The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As the weeks go on, Bruno realizes he is not going to be returning to Berlin any time soon. Eventually, he gets used to life at Out-With, and stops feeling so unhappy. He is glad to find a friend in Shmuel, and goes to sit and talk with him at the fence every day. Bruno starts to fill his pockets with food to bring to Shmuel, though he eats some of it himself on the way when he feels like he needs a snack. Bruno asks Maria about Pavel, and inquires why he works as a waiter if he is really a doctor. Maria is shocked that Pavel told Bruno that, and she explains that Pavel was a doctor in another life, before he came to live at Out-With. Maria agrees to tell Bruno what she knows about Pavel’s life, if Bruno promises not to tell anyone that she told him. She says they can both get in great trouble if anyone finds out. Bruno agrees, and Maria tells him all she knows.
Bruno enjoys his secret friendship with Shmuel, since it is something that is only his, and that neither his parents nor Gretel has jurisdiction over. Despite his budding relationship with Shmuel, Bruno still fails to grasp the fact that Shmuel is a prisoner whose life is incredibly difficult—this is illustrated by the fact that Bruno eats much of the food that he is going to bring to Shmuel, simply because he is hungry and is used to always having more than enough. Bruno is finally looking for the truth about Pavel, but he still fails to connect the dots—again reading as a younger or simpler character than an average nine-year-old.
Themes
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
At the fence, Bruno finds Shmuel waiting for him. He gives Shmuel the food, and asks if he knows Pavel. Shmuel says that Bruno needs to understand that there are literally thousands of people living on his side of the fence, and it is unlikely that he knows Pavel. Bruno says that Pavel is from Poland, like Shmuel, that he was a doctor before he came to Out-With, and that he helped clean Bruno’s knee. Shmuel replies that the soldiers here don’t like it when people get better—“it usually works the other way around.” Bruno nods, even though he doesn’t quite understand what Shmuel means.
Shmuel’s quiet remark about soldiers preferring things “the other way around” shows that he has none of Bruno’s naiveté. Indeed, he does not describe any of the camp’s horrors in his conversations with Bruno, and remains vague and euphemistic in his language—either out of fear of getting in trouble, because he wants to enjoy a few hours without having to talk about the camp, or because he senses Bruno’s extraordinary innocence, and somehow feels obligated to shield him from reality.
Themes
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
Bruno asks Shmuel what he wants to be when he grows up, and Shmuel says that he wants to work in a zoo because he likes animals. Bruno says he will be a soldier like Father, but a good one, not mean like Lieutenant Kotler. Shmuel says there aren’t any good soldiers, but Bruno says that Father is a good soldier, whom the Fury has “big things in mind” for. The boys are quiet for a moment, and Shmuel tells Bruno that he doesn’t understand what it is like on his side of the fence. Bruno, trying to change the subject, asks Shmuel if he has any sisters. Shmuel says he doesn’t, and Bruno tells his friend about Gretel, a “Hopeless Case,” and how annoying she is when she flirts with Lieutenant Kotler. Shmuel looks noticeably upset when Bruno mentions Kotler’s name, and says that he doesn’t like talking about him because he is scary. Bruno agrees. Bruno sees Shmuel shiver, and berates him for not wearing a jumper since it is becoming chillier out.
There is an tragic irony in Shmuel’s statement that he wants to work with animals in a zoo, because he and the other prisoners are currently being treated like animals—lower than animals, even, as they are killed with impunity. Shmuel knows who Bruno’s father is, and presumably knows him as a frightening, cruel, and hateful figure, but for whatever reason, he doesn’t wanting to start a fight with Bruno, so he does not describe any of the horrors he has likely seen both Father and Lieutenant Kotler commit. Bruno’s statement about the sweater is, as usual, incredibly ignorant and naïve, and Shmuel still does little to correct Bruno’s perceptions of reality.
Themes
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
Back at his house that evening, Bruno is disappointed to see that Lieutenant Kotler is joining them for dinner. Pavel waits on them as usual, and Bruno notices that he seems to become smaller and more withered with each passing day. He seems to shake from the weight of the plates, and Mother has to ask twice before he pours her another glass of wine. At the table, Bruno complains of learning history from Herr Liszt, because he would rather read. Angered, Father points his knife at Bruno and says that the family is in Out-With because they are “correcting history.” Bruno still complains that it is boring, and Gretel tells Lieutenant Kotler to forgive her brother, because he is an “ignorant little boy.” Bruno counters by saying Gretel is a “Hopeless Case,” beyond the point of help. The children tell each other to shut up, and then their parents make them stop bickering.
Pavel, who lives in the camp but works in the house during the day, is becoming smaller and weaker by the day just like Shmuel is, as the prisoners are kept in starvation conditions. Father’s remark that he is “correcting history” is in reference to the Nazi party’s goal of exterminating Jews, Romani people, homosexuals, and other minorities deemed inferior and antagonistic to the German Aryan “race.” The history that Gretel and Bruno are learning from Herr Liszt is biased and shaped by Nazi rhetoric—justifying the war and concentration camps with an edited history about the “Aryans” suffering from “degenerate” other races.
Themes
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon
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Lieutenant Kotler remarks that he enjoyed learning history as a boy, though his father was a professor of literature. Mother replies that she did not know that, and asks if he still teaches. Kotler says that he has not kept in touch with his father since he left Germany in 1938, so he does not know. Father is startled that Kotler’s father left Germany, and seems concerned when Kotler says he believes he left for Switzerland, and may be teaching at a university in Berne. Father calculates that Kotler’s father must be in his forties, as Kotler is nineteen, and he finds it strange that he chose “not to stay in the Fatherland.” Father inquires as to why Kotler’s father left Germany, and Kotler says he does not know. Father speculates that perhaps he was ill, or perhaps he had “disagreements” with the government policy. Kotler seems concerned, and Father switches the subject, telling Kotler that they can discuss the topic at a later time.
Father infers that Kotler’s father fled to Switzerland at the start of World War II because he did not want to fight, and, as an academic, he may have also disagreed with the brutal Nazi ideology. Though Kotler is clearly dedicated to the Nazi cause himself, and seems like an “ideal Aryan,” Father appears to believe that Kotler’s father fleeing to neutral Switzerland is cause for alarm and potential disloyalty. This shows how the Nazi worldview of “us vs. them” can easily turn on itself, and anyone can find themselves suddenly one of the demonized “them” through no action or choice of their own.
Themes
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Father calls for Pavel to fill up his wine glass, and asks what is the matter with him that evening. Pavel opens the cork with care, but loses control of the bottle as he is filling the glass. The bottle empties onto Kotler's lap. “No one… stepped in to stop [Kotler] doing what he did next, even though none of them could watch.” What Kotler does to Pavel makes Bruno cry, and Gretel grow pale. Later that night, Bruno reminisces on how kind Pavel was towards him, and he wishes Father had stopped Kotler from doing what he did to Pavel. He decides he is right to keep his mouth shut and not to disagree with Father or Kotler. Bruno’s old life in Berlin feels very far away, and he can hardly even remember what his best friends Karl, Daniel, and Martin look like.
Though it is not stated in the text, it is inferred that Kotler beats Pavel brutally, perhaps to death. This violence and his family’s condoning of it means that Bruno can no longer claim ignorance as an excuse for his naiveté. Instead he seems to make a choice (whether consciously or not) that is similar to that of Mother or Maria, and of many German citizens during the Holocaust—to keep his mouth shut and avoid trouble for himself. This is the easiest and safest decision, but it also makes these people complicit in the crimes they allow to go unchallenged.
Themes
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Complicity Theme Icon