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John Boyne's novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is about an unlikely friendship struck between two boys, nine-year-old Bruno and Shmuel, a Jewish child of about Bruno's age who lives on the other side of the metal and barbed-wire fence that separates their worlds. Bruno, of course, is the privileged son of the newly-appointed commandant of a massive German concentration camp. The developing friendship between the two boys cannot have a happy ending. The time is World War II, and Bruno's family is transferred at the direct command of "The Fury," Adolf Hitler, whose moniker "Der Fuehrer," is badly misunderstood by this innocent young boy, from their comfortable home in Berlin to the camp in Poland the name of which would become synonymous with the Holocaust, Auschwitz. As with that angry man who visited Bruno's home that day, the boy similarly misunderstands the name of his family's destination, calling it "Out with."
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, of course, is a historical novel. While such novels have frequently employed "artistic license" in how they depict historical events -- in other words, authors make stuff up to make their stories more interesting and to facilitate plot developments -- Boyne obviously understood that there was no happy ending for the millions who died in just that one complex of camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau). While he could have had Shmuel survive through the efforts of Bruno, that kind of ending would have been a grave injustice to the truth of what happened there. More simply, Boyne could have had Bruno survive -- after all, he was Aryan royalty, his father being commandant and a personal acquaintance of Hitler -- while Shmuel followed his family into the gas chambers. That, in fact, was the outcome some readers anticipated. That Boyne instead had the two boys march together into the gas chambers, where they both perished, added an element of melancholy that both added to the story's sadness and potentially detracted from the unique experience that was the Holocaust -- the systematic effort at exterminating the continent's Jewish population. By having Bruno die alongside his friend, Boyne has been accused of adding to the efforts of some revisionist historians to minimize the religious component of the Final Solution for the purpose of delegitimizing Jewish victimization. That criticism, however, goes a bit far, as Boyne's narrative does not attempt to deny or minimize the role of Shmuel's religious faith in determining his fate.
What one thinks will happen in Boyne's novel is entirely subjective. As noted, however, readers could contemplate the possibility that Boyne will "save" his Jewish child the slaughter imposed on his family and friends, or that Bruno, at least, will survive to 'bear witness.' Neither possibility occurs, though. Bruno enters the concentration camp and is marched along with Shmuel and other Jews into the gas chambers where he dies alongside his only friend.
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