The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a novel about Bruno, the young son of a Nazi officer, who befriends a Jewish boy named Shmuel during World War II.

  • Bruno’s family moves to a house in the countryside near Auschwitz, where Bruno’s father works. 
  • Through a fence, Bruno encounters a Jewish boy named Shmuel who is imprisoned in the concentration camp. The two boys become friends.
  • One day, Shmuel asks for Bruno’s help in finding his father. Bruno disguises himself as one of the prisoners and enters the camp.
  • The two boys are killed in the gas chambers.


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Last Updated on January 21, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1195


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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a fictional tale of the unlikeliest of friends: the son of a Nazi commandant and a Jewish concentration camp inmate. Written by John Boyne and published in 2006 by David Fickling Books, the story was made into a major motion picture in 2008. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas explores the beauty of a child's innocence in a time of war, the common desire we all have for friendship, and the fences—both literal and figurative—that we must all navigate and choose whether or not to break down.


The novel is told from the perspective of nine-year-old Bruno, the son of a Nazi commandant. Bruno arrives home from school one day to find the family's maid packing their things. Unbeknownst to Bruno, his father has been selected to oversee operations at Auschwitz (which Bruno hears as "Out-With") and the family will be joining him. Bruno is devastated to leave his home, his friends and his grandparents in Berlin. The situation becomes even worse when the family arrives at their new home which is stark and isolated. Bruno is instructed by his parents that there are certain rooms that are "Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions." This includes the vast property behind the house which seems to beckon Bruno. With no idea what is happening just behind his home, Bruno laments the lack of children his age and fun activities in "Out-With."

Bruno's twelve-year-old sister, Gretel, is an all-too-eager believer in the Nazi rhetoric being espoused to German youth. Her zeal for Nazi ideology increases when the family moves to Auschwitz and she develops a crush on a Nazi soldier, Lieutenant Kotler, who is a frequent visitor to the family's home. Bruno instantly dislikes Kotler, who patronizes him. Gretel is an all-too-eager student of Herr Liszt, the tutor hired by the children's father to home school them. He unabashedly promotes Nazi propaganda and anti-Semitism of which Bruno is skeptical.

From his bedroom window, Bruno can see hundreds if not thousands of people wearing pajamas working on what Bruno believes to be a farm. When Bruno's desire to explore gets the best of him, he embarks on an adventure which leads him to an endlessly long fence. Bruno follows the fence and after walking for quite a while, he sees a boy sitting by the fence. Bruno approaches him and notices that he is wearing the same pajamas as everyone else on that side of the fence along with a striped cloth cap. Bruno makes note of the boy's filthy feet which are bare. Bruno is struck by the boy's sad eyes and ashen skin. Shmuel introduces himself and the two strike up a conversation. They soon discover that they share the same birthday: April 15, 1934. Bruno realizes how lonely he has been since the family moved to "Out-With." He misses his friends from school, Martin, Karl and Daniel. Shmuel tells Bruno how there are many boys his age on his side of the fence and Bruno instantly deems this unfair; he plans to speak to his father about how he wants to be able to play with the boys on the other side of the fence. Bruno tells Shmuel he is from Berlin and Shmuel reveals that he is from Poland; neither has ever heard of the...

(The entire section contains 1195 words.)

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