set of striped pajamas behind a barbed wire fence

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

The deaths of Bruno and Shmuel in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Summary:

In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bruno and Shmuel's deaths occur when Bruno sneaks into the concentration camp to be with his friend Shmuel. They are caught in a march to a gas chamber and tragically die together, highlighting the devastating consequences of the Holocaust and the innocence lost during this dark period.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On which page do Bruno and Shmuel die in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

In the fateful "Chapter Nineteen: What Happened the Next Day," a tragic turn of events unfolds as Bruno decides to sneak to the camp with his best friend Shmuel.  Bruno is given a pair of striped pajamas so that he can fit in with the crowd at this grisly death camp.  The mission for the day is for Bruno to help Shmuel find his missing father, which ends in failure.  Unfortunately, this is not to be the only terrible news for this day.  Today, many will be sent to the gas chambers to perish,  including the two young friends.  The description of the final march to the death chamber can be found on page 110:

"That's it," he said to Shmuel. "I'm going to catcha cold out here. I have to go home."  But just as he said this, his feet brought him up a set of steps, and as he marched on he found there was no more rain coming down anymore because they were all piling into a long room that was surprisingly warm and must have been very securely built because no rain was getting in anywhere. In fact it felt completely airtight.

On page 111 of the book, Bruno and Shmuel meet their sad demise as they are stuck in the gas chamber to die.  

And then the room went very dark and somehow, despite the chaos that followed, Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel's hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let it go.

The first line of Chapter 20, which is still on page 111, says that nothing was ever heard of Bruno again, which illustrates that Bruno died in the gas chamber.  

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did Bruno and Shmuel die in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

In the final chapter of the novel, Bruno sneaks underneath the massive fence surrounding the Auschwitz concentration camp in an attempt to help Shmuel find his father and is herded into a gas chamber, where he dies alongside his best friend. Bruno resolves to help his friend Shmuel find his father and views the opportunity as their final adventure together before he travels back to Berlin with his family. Shmuel is able to acquire a prison uniform resembling striped pajamas for Bruno to wear and lifts the fence so he can crawl underneath.

Once Bruno enters the camp, they begin their investigation, and he witnesses the horrors of the concentration camp for the first time. After searching in vain for an hour and a half, Bruno and Shmuel do not find his father but are herded into a large group by Nazi officers and instructed to march to the gas chambers, which resemble spacious showers. The innocent boys are too young and naive to recognize that they are in serious danger and share a tender moment just before the poisonous gas is released into the chamber. Once the chamber door is slammed shut and chaos ensues, Bruno holds onto Shmuel's hand tight and does not let go. The boys die clutching onto each other for comfort, and their friendship endures through the horrific experience.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did Bruno and Shmuel die in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Bruno and Shmuel die together in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Bruno, the son of the camp commandant, is still too young and too naive to understand what goes on here, and still thinks of his interactions with Shmuel as all of a bit of a game.

Nonetheless, Bruno has developed a close friendship with Shmuel and wants to do whatever he can to help him look for his father. Although Bruno still doesn't comprehend what Auschwitz is and what it stands for, he does at least understand why Shmuel would want to find his father. Tragically, Bruno's fateful decision to help eventually leads to his death in the gas chamber.

Having resolved to help his best friend, Bruno digs his way under the fence that separates the grounds of the family home from the concentration camp. He brings with him a spare set of pajamas, which makes him look like a prisoner when he puts them on. Because of this, Bruno is mistaken for a prisoner by the camp guards and herded along with Shmuel and other prisoners into a gas chamber. There the two friends perish together, holding on to one another right to the end.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did Bruno and Shmuel die in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Bruno is a nine-year-old boy from whose perspective The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is told. The story starts in Berlin, but Bruno's father is a Commandant in the Nazi army and gets promoted by Hitler himself. This promotion comes with a new assignment: the commandant of the concentration (death) camp called Auschwitz. Bruno is naive and tells the story just as he sees and experiences it.

Bruno is out exploring one day and discovers another little boy sitting morosely on the other side of the fence. His name is Schmuel and he is exactly the same age as Bruno; they even share the same birthday. Their relationship continues over time, but eventually Bruno is going to be moving back to Berlin with his sister and mother and he wants to play at least one time on the same side of the fence with his best (and only) friend, Schmuel.

Schmuel has been unable to find his father (we deduce that his father has been exterminated), so Bruno agrees to come inside and help his friend look for clues. Schmuel brings Bruno a uniform (which Bruno refers to as "striped pajamas"), and Bruno fits right in since his head had been shaved because of lice--though he is "fatter" because he has, of course, been eating well.

The boys discover nothing as they explore the camp, but just as Bruno is considering sneaking back under the fence and go home, some soldiers come and round the two boys and some others up and herd them into 

a long room that was surprisingly warm and must have been very securely built because no rainwas getting in anywhere. In fact, it felt completely airtight.

Bruno assumes the soldiers are just being nice and trying to keep this group from standing in the rain and catching colds. Bruno and Schmuel are glad to have each other as they wait together in the dark, neither realizing what is about to happen to them. 

The next line of the novel says this:

Nothing more was ever heard of Bruno after that.

Obviously what happened is that Bruno, Schmuel, and the others the soldiers rounded up that day were gassed to death and presumably their bodies were then burned.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, what actually happened to the boys at the end? Did Bruno die?

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is historical in nature but is a fictional story which reminds readers of the disaster and tragedy of Nazi occupation. Bruno must move because of his father's profession which, in itself, is nothing unusual but he would thrive in a situation where he is allowed to develop and mature at his own pace. He is forbidden from exploring and making new friends is impossible. It is significant that it is Bruno's father's behavior which, in fact, directs Bruno's actions. The boys are thrust together by circumstance and this story indicates the tragedy and futility of war and also highlights the similarities between these innocent children, regardless of which side they are supposedly on. Bruno and Shmuel come from worlds so far removed from each other that an event of this nature should not be possible. However, John Boyne skillfully points out through Bruno's character, there are more things that unite Bruno and Shmuel than there are things that separate them. 

Bruno's father, a powerful Nazi Commandant, has convinced himself that "Those people...well, they're not people at all..." (chapter 5). This is ironic considering that Shmuel is Bruno's only friend with whom, if his father is correct, Bruno has "nothing in common." However, Bruno and Shmuel share an unexplained bond, which starts with them sharing a birthday. After a year of meeting and chatting, Bruno is due to return to Berlin and so he and Shmuel discuss the possibility of him going to Shmuel's side of the fence. Bruno's hair is short, having been shaved to avoid lice and, as Shmuel points out, he is a little "fatter," but, otherwise, in a "pair of striped pajamas" he would look essentially the same as Shmuel and they can go on a "final adventure" in the camp. Bruno is excited at the prospect of "exploring" and Shmuel is anxious that Bruno will help him look for "Papa," who has apparently gone missing. The boys sense that this will seal their friendship and is a good way to say "goodbye" (chapter 18). The reader senses that this foreshadows more sinister events to follow.  

Bruno is shocked that he has to walk barefoot and that he sees mostly sad faces; the camp is nothing like he expected. He and Shmuel find no trace or "evidence" of Shmuel's papa either so Bruno is about to make his way back to the fence and go home when a whistle sounds and the boys find themselves in the middle of a crowd. They are ushered into an "airtight" room and Bruno tells Shmuel he is his best friend and holds his hand but has no idea whether Shmuel replies because "at that moment, there was a loud gasp from all the marchers..." and Bruno can hear nothing. He wonders about the darkness but in his innocence presumes it is related to the fact that it is raining outside. After that, "Nothing more was ever heard of Bruno..." The reader knows what has happened and takes solace in the fact that Bruno is not afraid in his last moments and that Shmuel has his friend with him. The boys have evidently been gassed. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, what actually happened to the boys at the end? Did Bruno die?

In the novel, Bruno is last seen standing in the gas chamber with Shmuel, holding hands and waiting. Reference is made to "the chaos that followed," which can easily be taken to mean the chaos of the inmates being gassed. In the epilogue, Bruno's father, Ralf, finds his clothing by the fence and figures out what must have happened. Bruno never appears in the epilogue of the novel, so his fate is strongly implied but ultimately unknown.

In the film, the beginning of the gassing scene is actually shown, with guards pouring Zyklon B capsules into the chamber and the prisoners starting to panic. Bruno's father finds the empty dormitory and breaks down, shouting Bruno's name. It is possible but very unlikely that Ralf is able to save Bruno in the film, as Zyklon B is fast-acting.

Both versions end, in the most literal interpretation, with both Bruno and Schmuel dying in the gas chamber.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did Bruno and Shmuel die in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

At the conclusion of the story, Bruno and Shmuel die in one of the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

While looking for Shmuel's father, Bruno finally sees what the camps for the Jewish prisoners are like. He is distressed when he realizes that everything he had ever imagined about the camps were wrong. For example, there are no elderly people sitting outside in rocking chairs, telling stories about their youth. There are also no fruit and vegetable stalls, let alone the cafes Bruno is used to seeing in Berlin. He realizes sadly that there are no children playing, either.

What Bruno sees are starving, emaciated groups of people. Their eyes are sunken, and many of them are crying. Meanwhile, laughing soldiers torment the people with their guns. Bruno does not like what he sees and suddenly wants to go home. He decides to stay, however, after Shmuel reminds him of his promise to help find his father.

So, the two boys continue searching. After a while, they give up their search, and Bruno again announces that he would like to go home. As the boys speak, soldiers blow shrill whistles, and everyone is herded together. Bruno estimates that there must have been more than a hundred people in the group. Meanwhile, Shmuel tells Bruno that groups of people often go on marches. However, in an ominous confession, Shmuel admits that he never sees these groups of people again.

Since he is in the middle of the crowd, Bruno can do nothing, except to march alongside Shmuel and everyone else. By this time, the rain is pouring, and the boys find themselves getting wet. Eventually, they are herded into a rectangular room, where it is dry. It is in this room (presumably a gas chamber) that Bruno and Shmuel meet their end.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did Bruno and Shmuel die in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Bruno and Shmuel become friends at the fence of a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Bruno is a German boy while Shmuel is a captive Jewish boy in a Nazi death camp. One day Shmuel confides in Bruno that he is not able to find his father. Shmuel is very worried and saddened by this. Bruno, as his friend, decides that he needs to help to find Shmuel's father. He hatches a plan to wear some camp pajamas to sneak inside the fence to help his friend search for the missing man. One day, Bruno changes his clothes into pajamas and sneaks through an opening in the fence. He is now inside the concentration camp. The innocence of these two boys made it impossible to foretell what was going to happen to them.

As the two companions are searching for Shmuel's father, who has most likely been executed, the Nazi guards round up the prisoners and take them into a large room. The large room, of course, is a gas chamber and the boys are killed.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did Bruno and Shmuel die in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

As different as the lives of Bruno and Shmuel are in The Boy in The Striped Pajamas, they suffer the same cruel fate, highlighting the futility of war and how no "fence" can protect anyone, especially when the evil is to be found on the outside of the fence, as much as inside it. Bruno's family, except his father will shortly return to Berlin. 

Bruno has forged a friendship with Shmuel and they find many things to talk about although Bruno never understands the extent of Shmuel's suffering as he sits on his side of the fence. Eventually, he ventures into the camp shortly before his expected return to Berlin. Shmuel brings him a pair of "pajamas" and remarks how they look almost "exactly the same.". With his shaved head and now in his own "pajamas," Bruno blends in and the reader is chilled by Bruno's recollection of his dressing-up at his grandmother's house; "You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person you’re pretending to be," he remembers his grandmother saying. 

Bruno discovers that the idyllic life he perceived is nowhere to be found. He longs to go home but cannot disappoint his friend and the boys search fruitlessly for Shmuel's father. Just as they are returning to the fence, they are caught up in events and are ushered into a room that is “surprisingly warm.” The "best friend(s) for life" hold tight to one another as they, along with the crowd, are gassed.   

Although it may seem inconceivable to some that any such event could ever have happened and some people are offended by any suggestion that Nazis suffered as Jews did, Boyne plays with the idea that it could have happened to anyone; the tables could have been turned and the boys could have been anyone's children! 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How did Bruno and Shmuel die in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Bruno dies in the Auschwitz gas chamber.

On the day before Bruno leaves for Berlin, he agrees to help his friend Shmuel find his father, who has gone missing in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Shmuel manages to get Bruno a prison uniform, which Bruno puts on, and he proceeds to climb underneath the massive fence surrounding the camp. Once Bruno sneaks into Auschwitz, he tries to help Shmuel locate his father. The two boys try their hardest to look for clues and explore the camp for an extended period of time to no avail. Bruno and Shmuel are then suddenly herded into a group of prisoners and led to the camp's gas chamber. Once Bruno and Shmuel enter the gas chamber, they embrace each other one last time before inhaling the deadly gas.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Did Bruno and Shmuel die in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Sadly, both Bruno and Shmuel die at the end of this heart-rending novel.

Having earlier proven himself to be a bad friend, Bruno, who was the young son of a Nazi officer and should not have been anywhere in the concentration camp, entered the camp to help Shmuel look for his missing father.

After Bruno promises to help Shmuel, the Jewish boy finds his friend a set of "striped pajamas" so that he will blend in on the "wrong" side of the fence. On the day of their death, Bruno changed into the striped pajamas and headed in to help his friend.

Tragedy begins to unfold when solders begin to herd the prisoners, including Bruno, into the gas chambers. It is here that the two boys lose their lives, hand in hand. While Bruno had been uncomfortable in the camp and wanted to go home, he never got the opportunity.

It takes Bruno's family several days of searching for him to realize the horrible truth about how Bruno died. The search comes to an end when a Nazi soldier finds the pile of clothes that he had hidden at the fence when he changed into his striped pajamas. Despite coming across as a weak character early in the story, Bruno must be commended for his ultimate bravery and loyalty.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Do Shmuel and Bruno die in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Yes, it seems that the two boys die in the gas chamber. Once Bruno has his hair cut off and he dons the "striped pajamas," there is little apparent difference among him and the Jewish prisoners who are marched into large, dark room that is airtight.

In Chapter 16 Bruno has lice in his hair and must have his head shaved; as a result, he more closely resembles Shumel. Then, in Chapter 17 Bruno learns that everyone in his family but his father are returning to Berlin, so he goes to see Shumel in order to inform his friend that he will be leaving. Outside the fence that confines Shumel, Bruno is saddened that they have not had an adventure. Then, he has a "brainstorm" and tells Shumel that if he could come inside the fence, he could help him look for his father as the boy is very worried about what has become of his parent. Shumel says that he knows where the uniforms are kept and that he will try to take one.

The next day, then, Shumel provides Bruno with a uniform, and after donning it, Bruno crawls under the fence. Bruno's next words, a quote of his actress grandmother's, ring with a terrible irony:

"You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person you're pretending to be."

Together, then, they search to no avail for Bruno's father. Just as Bruno is about to return to the spot where earlier he crawled under the fence so he can now return home, a loud whistle blows, and ten soldiers surround them. Because he has the outfit that makes him look like a Jew, Bruno is herded with Shmuel into a long room. Suddenly, everyone gasps as a loud metallic sound is heard from the outside.

From this description, the reader infers that the boys and others are sent into a gas chamber. For days, Bruno's father searches for him, but all he finds are his clothes by the fence; since there is no sign of Bruno anywhere on the camp or in the villages or towns nearby, Bruno's father deduces the terrible fate that befell his son.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on