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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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Full Book Summary

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of Bruno, a young German boy growing up during World War II. As a nine-year-old, Bruno lived in his own world of imagination. He enjoyed reading adventure stories and going on expeditions to explore the lesser-known corners of his family’s massive house in Berlin. Although his father served as an officer in Germany’s Nazi Party, Bruno understood little about his work. Nor did he understand anything about the war. Bruno’s main concerns in life were to follow the strict rules set forth by his parents and to steer clear of his older sister, Gretel. Otherwise, he enjoyed seeing the hustle and bustle of Berlin and spending time with his three best friends: Karl, Daniel, and Martin.

Normal life suddenly shattered when Bruno came home from school one day and found the family maid, Maria, packing his belongings. Bruno’s mother explained that Father would soon begin a new job and that the family needed to move immediately. Several days later, the family boarded a train and traveled to their new home. Bruno disapproved of the new house. Not only was it smaller than their Berlin home, but it also struck him as cold and lonely. And to make matters worse, there were soldiers everywhere.

On the day of the family’s arrival, Bruno looked out the window of his new bedroom and witnessed an odd sight. On the other side of a very tall fence that stretched far into the distance, he saw a large number of boys and men of all ages wearing striped pajamas and matching caps. Bruno went to consult his sister about their new life. Gretel knew that their new home was called “Out-With,” but other than that, she remained as much in the dark as Bruno. Bruno decided to speak with Father. After voicing his frustration about the new house and arguing for the family’s return to Berlin, Bruno asked who the people on the other side of the fence were. Father explained that they were “not people at all” and that Bruno shouldn’t worry about them.

Bruno persisted in his complaints about the new house. One day, he tried to get Maria to express disapproval of the family’s move, but she refused. She told Bruno that Father was a good man and that he had helped her and her family in their time of greatest need. For this reason, she would not speak a word against him. Maria had never told Bruno about her life before, and her story made him realize that she was a complete person with her own life history and experience.

Weeks passed, and Bruno struggled to keep himself occupied. One day, he decided to erect a tire swing. While playing on his new swing, Bruno fell and scraped his leg. An older Jewish man named Pavel saw the accident from the kitchen window. Pavel, who used to be a doctor but now helped prepare and serve the family’s meals, brought Bruno in and dressed his wound. Bruno felt grateful for Pavel’s help, but he also wondered why a doctor would bother working as a servant.

More weeks passed, and Bruno decided to go exploring. In the afternoon, after history and geography lessons with his tutor, Herr Liszt, Bruno set out walking along the fence that he could see from his window. He walked for an hour before coming upon a boy who introduced himself as Shmuel. Bruno and Shmuel sat on either side of the fence and told each other about their lives. Shmuel explained how his family had been forced to move into a crowded ghetto and then again to get on a train to come to this camp in a remote part of Poland.

Excited to have made a friend, Bruno returned to the same spot along the fence nearly every day over the coming weeks and months. As time passed, Bruno noticed that Shmuel grew thinner and weaker. His skin looked increasingly gray. Bruno started stealing bread and cheese for his hungry friend.

One day, in the midst of preparations for a party to celebrate Father’s birthday, Bruno walked into the kitchen and found Shmuel there polishing glasses. Bruno gave Shmuel some chicken to eat, but a young soldier named Lieutenant Kotler came in and caught Shmuel in the act. Bruno hated and feared Lieutenant Kotler, who seemed especially cruel. In a moment of panic, Bruno denied knowing Shmuel, and Lieutenant Kotler threatened to teach Shmuel a lesson later. Shmuel didn’t appear at the fence for nearly a week, and when he did, he had bruises everywhere.

A year after the family’s arrival at Out-With, Mother grew increasingly listless and frustrated with life there. When both children got lice, Mother convinced Father that it was time for her to take the kids back to Berlin.

Bruno told Shmuel the bad news about his impending departure, and he lamented the fact that they had never gotten to play together properly. Shmuel had bad news of his own: his father had gone missing. The two boys made a plan for their last day together. Shmuel would bring a pair of striped pajamas, and Bruno would crawl through the small opening at the bottom of the fence in disguise to help his friend look for his father. They enacted their plan the following day. After searching in vain for clues that would lead to Shmuel’s missing father, Bruno wanted to go home. Just then, a group of soldiers surrounded the area in which Bruno and Shmuel stood and forced everyone to march into a long, dark building. As the doors were locked and terror erupted around the two boys, Bruno took Shmuel’s hand and told him he was his best friend.

Bruno was never heard from again.

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The novel begins in Germany in the 1940s. Bruno comes home from school to find the maid, Maria, packing his things because the family is moving away from Berlin. Bruno's not happy about this and whines to his mom, dad, Gretel, the maid, and her dog (we kid… about the dog part). But Bruno's out of luck; his father just got a promotion and they're moving on up, whether he wants to or not.

Adding to Bruno's troubles, the family's new house is weak with a capital W —it's smaller than their old house, super isolated, and there's a huge wire fence near the property. Ugh. While Bruno unpacks his things, he spots a sketchy looking blond soldier and takes an immediate disliking to him. He notices a window, looks through it, and sees something that makes him feel "cold and unsafe"… Dun dun dun.

Bruno tells Gretel that the other children look unfriendly. Wait a second… There are other children? Yep, turns out Bruno's window has a lovely view of the Auschwitz death camp. Yikes. Bruno thinks it's weird that there are tons of kids and adults on the other side of the fence and even weirder that they all wear the same striped pajamas and striped cap.

After a few weeks, Bruno decides that he needs to find some sort of entertainment or he'll go mad. His grand idea? Why, make a tire swing, of course. Lieutenant Kotler helps him out and orders Pavel, a Jew, to get a tire from the storage shed. Pavel sets Bruno up and soon the kid's happily swinging—well, until he falls.

Luckily, Pavel comes to Bruno's rescue; while he cleans him up, he tells Bruno he's a doctor. But this doesn't make any sense to Bruno—after all, the guy works in the kitchen peeling potatoes. Soon after, Bruno's mother comes home and discovers what happened. She tells Pavel that if the Commandant asks, she cleaned Bruno's wounds.

Bruno has a flashback to the last Christmas with his family and his grandparents. Here's what went down: Grandma told Bruno's father that she's ashamed of what he's become and can't believe what he and other Nazis are doing, then she stormed out. It's the last Bruno's seen of her. Back in the present, months pass and Bruno decides to go exploring, which basically involves walking along the length of the wire fence that separates his family from the concentration camp. Some adventure.

During his exploration session, Bruno comes upon a boy sitting on the ground in pajamas and an armband (featuring the Star of David). Bruno is kind of shocked by how small and sad looking the boy is, but hey, beggars can't be choosers, right? And Bruno could really use some company. Schmoozing ensues, and it turns out that the boy's name is Shmuel and he and Bruno share a birthday. Shmuel is from Poland and informs the oblivious Bruno that they're in Poland and not in Germany like Bruno's been thinking. When they part ways, they plan to meet again tomorrow.

Time for another flashback, this time to when Hitler came to dinner. He brought his girlfriend, Eva , and Bruno and Gretel were not allowed to have dinner with the adults. Aw shucks. Afterward, Bruno heard his parents arguing about the move, which his mother was totally against.

Back in the present, it's the next day, so Bruno returns to the fence. Shmuel explains what happened to him and his family before coming to the camp.

Soon after, Bruno walks into his kitchen and is shocked to see Shmuel cleaning crystal glasses—turns out his pal's been brought to the house by Kotler to clean glasses for Father's birthday celebration. What should be a cool catch up turns disastrous when Bruno offers Shmuel chicken (he eats it, of course) and Kotler catches him and gets mad (of course). Shmuel says Bruno gave it to him and that they're friends—but like a punk, Bruno says he's never seen him before in his life. Ooh… not cool, Bruno.

After more than a year, Bruno's mother wants to move back to Berlin with the kids. Bruno's not as happy as he thought he'd be about this idea, though, and dreads breaking the news to Shmuel. However, as it turns out, Shmuel has bigger fish to fry: His dad's gone missing. The boys hatch a plan for Bruno to dress up in pajamas and help Shmuel find his dad before he leaves Auschwitz on Saturday. The next day, Friday, Bruno goes to the fence.

He changes into his striped pajamas, leaves his things on his side and crawls under the fence. The two boys walk toward the camp and Bruno realizes that things are very bad on Shmuel's side. Bruno wants to go home, but he's promised Shmuel he'll help, and as a loyal friend, he stays. Unfortunately, though, they don't find Shmuel's father.

Just as Bruno is about to head home, the boys are surrounded by soldiers and forced to march. They're led to a gas chamber (neither boy realizes this), and once inside, they hold hands. The lights go off, chaos ensues, and we, unfortunately, know that the end of their story is not going to be happy.

The last chapter shows how the family deals with Bruno's disappearance: His mother and Gretel eventually go back to Berlin, but his father stays in Auschwitz. One day he has an epiphany, retraces Bruno's steps, and realizes with horror what happened to his son. The novel ends with "other soldiers" (a.k.a. the Allies) coming to Auschwitz and ordering him to go with them.

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Book Review

The boy in the striped pajamas.

summary of the boy in the striped pajamas

Readability Age Range

Year Published

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine .

Plot Summary

The story is told from the viewpoint of a 9-year-old German boy named Bruno. Bruno is the privileged son of a Nazi commandant during World War II. Bruno comes home from school one afternoon to discover his belongings packed and set near the door. His family is preparing to relocate from Berlin to a place Bruno believes is called Out-With. In reality, his father will be in charge of the prison camp Auschwitz.

Bruno is not at all happy about the move, especially at leaving behind his three best friends. He is quite lonely and doesn’t understand why he can’t play with the children that he can see from his window at Out-With, children all dressed in the same striped pajamas. Then he realizes they aren’t all children, but also men of all ages, all wearing the same striped pajamas.

Bruno tries to entertain himself around the house since his parents don’t want him to do any exploring. He and his sister have lessons at the house instead of going to school. Eventually, Bruno decides to sneak out to explore the area. He meets a boy his age named Shmuel. Shmuel wears the striped pajamas and lives on the other side of the fence.

Shmuel and Bruno begin to meet every day. Bruno is thrilled to have a friend his own age, yet never fully grasps why Shmuel can’t play at his house or why Bruno can’t play with the other children in striped pajamas.

After a little more than a year and a bout with lice among the children, Bruno’s mother decides she can take no more of the isolation and plans to leave. Bruno and Shmuel make plans for one last day to go exploring where Shmuel lives. Bruno’s head is shaved because of the lice, so he will fit in when Shmuel brings him pajamas. Bruno meets Shmuel, changes into the pajamas and crawls under the fence to help Shmuel find his papa, who hasn’t been seen for days. As the two boys are searching, the guards round them up with many other adults into the middle of the camp.

Believing they were going on a march, Bruno and Shmuel stick close together inside the group and march into an airtight building with many other Jews. That was the last anyone ever heard of Bruno.

His mother eventually returned to Berlin with his sister. Bruno’s father was ordered to leave Out-With with other soldiers. He eventually figured out what had happened to Bruno.

Christian Beliefs

Other belief systems.

When Bruno asks his father about the people outside his window (the prisoners at Auschwitz), his father says that they aren’t people at all.

Authority Roles

Bruno is not allowed to question his parents or the decision to move to Out-With, but once, in an outburst, he tells his father how awful he thinks it is. His father tells Bruno he is very brave for speaking his mind, but that he is becoming insolent. He orders Bruno to stop talking about the move.

Everyone is respectful to the point of being frightened of the German authorities. Bruno knows he should respect Lieutenant Kotler, a young soldier, but he has a hard time since Lieutenant Kotler always calls him Little Man.

We learn that Bruno’s grandparents were against the promotion that led his father to be in charge of Out-With. When he accepted the position, it alienated Bruno’s family from his grandparents. Bruno had been close to them previously.

Profanity & Violence

Bruno tells Shmuel that his sister hits him sometimes. Bruno is inadvertently herded into a gas chamber with his friend, Shmuel, and is never heard from again.

Sexual Content

Bruno doesn’t understand it, and it is never said out right, but the book implies that Bruno’s mother has an affair with Lieutenant Kotler.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at .

Additional Comments

Lying: Shmuel is sent to Bruno’s house to do some work in preparation for a party. Bruno sneaks him some food. When questioned by Lieutenant Kotler if he has been eating, Shmuel denies he has been eating. When he finally confesses, he says that Bruno gave it to him. Bruno denies knowing Shmuel.

Secretive/deceptive behavior: Bruno goes to meet Shmuel every day for months after his parents specifically told him not to go near the fence or the camp, or to walk the direction that he went. Bruno sneaks Shmuel food every day.

Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In’s movie review for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas .

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Reviews of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Summary | Excerpt | Reading Guide | Reviews | Beyond the book | Readalikes | Genres & Themes | Author Bio

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

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summary of the boy in the striped pajamas

About this Book

Book Summary

Germany 1942: Bruno's family moves to a new house, where he he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own. Their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

Berlin 1942 When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

Chapter One Bruno Makes a Discovery

One afternoon, when Bruno came home from school, he was surprised to find Maria, the family’s maid — who always kept her head bowed and never looked up from the carpet — standing in his bedroom, pulling all his belongings out of the wardrobe and packing them in four large wooden crates, even the things he’d hidden at the back that belonged to him and were nobody else’s business. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked in as polite a tone as he could muster, for although he wasn’t happy to come home and find someone going through his possessions, his mother had always told him that he was to treat Maria respectfully and not just imitate the way Father spoke to her. ‘You take your hands off my things.’ Maria shook her head and pointed towards the staircase behind him, where Bruno’s mother had just appeared. She was a tall woman with long red hair that she bundled into a sort of net behind her...

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Media Reviews

Reader reviews, bookbrowse review.

Review contains plot spoilers : The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is presented as a fable, flagging to the reader up front that one is expected to disengage ones normal sense of reality and accept the story as given, but in this instance, when dealing with such an emotive, well recorded and historically recent subject as the Holocaust, this is difficult to do. Everything hinges on the reader accepting Bruno's overwhelming naivety at face value. Is it really credible that nine-year-old Bruno, who lives and goes to school in Berlin and is the son of a senior SS officer, is oblivious to the war, and doesn't know who Hitler is, or what a Jew is - but in other respects is both observant and intelligent? When his family arrive at Aushwitz, Bruno and his 12-year-old-sister are conveniently the only children in the vicinity, other than those on the other side of the fence. This again stretches credibility because historical records show that about 6,000 SS officers were posted at Auschwitz, so it seems extremely unlikely that other children would not have been around. Then there is the issue of how Bruno could possibly have talked with his friend on the other side of the fence for months without being seen, or ever comprehending that Shmuel is starving (he absentmindedly brings him food from time to time but usually ends up eating most of it on the way). Not to mention the inconvenient detail that by 1942 most young children arriving at the camps were gassed on arrival. On the other hand, Boyne hits a few powerful notes - such as Bruno's father's response to his question about the people inside the fence - "they're not people at all Bruno"; and his mother's comment that "we don't have the luxury of thinking". As a fable, this is a powerful tale, and if you can read it as such all well and good (I can't); but as a vehicle for explaining the defining tragedy of the 20th century to young people it falls embarrassingly short... continued

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Beyond the Book

A brief history of auschwitz.

Auschwitz was the name the Germans used for the Polish city of Oswiecim when they occupied it in WWII. The concentration camp was established nearby in June 1940, taking the name of the nearby town. The camp quickly expanded into three main parts: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz - a group of about 40 sub-camps. In 1942, when the mass exterminations began, the camps (the largest complex of extermination camps in the Reich) became the site of the greatest mass murder in the history of humanity, with the majority of the arrivals being gassed on arrival in the Birkenau gas chambers. Between 1.1 to 1.6 million people were killed there, about 90% were Jews, plus many Poles, Soviet prisoners-of-war and Roma (gypsies)...

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  1. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Full Book Summary

    The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of Bruno, a young German boy growing up during World War II. As a nine-year-old, Bruno lived in his own world

  2. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary

    The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary ... The novel begins in Germany in the 1940s. Bruno comes home from school to find the maid, Maria, packing his things

  3. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne Plot Summary

    The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary ... Bruno, a nine-year-old boy living in Berlin, Germany in 1943, comes home one day to find his family's maid, Maria

  4. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary and Study Guide

    Set around the World War II concentration camp Auschwitz, the novel combines realism with parable. It portrays a young German boy, Bruno, whose father is

  5. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

    The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a 2006 Holocaust novel by Irish novelist John Boyne. ... The plot concerns a German boy named Bruno whose father is the

  6. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (film)

    Plot · Bruno, an eight-year-old German boy living in · Ralf organises Herr Liszt, a private tutor, to teach · Elsa inadvertently discovers from Kurt that the smell

  7. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

    The story is told from the viewpoint of a 9-year-old German boy named Bruno. Bruno is the privileged son of a Nazi commandant during World War II.

  8. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne: Summary and reviews

    Germany 1942: Bruno's family moves to a new house, where he he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own. Their meeting

  9. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

    The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary ... Bruno is a nine-year-old boy living in Berlin during World War II. He lives in a large house with his

  10. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

    Bruno an eight-year-old boy from Berlin, Germany is moved with his mother, Elder sister, SS Commander father to a countryside in Europe where his father powers