set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Chapter 13 Summary

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Every afternoon, after his lessons are finished, Bruno takes the long walk along the fence and spends time talking to his new friend, Shmuel. One day as he is filling his pockets with food from the kitchen for his daily excursion, he notices the piles of vegetables waiting for Pavel to peel and is reminded of a question that has been bothering him. In confidence, Bruno asks Maria why Pavel told him he was a doctor on the day he fell from the swing. Maria is startled and at first lies, but she is clearly troubled. She looks out the window to make sure no one is coming and tells Bruno that Pavel was once a doctor “in another life.” Warning Bruno that he must keep what she is about to tell him a secret, Maria reveals to him what she knows about Pavel’s past.

When Bruno meets Shmuel a short time later, he tells him about Pavel, who also comes from Poland. Bruno tells Shmuel that Pavel, who had been a doctor in his hometown, fixed his knee when he hurt himself and that there will be trouble if Father hears about what Pavel has done. Shmuel, knowing that Bruno’s father is the Commandant, replies that in his experience, soldiers “don’t normally like people getting better,” but Bruno does not understand. He changes the subject, asking Shmuel what he wants to be when he grows up. Shmuel wants to be a zookeeper, and Bruno wants to be a soldier like his father. Shmuel says that he would not want to be a soldier and adds that “there aren’t any good soldiers.” Bruno feels insulted and describes for Shmuel his father’s “impressive uniform” and

the big things . . . the Fury has . . . in mind for him because he’s such a good soldier.

Shmuel at first does not reply, then he very quietly says, “You don’t know what it’s like here.” Bruno tells Shmuel that he greatly dislikes one soldier in particular, Lieutenant Kotler; the simple mention of the lieutenant’s name causes Shmuel to turn pale and begin to shiver.

To Bruno’s great disappointment, Lieutenant Kotler joins the family for dinner that night. During the meal, Bruno complains about his lessons, especially history, which he finds hopelessly boring. Lieutenant Kotler reminisces that although his father was a professor of literature, he had enjoyed history most of all as a child. Mother innocently asks if his father still teaches, and the lieutenant replies that he does not know, because his father “left Germany some years ago” and he has had not contact with him since. Calculating that the lieutenant’s father had left Germany “at the moment of her greatest glory and her most vital need,” Father wonders accusingly if the man had been in disagreement with government policy, which puts the lieutenant in a very uncomfortable position. As Lieutenant Kotler insists that he has no knowledge of his father’s politics, Father brings the conversation to an abrupt end.

Pavel, who has been unusually shaky and unsteady while performing his duties as a waiter this evening, drops a bottle whose contents spill onto Lieutenant Kotler’s lap. The lieutenant was already agitated and now becomes irate and does something unspeakable to Pavel. To Bruno’s great dismay, no one stops him. When Bruno goes to bed that night, he reflects on what happened at the table and wonders if that is “the kind of thing that [goes] on at Out-With.” If it is, he concludes that he

had better not disagree with anyone any more about anything. . . . In fact, he would do well to keep his mouth shut and cause no chaos at all.

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Chapter 12 Summary


Chapter 14 Summary