John Boyne says that he had been a student of literature related to the Holocaust for many years. He had always been fascinated by the subject and had read many books himself about how it impacted individuals and the world. However, the entire story originated from an image in his head of two boys sitting and talking with only a fence (around a concentration camp) dividing them. From there, he began to form the rest of the story that would become The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. After writing the first draft, Boyne did some research to decide how faithful to history he wanted to be and examined the memoir that Rudolf Hoess wrote.
The story is a work of fiction that is based in the larger historical context of the suffering of the Holocaust but does not represent the actual story of two little boys. An interview is linked below where Boyne discusses the origins of the novel as well as his thoughts about how it has been transformed into film and a stage production.
No, the 2006 novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is not based on a true story. John Boyne, an Irish author of ten novels for adults and five for young people, has called it a fable. He states that he was careful to change some details and never give the real name of the concentration camp, Auschwitz (the main character, Bruno, calls the place "Out-With"). Boyne has stated that he wanted younger readers to think about the fences that divide us. He has said that he wanted to inspire younger readers to tear down these metaphorical fences where ever they may find them.
The novel was made into a film, and both have come under fire for their historical inaccuracies. Critics have said that students will not understand the horrors of the Holocaust if they don't understand that Boyne's work is fictional. In Auschwitz, for example, children were not kept alive unless they were able to work as much as adults did. Also, in reality the fence where the two boys meet in the novel would have been electric, thus disallowing most of the interaction taking place in the novel.
It is a much different book than Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel's Night or The Diary of Anne Frank. However, comparisons to those two classic works may not be fair considering that Wiesel and Frank's works are nonfiction (or, in Wiesel's case, at least very much grounded in truth), and Boyne's work is fiction.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a 2006 novel which takes place in Germany during World War II, is classed as historical fiction. This means that while the setting of author John Boyne's novel was a real historical place and time, the novel's plot was not based on true events or historical figures.
As Jewish Rabbi Benjamin Blech explained in his review of the book, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas could never have happened in real life. Shmuel, the nine year-old Jewish concentration camp prisoner whom Bruno, the main character, befriends would never have survived in Auschwitz, because the Nazi prison camp guards immediately executed anyone who was not able to work. Likewise, Blech argues it is impossible that even a nine year-old such as Bruno would have been ignorant to the realities of what was taking place within a concentration camp.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is not based on a true story. It is often referred to as a "fable" because of its many historical inaccuracies.
There is no account of a Nazi officer's son ever making friends with a Jewish boy in Auschwitz or accidentally being killed in the gas chambers. As critics have pointed out, it is almost impossible that someone from the outside could have gotten into the camp through crawling through a gap in the fence, which was activated with lethal currents of electricity. In fact, this year (2020) the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum has advised the book be avoided by students of the Holocaust because of its many misrepresentations.
That being said, the book is nevertheless correct in its broader outlines. Loyal and high-ranking Nazi families like Bruno's would have been rewarded with the kind of large home they are depicted living in in Berlin. Officers and their families did live near Auschwitz, and Auschwitz did function as a death camp that gassed victims. Concentration camp inmates did wear striped prison uniforms of the sort Bruno sees, which provided little protection against the cold. The novel is correct in showing the Holocaust as real and frightening.