set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

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Bruno's Relationship with Shmuel in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas


Bruno's relationship with Shmuel in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is characterized by innocence and friendship. Despite the stark differences in their backgrounds and the harsh realities of the Holocaust, the boys form a deep bond based on mutual curiosity and understanding. Their friendship ultimately highlights the tragic consequences of prejudice and hatred.

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Why doesn't Bruno believe Shmuel's story in chapter 12 of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Bruno and Shmuel become the most unlikely of friends in The Boy in The Striped Pajamas. Bruno is the son of a Nazi commandant, and Shmuel is a Jewish boy who was forcibly removed from his home and sent to "Out-With" (Bruno's pronunciation). They meet when Bruno goes exploring along the fence, something he knows he is forbidden from doing. Shmuel sits by the fence to escape the overwhelming effects of life in the camp. The boys are surprised and overjoyed that they share a birthday and they form a unique bond despite their differences and Bruno's complete lack of understanding of Shmuel's desperate situation.

In chapter 12, the boys discuss how they got to this respective camp and house. Shmuel talks about the armbands with the star on that his family is forced to wear and Bruno is intrigued by what he considers to be similarities between Shmuel's armband with the star and his father's swastika. Bruno is convinced that the boys' experiences must be very similar, especially when Shmuel describes how his family has no choice but to leave and come to the camp. Bruno wonders if the "Fury" (his mispronunciation for the fuhrer) also visited Shmuel's family as he did Bruno's home when Bruno's father received his orders to leave Berlin. 

As Shmuel continues with his description of the living conditions before actually leaving for the camp, Bruno thinks that Shmuel is exaggerating. He cannot visualize eleven people living in one room because he can only imagine a world from his own narrow perspective. Bruno has complete faith in his father and his father's intentions and thinks that Shmuel is perhaps trying to make his story sound better than Bruno's. When he is about to contradict Shmuel, he stops himself and listens to more of Shmuel's story but it still sounds unrealistic to Bruno and when Shmuel talks of the train, Bruno decides to intervene again, explaining to Shmuel what he should have done and not believing any of his story. "Of course there were" doors on the train. 

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In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, why does Bruno deny knowing Shmuel?

At a moment of weakness, Bruno denies knowing Shmuel and does not stand up for him.  It is at the moment where Bruno showed compassion and care by ensuring that his friend had something to eat.  Yet, the moment is interrupted by Kotler's presence.  In this instant, Bruno recognizes that his transcendent friendship with Shmuel can be contingent on circumstances.  Showing fear of what Bruno knows is possible, he denies knowing Shmuel.  It is significant for a couple of reasons. The first is that it shows how dreadful conditions are at the time.  Bruno is a good friend and one who does care for Shmuel.  Yet, the awareness of what is happening and the conditions that surround them reveal themselves in this instant of abandonment.  Additionally, it is significant because it proves to be an epiphany for Bruno.  He understands that he should never turn his back on his friend.  While he did so in this instant, it is a moment that serves as a reminder to never do so again.  This will prove to be prophetic later on in the narrative, when the stakes are so high and traumatic.  One singular moment of callousness becomes something never to be repeated again, to both of their detriment.

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