arehe means the camp prisonershis father replies that they are not people at all. This is the epitome of the Nazi attitude towards peoples and races that they deemed were inferior to them. He even says this “smiling slightly.”

“Those people ... well, they're not people at all, Bruno.”

He is cold and austere. Even when he greets Bruno, it is almost at arms distance via a handshake and not a hug, “for Father was not usually the type of man to give anyone a hug.”

Although he exhibits some minimal fatherly feeling when he acknowledges that he understands Bruno’s feelings and tells him that he sometimes had similar feelings when he was a child, or when he says Auschwitz is their home now because home is not a physical house, but it is where your family is, he eventually tires of arguing with Bruno and gets angry at his son’s seemingly insolent attitude. He will abruptly tell Bruno that the conversation is over and Bruno will just accept things as they are.

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Bruno's father is a Nazi commandant. Under orders from the Fuhrer ('Fury' to Bruno's nine year old ears), the whole family must move to Auschwitz ('Out-With' to Bruno) as Bruno's father has been selected to oversee operations at the death-camps there.

Bruno's father is used to being obeyed, both by his family as well as by soldiers under his command. For example, Bruno is never to enter his father's office for any reason; it is 'Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions.'

Bruno describes his father as a meticulous man. His personal appearance is impeccable and his voice authoritative; his uniform is pressed to perfection and his hair lacquered carefully. Bruno's father looks every inch the commandant that he is. He doesn't have to raise his voice even when he is giving an order. An example of his quiet confidence is displayed when he dismisses his soldiers with a well-placed joke.

Your suggestions and your encouragement are very much appreciated...Here we have a fresh beginning, but let that beginning start tomorrow. For now, I'd better help my family settle in or...

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there will be as much trouble for me in here, as there is for them out there, you understand?

Although the soldiers laugh and march out mechanically, voicing their usual 'Heil, Hitler' on the way, this jovial manner betrays an intimidating menace. After all, the 'trouble' for the people out there is that many of them will die in gas chambers without promise of hope or mercy. The soldiers know that Bruno's father is the ranking official overseeing this mass operation; he definitely is a man to be obeyed.

Being that he is a military commander, Bruno's father is also not given to expressions of affection. Bruno tells us that he receives handshakes from his father, rather than the customary hugs he is used to receiving from his mother and grandmother.

Even though the commandant is a man who possesses iron control, he is not without compassion for his young son. When Bruno daringly knocks on his father's door at their new home, he is beckoned in by his father's booming voice. Bruno doesn't really like this new home in Auschwitz; the surroundings are gloomy, the soldiers unfriendly, and there is no one his age to play with.

Bruno's father listens sympathetically and even allows his son to express his frustrations. However, he will only tolerate questioning of his motives up to a point. He reminds Bruno that he (Bruno) must trust in his father as he himself had to trust Bruno's grandfather when he was young.

...I have listened to what you have to say, even though your youth and inexperience force you to phrase things in an insolent manner. But the moment has come when you will simply have to accept...

When Bruno asks about the people living in huts in the distance, Bruno's father tells him that those people are not considered humans at all. Here, in words of chilling inhumanity, Bruno's father betrays his sadistic side. He reiterates that he expects Bruno to accept his situation without further question. Interestingly, it appears that this is the way he himself accepts orders from the Fuhrer.

To summarize, Chapter 5 reveals Bruno's father as a staunch idealogue (one who is excessively devoted to a cause) who expects the same obsessive adherence to Nazi ideals without question.

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