The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Book Summary

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

What was life like for the German children during World War II? 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas' by John Boyne tells the story of life in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II from the perspective of the child of a Nazi commandant.


Have you ever imagined life in a concentration camp from the point of view of a child under Nazi rule? Bruno, is the son of a commandant who is forced to live next to the concentration camp in Auschwitz after his father receives a promotion. How could a child possibly understand what his father is doing? Let's learn more about Bruno's story in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.

The Move

Bruno is shocked and upset when he comes home from school one day to find their housekeeper packing his things. Bruno immediately thinks that he has done something wrong and is being sent away, but Mother explains that the entire family will be moving from Berlin because of Father's new job. How would you feel about having to move suddenly without warning?

Bruno does not feel any better when they arrive at their new home is Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Their new home is isolated, which Bruno takes as an indication that there will not be any neighborhood kids to hang out with. There are three skinny servants that live in the basement, but they don't speak to Bruno or his family. As he unpacks, Bruno tells their maid, Maria, that he thinks the family has made a huge mistake by moving: '…if Father's job means that we have to move away from our house and the sliding banister and my three best friends for life, then I think Father should think twice about his job, don't you?'

Auschwitz concentration camp

The Other Children

It doesn't take long for Bruno to notice the barbed wire fence with sharp spikes that could be viewed from his window. Within the fence were men and boys of all ages that Bruno does not think look very friendly. Bruno and his sister, Gretel, are perplexed about what type of place this might be. They don't understand why the soldiers are laughing and yelling at crying children who are huddled together, but Gretel quickly decides that she does not want to play with the dirty children that do not appear to bathe. Bruno wonders why all of them '…were wearing the same clothes as each other: a pair of grey striped pajamas with a grey striped cap on their heads.'

When Bruno asks his Father about them, Father's response is, 'Those people … well, they're not people at all, Bruno … Well, at least not as we understand the term … But you shouldn't be worrying about them right now. They're nothing to do with you …'

Bruno's Friend

Even though he knows it is forbidden, Bruno decides to explore along the fence. On his walk, Bruno sees a small, sad-looking boy, Shmuel, sitting on the other side of the fence, wearing striped pajamas. Bruno notices the boy is skinny and pale. Soon, Bruno and Shmuel discover that they are both nine years old and have birthdays on the same day.

Shmuel is as confused as Bruno about what is happening at Auschwitz. Shmuel recalls his family leaving their home and being brought to Auschwitz, but he doesn't know why. Not realizing that Bruno's father is part of the leadership in the regime that has imprisoned Shmuel and his family, Bruno and Shmuel think that the sudden departure from their familiar homes is something they have in common. However, Bruno is shocked to learn that between leaving their home and arriving at Auschwitz, Shmuel's entire family had to live together in one room. Bruno's family has always lived in extravagant quarters. Bruno is jealous that Shmuel has other children to play with and wants to crawl under the fence to meet the others.


Bruno starts to tell his sister, Gretel, about Shmuel, but changes his mind and tells her that Shmuel is an imaginary friend. Bruno is surprised when he finds Shmuel in his kitchen helping to prepare for Father's birthday celebration. Bruno offers Shmuel some chicken, which Shmuel quickly devours, before being caught by a Nazi soldier, Lieutenant Kotler.

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