The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Author John Boyne
Illustrator Alisia Cullens
Country Ireland
Language English
Genre Historical / post modern
Publisher David Fickling Books
Publication date
5 January 2006
Media type Print (hard cover & paper back)
Pages 216 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-385-60940-X
OCLC 62132588
Dewey Decimal 823.914 22
LC Class MLCS 2006/45764

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a 2006 novel from the point of view of a young boy, written by Irish novelist John Boyne. Unlike the months of planning Boyne devoted to his other books, he said that he wrote the entire first draft of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in two and a half days, barely sleeping until he got to the end.[1] As of March 2010, the novel had sold more than five million copies around the world.[2] It was published as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in the United States to go along with the traditional American spelling of the word. In both 2007 and 2008, it was the best selling book of the year in Spain. It has also reached number two on the New York Times bestseller list, as well as in the UK, Ireland, and Australia.[not verified in body]


Bruno is a 9 year old boy growing up during World War II in Berlin, Germany.[3] He lives in a huge house with his loving parents, his twelve-year-old sister Gretel (whom he refers to as a Hopeless Case), and maidservants. His father is a high-ranking SS officer who, after a visit from Adolf Hitler (referred to in the novel as "The Fury", Bruno's misrecognition of the word "Führer") and Eva Braun, is promoted to Commandant, and to Bruno's dismay, the family has to move away to a place called "Out-With" (in reality the Auschwitz Concentration Camp)

Bruno finds out he is not allowed to explore the back of the house or its surroundings. Out of boredom and curiosity, he decides to explore anyway. Whilst poking about he spots a boy on the other side of the fence. Excited that there might be a boy his age, Bruno introduces himself and finds out the Jewish boy's name is Shmuel. Shmuel and his family were brought here, separated from each other and forced to work. Almost every day, the two boys meet at the same spot. Soon, due to their remarkable similarities they become best friends. Despite their differences of circumstance, they are able to understand one another on a deeper level. This empathy fundamentally calls into question the difference between an 'undesirable' Polish Jew and a German. Over the course of the book, Bruno shows a great deal of naïvete, whilst Shmuel seems to have more knowledge, as he has had first-hand exposure to the suffering in the death camp.

Bruno's mother persuades his father to take them back to Berlin, with Bruno's father staying at Auschwitz as the commandant. Though Bruno is about to go back to Berlin with his mother and sister, as a final adventure, he agrees to dress in a set of striped pyjamas and cap to go under the fence to help Shmuel. The boys are going to try and locate Shmuel's father, who went missing in the camp. The boys search together but are unable to locate him. During their search they become mixed up in a group of people going on a march. Neither boy knows where this march will lead. However, they are soon crowded into a gas chamber, which Bruno assumes is a place to keep them dry from the rain. The story from Bruno's perspective ends with Bruno grasping Shmuel's hand. He is not afraid, and has no intention of letting go of his friend.

In the epilogue, the book states that Bruno's family spent many weeks at their home trying to find Bruno before his mother and Gretel return to Berlin to see if he had gone on ahead. They discover that he is not there. A day afterwards, his father returns to the spot where soldiers found Bruno's clothes. This spot is almost exactly where Bruno spent the last year of his life meeting with Shmuel. After a brief inspection, Bruno's father discovers that the fence is not properly attached at the base and can be pulled aside enough for a boy of Bruno's size to fit through. Using this information, his father eventually pieces together that Bruno went into the camp and was killed in the gas chambers. His son's death makes the commandant greatly depressed, and he stops caring about his job. His grief eventually makes him irritable and negligent, and he becomes heavily disliked by his junior officers. Several months later, the Red Army arrives to liberate the camp and orders Bruno's father to go with them. He goes without complaint, still mourning the loss of his child.


Rabbi Benjamin Blech affirmed the opinion of a Holocaust survivor friend of the book as "not just a lie and not just a fairytale, but a profanation". Blech acknowledges the objection that a "fable" need not be factually accurate; he counters that the book trivializes the conditions in and around the death camps and perpetuates the "myth that those [...] not directly involved can claim innocence", and thus undermines its moral authority. Students who read it, he warns, may believe the camps "weren't that bad" if a boy could conduct a clandestine friendship with a Jewish captive of the same age, unaware of "the constant presence of death".[4]

However, Kathryn Hughes, whilst agreeing that about the implausibility of the plot, argues that "Bruno's innocence comes to stand for the willful refusal of all adult Germans to see what was going on under their noses".[3]


  1. ^ "Interview with Children’s Author John Boyne (2006)". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2007-02-23. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Hughes, Kathryn (21 January 2006). "Educating Bruno". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 February 2012. Retrieved 8 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Rabbi Benjamin Blech (October 23, 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Retrieved February 11, 2013.