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 0-385-60940-X
OCLC 62132588
823.914 22
LC Class CS 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] In both 2007 and 2008, it was the best selling book of the year in Spain, and it has also reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list,[3] as well as in the UK, Ireland, and Australia.[not verified in body] The book was adapted in 2008 as a film of the same name.


Bruno is a nine-year-old boy growing up during World War II in Berlin. He lives with his parents, his 12-year-old sister Gretel and maids, one of whom is called Maria. After a visit by Adolf Hitler Bruno's father is promoted to Commandant, and the family has to move to 'Out-With' because of the orders of "The Fury" (Bruno's naïve interpretation of the word 'Führer'). Bruno is initially upset about moving to Out-With (never identified, but cf. Auschwitz[4]) and leaving his friends, Daniel, Karl, and Martin. From the house at Out-With, Bruno sees a camp. One day, Bruno decides to explore the strange wire fence. As he walks along the fence, he meets a Jewish boy named Shmuel, whom he learns shares his birthday. Shmuel says that his father, grandfather, and brother are with him on this side of the fence, but he is separated from his mother. Bruno and Shmuel talk and become very good friends, although Bruno still does not understand very much about Shmuel and his side of the fence. As the meetings go on, Bruno's naïvete shows that his innocence has been preserved despite being near a death camp.

When lice eggs are discovered in Bruno's hair he is forced to get all of his hair shaved off. Bruno comments that he looks like Shmuel, and Shmuel agrees, except that Bruno is fatter. Bruno's mother eventually persuades his father to take them back to Berlin and stay at Out-With without them.

The next day Bruno concocts a plan with Shmuel to sneak into the camp to look for Shmuel's father. Shmuel brings a set of prison clothes, and Bruno leaves his own clothes outside the fence. As they search the camp, both children are rounded up along with a group of prisoners to be sent to the gas chamber. Bruno apologizes to Shmuel that they didn't successfully find his father, which Shmuel does not have a chance to reply to before the gas is turned on, and Shmuel and Bruno both die. Bruno's mother and sister return to Berlin, and his father stays at Out-With, where he finally works out what had happened. When soldiers come to take him away from Out-With, he is happy to be leaving.

Critics' Reviews[edit]

Some critics have called the premise of the book and subsequent film – that there would be a child of Shmuel's age in the camp – erroneous. Reviewing the original book, Rabbi Benjamin Blech wrote: "Note to the reader: There were no 9-year-old Jewish boys in Auschwitz – the Nazis immediately gassed those not old enough to work."[5] Rabbi Blech affirmed the opinion of a Holocaust survivor friend that the book is "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".[6]

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".[7]



The main character in the story. Born on April 15, 1934, Bruno is a nine-year-old boy and a son of a Nazi commandant. Bruno and his family move to Auschwitz concentration camp, where Father's job is. He was so upset when he found out that he had to move away from his friends. Bruno was initially unhappy at Auschwitz (which his sister Gretel mistakenly picks up as 'Out-With'), because he misses his life in Berlin (Germany). 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 the camp, which he can 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 pyjamas'. 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.

The story is told in the third person but from Bruno's point of view, which shows how his innocence and naivete was preserved even after being brought to live near a death camp. He and Shmuel die at the end of the story in a gas chamber holding hands.


She was 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.

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.

Father (Ralf)[edit]

He is Bruno's father and was one day visited by The Führer (which Bruno mistakenly pronounces as 'The Fury'; also known as Adolf Hitler) and promoted to the job of being Commandant of 'Out-With' 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 by soldiers.


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 died. 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 19-year-old soldier at Auschwitz concentration camp who works for Father. Kotler has blond hair, the ideal of the Nazis. He is disliked by Bruno for many reasons, one of them being the fact that Kotler calls Bruno '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.[citation needed]

Lieutenant Kotler admits to Father that he didn't report his own father, and when Pavel accidentally spills wine on him, Kotler over-reacts to show he is not a traitor by an angry (unspecified) treatment of Pavel that greatly upsets Bruno, Gretel and Mother.

It is hinted several times that Kotler is having an affair with Mother - they are often talking privately, she calls him "Kurt, precious" when she doesn't realise Bruno is listening, and any time Father is away, Bruno notes that Kotler is there when he (Bruno) goes to bed and when he gets up. Kotler is suddenly given a transfer after an angry altercation between Father and Mother late one night.


He is the same age as Bruno born April 15 1934 ,down to the exact date of birth, who he became close friends 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, Josef 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.

Before Bruno leaves Auschwitz, 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. They died in a gas chamber holding hands.


Gretel is Bruno's older sister. Bruno refers to her as a "hopeless case" many times. Bruno is annoyed by her friends (among others "the monster") because they mock him due to his height. Gretel is "considered the brightest girl of her class" therefore when Bruno shows her the concentration camp for the first time, through the window, she is determined to think carefully what it is that she is seeing. During their time at 'Out-With' Gretel develops a crush on Lieutenant Kotler. "Gretel was three years older than Bruno and she had made it clear to him from as far back as he could remember that [...] she was in charge." In the end of the novel Gretel moves back to Berlin with her mother. She spends a lot of time alone in her room crying because she misses Bruno so much.

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 is 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 when Lieutenant Kotler treats him harshly after Pavel accidentally spills wine on him. He is a kind man who cleaned Bruno's wound after he fell from a swing.

Grandfather (Matthias)[edit]

He is retired and owns a restaurant 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 (Nathalie)[edit]

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 (chapter 16), 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 'Out-With' concentration camp. He invites himself to dinner at Bruno's household and is seen by Bruno as 'quite the rudest guest he had ever witnessed'.


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. ^
  4. ^ Hughes, Kathryn (20 January 2006). "Educating Bruno". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  5. ^ Blech, Benjamin (October 23, 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Archived from the original on August 30, 2009. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  6. ^ Rabbi Benjamin Blech (October 23, 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Retrieved February 11, 2013. 
  7. ^ Hughes, Kathryn (21 January 2006). "Educating Bruno". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 8 February 2012. Retrieved 8 February 2012.