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
823.914 22
LC Class MLCS 2006/45764

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a 2006 novel 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 parents, his twelve-year-old sister Gretel and servants, one of whom is called Maria. His father, a high-ranking SS officer, is promoted to the Commandant of Auschwitz Concentration Camp during a visit by Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. Mishearing certain words, Bruno concludes that the family has to move to "Out-With" because of the orders of "The Fury".

Bruno is initially upset about moving to Auschwitz, and leaving his three best friends, Karl, Daniel and Martin. His mother, who is against the move herself, says that they '[do not] have the luxury of thinking'. From the house in Out-With, Bruno sees a camp enclosed by wire fences. While exploring the area, he spots a boy on the other side of the fence and excitedly starts a conversation. The Jewish boy, named Shmuel, says that although he has been separated from his mother, his father and grandfather are on his side of the fence. The two boys become best friends and continue to meet at the same spot every day. Bruno even forgets the names of his friends from Berlin after becoming so used to Shmuel's presence. As the meetings go on, Bruno's naïvete shows that his innocence has been preserved despite being near a death camp. Shmuel shares some of his knowledge of the suffering in the camp but still does not fully explain why he is there.

Bruno loses his grandmother to old age and Shmuel loses his father after seeing him go on "a march". When lice eggs are discovered in Bruno's hair, he has his head shaved and his sister uses lice shampoo. Bruno comments that he looks like Shmuel and Shmuel concludes that he is only fatter. Bruno's mother eventually persuades his father to take them back to Berlin and stay at Auschwitz without them. Bruno hears that Shmuel's father has also gone on a march and plans to help find him before the trip to Germany. Bruno dresses in a set of striped pyjamas and crawls under a weak spot in the fence to join Shmuel.


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 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]



The main character in the story. Born on April 15, 1934, Bruno is a 9-year-old boy and a son of a Nazi commandant. Bruno and his family move to Auschwitz concentration camp, where Father's job is. Bruno was initially unhappy at Auschwitz (which Bruno cannot pronounce correctly and pronounces as Out-With instead), because he misses his life in Berlin. Bruno frequently says that he is unhappy in 'Out-With', as there were no boys his age to play with and that his new house there made him feel cold and unsafe.

Bruno decides to explore to camp, which he can he see from his bedroom window. His exploring brings him to a wire fence, and he sees a boy his age sitting down on the other side of the fence and wearing 'striped pajamas'. Bruno finds out the boy is called Shmuel. Over time, Bruno and Shmuel become close friends. Bruno does not tell anyone about his friend, Shmuel.

After Bruno heard news that he, Mother, and Gretel were moving back to Berlin, Bruno decides to have a final adventure in Out-With by helping Shmuel find his father, who went missing in the camp after last being seen going on a march with other inmates. Since Bruno's hair had recently been shaved after an incident with lice, he looked almost exactly like Shmuel and blended in with other inmates in Out-With after Shmuel gave him some striped pajamas to wear as well. While searching on Shmuel's side of the fence, they get caught up in a group of men and were told to march by some soldiers. They were taken to a gas chamber, which Bruno mistakenly thinks as 'a shelter to rest'. Bruno was killed in the gas chamber, the last thing he did was to grasp Shmuel's hand.

The whole story is told in Bruno's point of view, which shows how his innocence and naïvete was preserved even after being brought to live near a death camp.


She is the wife of a Nazi commandant. Mother was opposed from moving to Auschwitz concentration camp from the start, as she thought it was not a suitable place for her children, Bruno and Gretel, to grow up in. She has red hair and green eyes.

Mother was also prejudiced against the Jews, much like many other Germans at the time of the story. Thus, Mother was shocked to find that Pavel, a Jewish inmate at the camp, had cleaned Bruno's wound after he fell from a swing. After that, Mother's opinion of Jews had changed and she found that the stories spread about Jews weren't true at all. Knowing that Pavel would get in trouble if the commandant found out that Pavel had cleaned Bruno's wound, Mother protected Pavel by saying that if anyone asked, it was Mother who cleaned Bruno's wound, a move that Bruno mistakenly thought as a selfish one.

Mother convinces her husband to let her and the children move back to Berlin, but is delayed as Bruno mysteriously disappears shortly beforehand. In the end, Mother and Gretel move back to Berlin.


He is Bruno's father and was one day visited by The Führer (which Bruno mistakenly pronounces as 'The Fury') and promoted to the job of being Commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp. He was the only one in his family who was happy of moving there, as he thought he was accepting the job and doing good for Germany. Father is respected and feared by the soldiers in 'Out-With'. However, while Father is successful in his work, he did not spend as much time with his family (Note in the story that Father rarely speaks with Bruno. In the few times that he did, it was to discuss matters of discipline with Bruno.)

Despite this and the fact that work seems more important to him, Father is a kind man who cares for his family, shown when Maria tells Bruno how Father had helped her by giving her a job as a maid when times were tough. Father was also deeply affected when Bruno disappeared and his wife and daughter move back to Berlin shortly afterwards, leaving him alone in his job. He treats other soldiers mercilessly and became very disliked. He was taken away from the camp afterwards, but he didn't really care what happened to him anymore.


She is 12 years old and the older sister of Bruno. Bruno refers to her as 'The Hopeless Case' and is somewhat afraid of her. Gretel is also somewhat bossy and likes to think she is more clever than Bruno. However, it suggested that she actually isn't smarter than Bruno because she initially thought Out-With was their holiday home in the countryside, while Bruno was smart enough to think not. Gretel also couldn't give a good answer when Bruno asked what the difference was between Jews and Germans, saying they were 'the opposite of each other'.

Gretel also isn't as mature as she thinks she is, one reason being that she plays with dolls and another being that she calls Bruno 'stupid' or 'an idiot'. Gretel also has a crush on Lieutenant Kotler.

Gretel is also somewhat as naïve and innocent as Bruno. She is also easily influenced as well. Even though she does not show it, she likes Bruno a lot and is also affected when Bruno disappears, shown to be crying as she was missing him. She moves back with Mother to their old house in Berlin in the end.


Maria is the family maid. Her mother used to be Bruno's Grandmother's dresser in the early days. It was a hard time for Maria when her mother dies. Father was kind enough to pay for Maria's mother's funeral and hospital fees out of his own pocket, even when he wasn't obliged to, as Maria's mother was an old family friend. Father also gave Maria a job as well as a home with Bruno's family. For this, Maria is very grateful to Bruno's father and defends him when Bruno calls Father stupid. However, when Father was promoted to commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, Maria started to doubt her image of Father's kind personality and wondered how he could do such a ruthless thing as mass murdering of Jews.

Maria is a kind woman and one of the few people that Bruno could really talk to, shown when Bruno tried to get Maria to agree with him that Out-With is a horrible place.

Lieutenant Kotler (Kurt Kotler)[edit]

Lieutenant Kotler is a young soldier at Auschwitz concentration camp who works for Father (it was shown in the movie that he was only 19-years-old). Kotler has blue eyes and blonde hair, the ideal of the Nazis. He is disliked by Bruno for many reasons, one of them being the fact that Kotler calls Bruno a 'little man' and ruffles his hair. Kotler also makes Bruno feel very cold and unsafe. Another reason why he is disliked by Bruno is that Shmuel was implied to have been beaten up (because of his bruises) after Kotler caught Shmuel eating the chicken Bruno had offered him.

At a point in the story, Kotler has dinner with Bruno's family. When Father asks about Kotler's family, Kotler reveals that he has not been in touch with his father, who went to Switzerland. At the time of World War II, Switzerland was famous for being a neutral area which supported neither the Allies nor Axis in the war. Any German who went to Switzerland at the time was considered a traitor who disagreed with Germany's motives.

Lieutenant Kotler was scared that he would be considered a traitor by Father because he didn't report his own Father, and when Pavel spills wine on him, Kotler overcompensates and shows he is not a traitor by beating Pavel up. However, it was implied that Father still reported Lieutenant Kotler. Kotler was sent to the front to fight for Germany as punishment.


He is the same age and birthday as Bruno, who he became close fiends with while being imprisoned at Auschwitz concentration camp, where he is a Jewish inmate. Shmuel is Polish. His mother used to teach language while his father made watches. Shmuel used to live with his parents and older brother, Joseph, above their family's watch shop, when one day some soldiers took his family away from their home. They stripped Shmuel of his valuables and possessions, including and especially his golden watch that his father made for him. His mother was separated from the family and Shmuel, his father and grandfather were sent to live in Auschwitz concentration camp.

Before Bruno leaves Out-With, he and Shmuel go together on Shmuel's side of the fence to help Shmuel look for his father, who went missing. They got caught up in a group of men and were forced to march with them. In the end, Shmuel and Bruno died in the gas chambers together, holding each other's hands.

Herr Liszt[edit]

Herr Liszt is a tutor who was assigned to teach Bruno and Gretel privately in Out-With, when Father decided that his children's education must go on. Herr Liszt disapproves of Bruno reading story books, and thinks that books that about real events are the only things that matter. Herr Liszt believes that Germany was robbed in World War I, and basically agrees with everything the German government are doing.


Pavel is a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz concentration camp. He used to practice as a doctor but now peels vegetables for Bruno's family. He is a good man though he is treated badly because he is a Jew, one example being how Lieutenant Kotler beat up Pavel after Pavel spilt wine on him. He is a kind man who cleaned Bruno's wound after he fell from a swing.


He is retired and owns an eating place in Berlin. On one time he had mentioned to Bruno how 'he had managed to persuade Grandmother to marry him, despite his many faults'. Grandfather is proud at the news his son, Father, has been promoted to commandant. This is because grandfather thinks that Father is serving his country for the better, contrary to Grandmother's beliefs.


Grandmother used to be an actress and a singer. Every Christmas, she makes costumes for Bruno and Gretel and performs a play for the family with them. She is upset at the news of Father being promoted to commandant. She somehow wonders if it was her fault that Father thinks that having a smart uniform means he is doing something for the greater good, because she let him dress in costumes as well when he was a boy. She dies later in the story due to old age, her conflicts with Father left unresolved, something that Father regrets very much.

The Fury[edit]

The Fury is actually The Führer (which is to say Adolf Hitler) . He promotes Father to the job of being commandant at Auschwitz concentration camp. He invites himself to dinner at Bruno's household and is seen by Bruno as 'quite the rudest guest he had ever seen'.


Eva comes along with The Führer to have dinner at Bruno's household. She is seen by Bruno as a beautiful and kind woman. Eva is actually based on a real-life figure who was close to Adolf Hitler. (see Eva Braun)


  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.