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 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 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 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. Not recognized by the camp's inmates and guards, the boys search and become mixed up in a group of people going on a similar march. Neither boy knows where this march leads. 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 him grasping Shmuel's hand. He is not afraid, and has no intention of letting go of his best friend for life.

In the epilogue, Bruno's family members search for him, but cannot find him in Berlin or Auschwitz. Soldiers discover Bruno's clothes near the fence and his father notices the gap that is small enough to fit a child. Realizing that his son died in the gas chambers, he slips into a depression and stops caring about his job. When the Red Army arrives to liberate the camp, he surrenders 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 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.