What is Lt. Kotler like in comparison to Pavel in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Lt. Kotler and Pavel in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are as unlike as any two people could be. Where Pavel, once a practicing physician before the war, is caring and intelligent, Lt. Kotler is a brutish and brutal young man who suddenly assumes power with the ascendance of the Nazi party. Lt. Kotler shows his viciousness when he beats Pavel savagely. Also, Lt. Kotler is a murderer, while Pavel is a healer.

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The teenaged Nazi officer Lt. Kotler is a bully and a racist whose power has gone to his head. He orders around the gentle Jew Pavel, a servant in Bruno's home, with cruel insults. Kotler is brutal and crude, while Pavel is kind and refined.

We first meet Pavel when...

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The teenaged Nazi officer Lt. Kotler is a bully and a racist whose power has gone to his head. He orders around the gentle Jew Pavel, a servant in Bruno's home, with cruel insults. Kotler is brutal and crude, while Pavel is kind and refined.

We first meet Pavel when he is ordered by Kotler to make a tire swing for Bruno. Pavel does so quietly, not responding to Kotler's swaggering.

Pavel shows himself to be a compassionate person when Bruno grows dizzy from swinging too high on his new swing. He rushes out to catch him as Bruno falls from the swing, and "scoop[s] ... him up," carrying him into the house. He tends to his wounds in a "gentle and kindly" way. When Pavel says that Bruno's wounds are not bad and that he won't need to go to the hospital, Bruno pushes back, asking him how he can know that. At this point, Pavel reveals he is a physician by training, which confuses, surprises, and impresses Bruno.

Pavel is an older man. When he finally really looks at him for the first time, Bruno sees that he is older than his father but younger than his grandfather. Although he is older and wiser, Pavel must endure being ordered around by the teenaged Kotler. While some aspects of this novel are unrealistic, it is true that Nazism was a youth movement and that young Aryan men were often given a dizzying amount of power.

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Comparing Lt. Kotler with Pavel is like comparing night and day. First and foremost, there are huge differences between the two men in terms of their place within the racial pecking-order instituted by the Nazis. As a German, Kotler is a member of the so-called master race, who Hitler and his followers believe have the right to conquer the world and subjugate supposedly inferior races.

Pavel, by contrast, is a Jew, and therefore regarded by Nazi racial ideology as the lowest of the low. His lowly status as a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz makes him vulnerable to violent treatment at the hands of Kotler or any other of the Nazis.

Whereas Pavel, who used to be a doctor, has dedicated his life to healing people and taking care of the sick, Nazis like Kotler are concerned only with bringing death and suffering to millions of innocent people. Even though he's no longer a doctor, Pavel still displays his commitment to tending to the sick and injured when he treats Bruno's wound after he falls off a swing and scrapes his knee.

This incident shows him to be a good and decent human being, one of many such people treated like sub-humans by the Nazis simply by virtue of their religion and ethnicity. Pavel's decency and goodness stand as a marked contrast to Kotler's pure evil.

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One could almost say that Lt. Kotler and Pavel are polar opposites. Lt. Kotler is a young man who has suddenly found himself in a position of power as the Nazis have ascended to control. By contrast, Pavel is an older man who once had some power—or at least a high-level prestigious occupation as a physician—and now is powerless to endure the physical and verbal beatings inflicted on him by Lt. Kotler and presumably other vicious Nazis like him.

As a man with medical training and experience, Pavel is a man who heals. In comparison, Lt. Kotler is a man who wounds and does this with enthusiasm. We see examples of each man’s different personality traits and guiding ethics in the book. When Bruno scrapes his knee, Pavel instinctively takes him in hand and attends to him, washing the wound and applying medicine. When Pavel drops something as he is serving dinner to Bruno’s family and Lt. Kotler—even though this is a harmless mistake that any servant could make and was likely caused because Pavel is fearful for his life, hungry, and very mistreated—Lt. Kotler beats him inhumanely, exhibiting his viciousness and delight in his ability to inflict pain on another person in a violent and unrelenting manner.

Bruno is an innocent young boy with no pretensions. We see both Pavel and Lieutenant Kotler through Bruno’s eyes and see that Bruno instinctively forms an attachment to Pavel and is wary of Lieutenant Kotler. The author writes,

Bruno wasn’t entirely sure why, but he knew that he didn’t like Lieutenant Kotler.

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Lieutenant Kotler is the typical Nazi leader in Auschwitz.  He carries himself in a manner where he views himself as infallible. He will never accept his own failure or shortcomings in anything.  Armed with Nazi ideology substantiating both who he is and in what he believes, Kotler abuses anyone who he sees as inferior. Adding to this is Gretel's crush on him, reflecting his own sense of ego and pride.  By contrast, Pavel knows that he is living on "borrowed time" to an extent. Pavel keeps his medical training a secret, instead willing to be seen as a servant.  Pavel understands that people like Kotler would be willing to use people like him as an example.  It is for this reason that he stays as discrete as possible.  He tries to not attract attention to himself, in contrast to Kotler who has no problem bringing more attention to both he and his position.  When Pavel stitches up Bruno, Pavel begs his mother not to say anything, recognizing clearly what the consequences could be if his training as a doctor comes to be known.  Pavel seeks to exist within the shadows of "Out- With" while Kotler enjoys the attention and power that comes with being a Lieutenant at the death camp.

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