set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Chapter 15 Summary

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Father’s birthday is coming up, and Mother is planning a party for him with Lieutenant Kotler’s help. Repulsed by the soldier’s presence, Bruno decides to make a list of all the reasons why he hates him. The lieutenant never smiles, and Gretel flirts with him shamelessly. Also, when Father is away, the young soldier is always around the house with Mother, acting “as if he [is] in charge.” Sometimes he is there when Bruno goes to bed and is back before he gets up again in the morning. One time, Bruno saw Lieutenant Kotler shoot a dog that was barking outside. He also has not forgotten what the cruel young man did to Pavel that evening at dinner when Pavel had dropped the contents of a bottle onto his lap. In Bruno’s estimation, Lieutenant Kotler is a very unlikeable character.

Bruno is reading a book in the living room one day when Lieutenant Kotler accosts him and, feigning civility, torments him by taking the book and refusing to give it back. Just when Bruno manages to outwit the lieutenant and retrieve his book, his mother comes toward them. She does not realize that Bruno is there and addresses the lieutenant with a term of endearment, telling him that she has a little free time now. Mother is startled when she sees her son. She sends him to the kitchen because she needs “a private word” with Lieutenant Kotler. Bruno retreats to the kitchen in anger and receives “the biggest surprise of his life—there, sitting at the table . . . is Shmuel.”

Shmuel is delighted to see Bruno and explains that he has been brought by the lieutenant to the house to clean the tiny glasses because his fingers are so small. Shmuel holds out his hand to show him. Bruno observes that Shmuel’s fingers look like “dying twigs” and wonders if whatever is going on at Out-With is not “a very bad idea.” Bruno goes to the refrigerator, takes out some slices of chicken, and begins stuffing them into his mouth. When he realizes Shmuel is watching him with an indescribable intensity, he becomes aware of his thoughtlessness and offers him some.

Shmuel reacts with extreme ambivalence; he is clearly terrified that Lieutenant Kotler will come back. Not understanding the problem, Bruno puts some chicken into his friend’s hand. After a moment of hesitation, the starving boy gobbles it down. At that moment, the lieutenant enters and, perceiving immediately that Shmuel has been eating, asks him if he has stolen something from the refrigerator. Desperate, Shmuel says that Bruno has given him the food and that they are friends. When Lieutenant Kotler turns to Bruno and asks if what Shmuel says is true, Bruno, remembering what the lieutenant did to Pavel, denies knowing his friend.

As he returns to the living room, Bruno realizes what he has done and is overcome with shame. He wonders

how a boy who thought he was a good person . . . could act in such a cowardly way.

When he goes back to the kitchen later, Shmuel is gone.

Almost a week passes before Bruno sees Shmuel again at the fence. Bruno runs to him and apologizes for his behavior, and Shmuel says, “It’s all right.” Bruno notices that Shmuel’s face is covered with bruises. He surmises that his friend must have fallen off his bicycle like he had done one time in Berlin, and he asks if it hurts. Shmuel responds, “I don’t feel anything any more.” When Bruno apologizes once again for letting him down, Shmuel smiles, and Bruno knows that he is forgiven. Shmuel lifts the bottom of the fence and reaches his hand out to Bruno. Bruno takes his friend’s hand: “it [is] the first time they [have] ever touched.”

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