The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of Bruno, a German boy whose father is a senior commander in Hitler's military. Bruno calls Hitler, "the Fury," as he cannot pronounce fuhrer. Bruno befriends Shmuel, a boy the same age as Bruno. with co-incidentally the same birthday, but Shmuel lives in the compound at "Out-With," Bruno's name for what is apparently the concentration camp, Auschwitz, from the Second World War. The boys can only talk across the fence that divides their worlds.
Bruno is ironically jealous of Shmuel, because Bruno perceives Shmuel's world as so much more exciting as Shmuel gets "to have dozens of friends and are probably playing for hours every day." Bruno is intrigued by the "pajamas" that everybody wears in the camp and his strange friendship because he and Shmuel never get to explore or play, only talk. After his hair is cut due to a problem with lice, he looks very similar to his friend, "only fatter."
When Bruno's father realizes that Bruno has been "watching" the people in the pajamas, he decides it is time for his family to return to Berlin and, even though it is what Bruno wanted, he is sad to think that he will miss his friend. When Shmuel brings him some pajamas, he is excited to think that he can wear the "right" clothes which is what all good explorers do and he can help Shmuel look for his father who is missing. Bruno is confused by what he finds when he goes through the fence to the "other" side and disappointed that they cannot find Shmuel's father.
Bruno never understands the extent of what is happening and, even when he and his "best friend for life" stand together in a room, he cannot anticipate what will happen next. Bruno is never heard of again and the reader is able to discern what happened. Bruno's father does come to the realization of what must have happened when his son's clothes are found.
In this story, we see the ideology of the Third Reich and its impact upon European culture played out via the friendship of two young boys. The son of a high ranking SS officer, whose family has been relocated to a rural facility near an internment camp where he is on work assignment, is playing outdoors when he discovers a wire fence. On the the other side of the fence is a boy his age who wears "striped pajamas" or the uniform of a war prisoner. Neither boy completely understands the situation, but they develop a tentative friendship. Meanwhile, the wife of the SS officer begins to realize the true nature of her husband's work and this begins to fracture the family situation. The two boys begin to understand that things are becoming more tense, but when one boy decides to go through the fence to join his friend, and dress in "striped pajamas" too, the situation becomes dangerously serious.