set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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What is "out-with" in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

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"Out-with" is nine-year-old Bruno's name for Auschwitz, a major Nazi concentration camp located in a remote section of Poland where many Jews and others considered not part of the German (Aryan) race were used as slave labor and most often exterminated.

Bruno and his older sister Gretel move with their parents from Berlin to a beautiful home outside of Auschwitz. But beyond their lovely garden, the children are unsettled by what they see from Bruno's bedroom window. Past the area where they live is a high fence made of barbed wire, with tangles of barbed wire at top. The children see people milling around on the other side of the barbed wire. There are no women, but they observe males of all ages. The men seem dirty and live in small, unpleasant huts. The children have no idea who these people are or why they are there. They speculate they may be farmers but see no farm animals.

Gretel asks why their father would take a job in such a "nasty" place with so many people crowded together. Bruno wonders why everyone from grandfathers to small boys is dressed alike.

While the children have been sheltered from reality and have no idea of how bad things are in the death camp next door, they sense that something is not right with their new neighbors.

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As is typical of a child his age, Bruno frequently mispronounces long and difficult words. Out-With is Auschwitz. This concentration camp was the largest of the Holocaust. Located in southern Poland, around 1.1 million people were systematically murdered within its walls. Most of them were Jews from around Nazi-occupied Europe. The camp consisted of two main units with several sub-camps nearby. Just outside the camp were living quarters for the Nazi officers and their families. This is where Bruno and his family have moved to.

Bruno has no idea what Auschwitz really is. To a nine year old, the idea of a death camp is incomprehensible. His parents and the other adults around him do their best to shelter Bruno from the horrors just on the other side of the fence. By doing so, Bruno approaches his new home and neighborhood he meets with a child's curiosity and innocence.

In fact, Bruno does not even recognize that Out-With is the camp itself. He uses this term to refer to his own house. His sister Gretel also is naively unaware of the true nature of their new home. When Bruno asks his older sister what Out-With means, she tells him that it means "Out with the people who lived here before us, I expect" (chapter 3).

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Out-With is Bruno's pronunciation of Auschwitz, which is a Nazi concentration camp located in Poland during WWII. At the beginning of the story, Bruno's family is forced to move from Berlin to Auschwitz, where his father acts as the concentration camp's commandant. Bruno, who is only nine years old, is too young and naive to understand that his father is a high-ranking Nazi officer in charge of running the Auschwitz concentration camp's daily operations and contributing to Hitler's Final Solution. The term Out-With illustrates and emphasizes Bruno's naivety and failure to genuinely understand his environment.

Bruno's new home is located outside of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and a massive barb wire fence separates his family from the Jewish prisoners. Despite the extensive barrier and tragic situation, Bruno becomes close friends with a Jewish prisoner named Shmuel, who talks to him from the other side of the fence. Although Bruno is unable to grasp the gravity of the situation, his friendship with Shmuel grows until he eventually crawls underneath the fence to help Shmuel look for his father. Tragically, both boys die inside of the concentration camp's gas chamber at the end of the story.

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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.

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