The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

John Boyne & Esme Cosgrove

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A Touching Tale

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a poignant, moving story which explores the values in friendship. Written by John Boyne, the story is set in southern Poland, 1940s. The novel features 9-year-old Bruno as the adventurous main character, son of the Commandment of Auschwitz (“Out-with” as Bruno refers to it). During one of Bruno’s daring adventures, he comes across his soon-to-be best friend--only best friend at Auschwitz--Shmuel. Shmuel is a starving, frail Jewish boy who shares the best parts of his life at the camp with Bruno. Together, the boys shape a memorable story which will remind you of the significance of true friends.

Throughout the story, Bruno, the character the story revolves around, encounters hurdles and bumps in his new and different life. With the help of his special friend Shmuel, Bruno overcomes the bore and unfamiliarity of living in the new environment of Auschwitz. Their friendship is a difficult one to keep lasting because although he is so close to Bruno, Shmuel is different because he is Jewish and kept in a concentration camp, separated by a wired fence from Bruno. Although, they are specifically not allowed to make contact with each other, nothing is too powerful to intervene with their unforgettable amity. This conflict between them is called character vs. society because Bruno resists against the fact that he is not Jewish and isn’t supposed to make contact with a Jew.

In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, the climax, the most intense and exciting part, occurs closer to the end of the story. After nearly a year of staying at Auschwitz, visiting Shmuel each and every afternoon, Bruno, his mother, and sister Gretel are returning to their old, beloved house in Berlin. Although it didn’t seem like this at first, Bruno is reluctant to leave. He knows he will miss his new best friend Shmuel very much. Since Shmuel and Bruno never got to see each other without the wired fence in front of their faces, Bruno persuades Shmuel to let him onto the other side of the fence where they can play together and search for Shmuel’s missing father. It is the first time the two can ever be on the same side of the fence together so Bruno is very excited. However, he doesn’t understand what he is in for. Bruno does not understand what life is like in the concentration camps for Jews. The resolution happens suddenly, closing on Bruno and Shmuel’s adventure in a haunting way, the will keep thinking about it for a while.

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An Adventurous Attitude

In the book A Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne, the protagonist of the story is Bruno, a nine-year-old boy who has spent his life living in the city of Berlin until he is forced to move to far away because of his father’s job. The story is set in the 1940s. Throughout the story, Bruno is an adventurous character. In his very large house in Berlin, Bruno loves to discover new nooks and crannies and explore them. On pg. 11, the text states, “The house in Berlin was enormous, and even though he’d lived there for nine years, he was still able to find nooks and crannies that he hadn’t finished exploring yet.” Also, another part when Bruno demonstrates his adventurous personality is when he informs his waiter, Pavel about his dreams of what he will be when he grows up: “‘I want to be an explorer,’ said Bruno quickly.

‘I wish you luck,’ said Pavel.

‘Thank you.’

‘Have you discovered anything yet?’

‘Back in the house in Berlin there was a lot of exploring to be done,’ recalled Bruno. ‘But then, it was a very big house, bigger than you could possibly imagine, so there were a lot places to explore.’” pg. 84.

More evidence on Bruno’s adventurous character is on page 98 when Bruno tells Herr Liszt, “I like stories about knights and adventures and exploring.”

Every afternoon, Bruno meets with his new friend Shmuel where he describes how much he loved to explore and wishes that he could explore with Shmuel. During the story, the exploring that Bruno wishes to do displays his adventurous character.

Historical Hints

Throughout the story of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, the author reveals facts that help us understand what life was like during the 1940s. Bruno describes to Shmuel the red Nazi armband his father wears after Shmuel describes the armbands he had to wear as a jew with the Star of David on it. “‘And then one day things started to change,’ he continued. ‘I came home from school and my mother was making armbands for us from a special cloth and drawing a star on each one. Like this.’ Using his finger he drew a design in the dusty ground beneath him.’”(pg. 126-127.) This quote is spoken by Shmuel as he describes the armbands he was forced to wear at his old home. “‘My father wears one too,’ said Bruno. ‘It’s bright red with a black-and-white design on it.’ Using his finger he drew another design...” (pg. 127.) This is information demonstrates that this story took place in the 1940s when Jews were forced to wear armbands with the Star of David on it when the Nazis took over. We also learn that Shmuel is a Jew and Bruno’s father is a Nazi.

“‘I knew him when I was a little girl...He suffered a terrible injury during the Great War.’¨ (pg. 68.) This quote was said by Bruno’s mother when describing a man she knew as a child. These words reveal that the story takes place in historical times. The Great War, referring to World War 1, only occurred just 2 decades before.

Another piece of historical evidence is: “The only time the Fury can make it is Thursday evening and he’s invited himself to dinner.” (pg. 116). Fury, a very major person in this period of time, comes for dinner at Bruno’s house to discuss a situation with his father. Actually pronounced and spelled the Führer, Bruno hears it as the Fury. The Führer was a leader referring to Adolf Hitler. Since the Führer is in strong association with Nazi Germany, “The Fury” is a bit of historical evidence in the story.

“‘Don’t the Jews like the Opposite then?’ (Bruno)

‘No, its us who don’t like them, stupid.’” (Gretel)

(pg. 183.)

This information displayed in the conversation between Gretel and Bruno indicates that the story is taking place in the time period where Jews were not respected and segregated from the “Opposite” as Bruno and Gretel call it.

During the story, John Boyne inserts pieces of historical evidence that expand our knowledge on what life was like in the 1940s.

Taking Peeks At Turning Points

A Timeline of Some Events: 1920-2015

July 29, 1921: Adolf Hitler became leader of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party *in German*) and took the title of the Führer.

Description: Adolf Hitler was the leader of the Nazi Party. He was the Chancellor of Germany from 1933-1945. Hitler was responsible for starting World War II and killing over 11 million people during the Holocaust.

December 7, 1941: Attack on Pearl Harbor

Description: The Attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprising military strike managed by the Imperial Japanese Navy. This attack induced the United States’ appearance in World War II. The Attack on Pearl Harbor was intended to avert the U. S. from impeding with Japan’s actions against European territories. With 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes, they destroyed many U. S. aircrafts, ships, and other military devices and killed 2,023 Americans.

October 8, 1941: Auschwitz, Nazi’s concentration camp for Jews was established where Jews were transported and eventually killed.

Description: Built by the Nazis, Auschwitz was a network of concentration camps for Jews, located in southern Poland. The camps were Built during World War II. It included 3 main camps and held troops of incarcerated Jews. It became the symbol of death, the Holocaust, and the destruction of European Jewry.

April 30, 1945: Hitler commits suicide


On July 20th 1944, a cabal of officers tried to assassinate Hitler by inserting bombs in his briefcase. Astonishingly, he survived but was terribly injured and emotionally devastated. Adolf Hitler committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in his Führerbunker in Berlin as American, British, and Free French forces closed in and the Russian army approached from the east. He committed suicide along with his wife, Eva Braun.

1960s: Segregation between blacks and whites in the south of U. S.

Description: This historical event connects to Nazi Germany because it displays persecution of different groups of people for prejudice reasons as well. It took place in south of U. S. Blacks were not welcome in certain places (bus seats, restaurants, water fountains, bathrooms, etc.) They were treated poorly and with disrespect by the Whites. The Blacks led nonviolent fights for freedom (marches, speeches, protests) but whites hurt them physically in response by attacking them police dogs and spraying them with extreme force with hoses that could even rip through their skin.

2005: First female Chancellor of Germany

Description: Angela Merkel was the first female Chancellor of Germany.She became chancellor in 2005 and has held that important role in Germany since then. Before this she was a politician and former research scientist.

2014-15: German sanction against Russia

Description: Germany takes the lead in a sanction against Russia concerning Ukraine during Crimean crisis (in Ukraine) after Russian military equipment and troops were sent into following the Ukrainian revolution.

Auschwitz: Concentration Camp

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