What Bruno hears as “out-with” is really Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp.
Bruno’s father is a Nazi. When his father gets a promotion as commandant of the concentration camp Auschwitz, Bruno and the family go too. Bruno has no idea what is going on. He believes that the prisoners are wearing striped pajamas and working on a farm.
Bruno does not like leaving his home and friends, and he certainly does not like Out-with. His father tells him it will grow on him, but he isn’t sure. His father is too busy to spend much time with him. He feels lonely and depressed, and grows more and more curious about the people in the striped pajamas. This leads him to investigate and meet a boy his own age, Shmuel. They boys realize they were born on the same day. Soon Bruno gets the courage to ask the boy why he is there.
“Why are there so many people on that side of the fence,” he asked, “And what are you all doing there?” (Ch. 10, p. 115)
Bruno’s ignorance of the fate of the Jewish boy and the other prisoners puts him in difficult positions, such as when Shmuel helps in his house and he gives the boy food, but doesn’t admit it to the guard, causing Shmuel to be beaten. Despite this, Bruno basically has a good heart. He becomes friends with Shmuel in a time of distinct prejudice. His father, likewise, is a basically good person doing very bad things.