In John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which character is in a worse situation, Bruno or Shmuel?
In chapter 12 of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Shmuel tells Bruno about his life before Auschwitz. In previous chapters, Bruno complains that he has been uprooted from his luxurious home in Berlin only to go live in a smaller house in Poland. He also complains that there are no friends to play with; however, he enjoys nutritious meals, a warm bed at night, and the company of his family each day. Shmuel, on the other hand, first explains how he and his family were isolated from society when they had to wear armbands with stars on them. Then, they were forced out of their home and into ghetto communities. Shmuel explains the experience as follows:
". . . we were told we couldn't live in our house we had to move to a different part of Cracow, where the soldiers built a big wall and my mother and father and my brother and I all had to live in one room" (128).
Compared to Bruno's life, Shmuel knows what it is like to feel terror at the hands of soldiers and to suffer from displacement from society because of discrimination. Shmuel also describes life in the ghetto as violent and depressing because a boy named Luka beat him up each day and the window from his home faced a wall.
Next, Shmuel describes what it was like for him and his family to be gathered up by soldiers and forced to ride on trains without doors. People were packed in like animals, and he remembers that it was hard to breathe and it "smelled awful" (129). Shmuel then describes his final journey to Auschwitz as follows:
"When the train finally stopped . . . we were in a very cold place and we all had to walk here . . . And Mama was taken away from us, and Papa and Josef and I were put into the huts over there and that's where we've been ever since" (130).
Shumel clearly has suffered more than Bruno. Now, he lives in a concentration camp where he is starving to death, can't visit his mother, and does not know if he will live from one day to the next. Therefore, Shmuel is in a worse situation than Bruno.
Although Bruno and Shmuel are both tragic characters who die at the end of the novel, I believe that Shmuel has a more difficult plight throughout the story. Unlike Bruno who lives in relative safety and comfort, Shmuel is subjected to violence and lives a rougher life inside the Auschwitz concentration camp. Shmuel suffers from malnutrition and is forced to live in an unhealthy, dangerous environment. In contrast, Bruno lives in a comfortable home and is well fed. Bruno is also not persecuted the way that Shmuel is because he is not Jewish. After Lieutenant Kotler catches Shmuel eating in Bruno's kitchen, Shmuel is badly beaten. Shmuel's well-being is continually threatened in the subhuman environment inside the concentration camp. Bruno would not have died in the gas chambers had he not decided to dress up like a Jewish prisoner and enter the camp. Shmuel's death was essentially inevitable while Bruno's death could have been avoided.