Why is Lieutenant Kotner forced to leave the Auschwitz camp in the novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

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Lieutenant Kotner had befriended Gretel and Bruno’s mother during their stay at Auschwitz.  Consequently, he was invited to dinner with the family.  During dinner, Bruno complains about the lessons he is receiving from Herr Liszt. 

“All he wants us to do is study history and geography…. And I’m starting to hate history and geography.” (pg 143)

Lieutenant Kotner tells Bruno that when he was a boy, he enjoyed history.  However, then he makes a critical mistake and says,

“And although my father was a professor of literature at the university, I preferred the social sciences to the arts.” (pg 144)

Bruno’s mother asks if his father is still a teacher, and the lieutenant responds that he does not keep in contact with his father. 

“He left Germany some years ago.  Nineteen thirty-eight, I think it was.  I haven’t seen him since.” (pg 145)

Bruno’s father asks where Kurt’s father is now.  Kurt now knows that the Commandant is not happy with this news.

“I believe he is currently in Switzerland…. The last I heard he was teaching at a university in Berne.” (pg 146)

This piece of information bothers the Commandant.  The man, who was only in his forties, left just as the war was beginning, and he chose not to return to Germany to fight or support the Nazi cause.

“And what reason did he give, might I ask, …. For leaving Germany at the moment of her greatest glory and her most vital need, when it is incumbent upon all of us to play our part in the national revival?” (pg 146)

He asked if Kurt’s father was ill or had some physical problem that caused him to leave Germany at that particular time.  Lieutenant Kotler tried to bypass the question by stating that he did not know his father’s reasons.  Bruno’s father asked if maybe his father had “disagreements” with the governmental policies of the Germans. 

“One hears tales of men like this from time to time.  Curious fellows, I imagine. Disturbed, some of them.  Traitors, other.  Cowards too.  Of course you have informed your superiors of your father’s views, Lieutenant Kotler?” (pg 147)

It is then that the Commandant changes the subject because he feels that the conversation is inappropriate for the dinner table.  However, the damage has been done.  Not only does Lieutenant Kotler have a father who appears to have left the country rather than support it, but the lieutenant has not reported this to his superiors.  This was a major breach in military protocol, and so he was removed from his position at Auschwitz.

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