set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne
Start Free Trial

To what extent is The Boy in the Striped Pajamas a historically responsible depiction of experiences of the Holocaust?

One could argue that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is not a historically responsible depiction of the experiences of the Holocaust because the central relationship between Bruno and Shmuel is not something that would ever have been allowed to happen in real life.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Though The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a best-selling book, read and enjoyed by millions of people the world over, it has come under a fair amount of criticism for its depiction of the Holocaust, which many have argued is unhistorical.

Critics point to the central relationship in the story between Bruno, son of the camp commandant at Auschwitz, and Shmuel, a young Jewish boy and prisoner at the camp, to illustrate this point. They argue that such a relationship could never have taken place in real life.

Although critics rightly accept that the book is a piece of fiction and not a work of history, they nonetheless insist that some form of historical truth needs to enter into the portrayal of life in the concentration camps. That being the case, the literally unbelievable relationship between Bruno and Shmuel blunts the impact of any realistic elements within the novel.

Unable to accept that such a bond could develop between the son of the commandant of Auschwitz and a Jewish prisoner, we cannot help but feel that the novel is not able to give us a historically responsible description of the experiences of the Holocaust. And this serves to undermine whatever strengths The Boy in the Striped Pajamas may have as a work of children's fiction.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on