Chapter 20 Summary
After the incident on the other side of the fence, Bruno is never seen or heard from again. His parents are frantic when he does not return home that day, and soldiers are sent out immediately to search “every part of the house and...all the local towns and villages.” Mother, who had been so happy about returning to Berlin, ends up staying at Out-With for several more months, hoping for news of her son. Eventually, she decides that he must have made his way back home to Berlin by himself, and she goes to wait for him there. Gretel accompanies her mother and spends a lot of time alone in her room crying. Despite her rude and impatient attitude toward her brother, she misses Bruno very much.
In the initial days of the search, one soldier discovers Bruno’s clothes in a neat pile by the fence a good distance to the right of the house. He notifies Bruno’s father, the Commandant, who examines the area but cannot figure out what has happened to his son. It seems to the Commandant that his son has “just vanished off the face of the earth and left his clothes behind him.”
Father stays at Out-With for another year and develops a very bad reputation for his ruthless treatment of his soldiers. He is obsessed with thoughts about his son, and one day he finally develops a theory about what might have happened to him. Father returns to the place at the fence where Bruno’s clothes had been found. He again studies the area carefully, and this time he notices that the fence at that spot is not secured properly to the ground but leaves a gap large enough for a small boy to get through. He looks into the distance and conjectures about the probable chain of events leading to his son’s disappearance. When the horrible truth becomes evident to him, he falls to the ground in devastation and grief. A few months later, Father is removed from his command at Out-With, and soldiers are sent to take him away. The disgraced former Commandant goes without complaint because he no longer cares what happens to him.
The author closes his fable by commenting that the story about Bruno and his family “happened a long time ago.” He then adds with chilling irony, “of course...nothing like that could ever happen again...not in this day and age.”