The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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Gretel Character Analysis

Gretel is Bruno’s twelve-year-old sister, whom Bruno refers to as a “Hopeless Case.” She feels that she is much wiser and more mature than Bruno, and often taunts him. She is at first mostly interested in her dolls, but after her lessons from the children’s tutor Herr Liszt, Gretel becomes obsessed with the changing politics of World War II, and begins to track the German army’s progress via pushpins in maps on her wall in “Out-With.” She becomes much more indoctrinated with anti-Semitic rhetoric than Bruno does, and tells Bruno that they are the “opposite” of the Jews on the other side of the fence. Gretel develops a crush on Lieutenant Kotler, and is “inconsolable” when he is transferred away.

Gretel Quotes in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The The Boy in the Striped Pajamas quotes below are all either spoken by Gretel or refer to Gretel. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the David Fickling Books edition of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas published in 2007.
Chapter 3 Quotes

“But what does it mean?” he asked in exasperation. “Out with what?”
“Out with the people who lived here before us, I expect,” said Gretel. “It must have to do with the fact that he didn’t do a very good job and someone said out with him and let’s get a man in who can do it right.”
“You mean Father.”

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Gretel (speaker), Father
Related Symbols: Out-With
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno had many friends to play with back in Berlin, but in Auschwitz, he and Gretel only have each other. Though they don't often get along, the one thing the siblings do agree upon is the fact that they miss their old home.

Like Bruno, Gretel is sheltered from the true facts of their father's job. However, being three years older than him, she has a better grasp as to what brought the family to Auschwitz (even though her broader understanding is still limited, as she believes Auschwitz is the name of their new house rather than the camp around it). While she cannot pronounce the name correctly and calls it "Out-With" like Bruno does, she understands that the relocation has something to do with a perceived superiority of one group of people over another. 

Unlike Bruno, Gretel more readily accepts Father's orders. She senses that there is something unpleasant about the nature of Auschwitz, but rather than questioning it, she fully believes that Father has been appointed to fix a pressing problem. Boyne shapes the character of Gretel to represent the Nazi Youth culture that pervaded Germany during this time period, in which young and impressionable children became indoctrinated with the values of the Nazi party and were trained to spread its message without question. 


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Chapter 13 Quotes

What happened then was both unexpected and extremely unpleasant. Lieutenant Kotler grew very angry with Pavel and no one—not Bruno, not Gretel, not Mother and not even Father—stepped in to stop him doing what he did next, even though none of them could watch. Even though it made Bruno cry and Gretel grow pale.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Gretel, Mother , Father , Lieutenant Kotler , Pavel
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno notices that Pavel, the Jewish servant who once treated his wounds and claimed to be a doctor, becomes weaker each day. One night at dinner, he continually blunders his serving job, until he finally loses grip of a bottle of wine and spills it onto Lieutenant Kotler's lap. It may be inferred from this quote that Kotler beats Pavel mercilessly as punishment, and perhaps even kills him.

Though Pavel works in the home of Mother and Father, he is still considered a prisoner, and as a Jew, he is seen as less than human by the Nazis. Though such dehumanization and violence is constantly occurring on the other side of the Fence, this is seemingly the first time Bruno experiences it up close, and he is shocked. This is an important passage because it shows how complicity can be just as bad as negative action. Kotler is the one actually beating Pavel, but Father and Mother's unwillingness to stop him ends up with the same result. This is a point often made about the Holocaust—it might have been a minority of the population actually perpetrating atrocities, but the majority who stood by and did nothing about it were guilty as well.

This scene, which makes Bruno cry, also shows him further losing his innocence about the reality of his situation. It then becomes more far-fetched that he continues to remain so "innocent" and ignorant in his ensuing interactions with Shmuel. This suggests that Bruno too is trying to avoid thinking about things he doesn't want to, and thus is, in his own way, becoming complicit in the crimes he doesn't speak out against.

Chapter 16 Quotes

“I’m asking you, if we’re not Jews, what were we instead?”
“We’re the opposite,” said Gretel, answering quickly and sounding a lot more satisfied with this answer. “Yes, that’s it. We’re the opposite.”

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Gretel (speaker)
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

As Bruno and Gretel continue to study with Herr Liszt and live at Auschwitz, Gretel becomes more and more interested in Nazi ideals and the progression of the war. Instead of arranging her dolls every day, she instead moves around pushpins on a map Father gave her, in an attempt to track the movement of armies. Bruno goes to her one day to ask her about the people who live on the other side of the Fence. Gretel tells him that they are Jews, but she is unsure as to who exactly she and Bruno by comparison. In this quote, she settles on the idea that whatever she and Bruno are is the "opposite" of what Jews are.

Gretel also tells Bruno that the "opposite" don't like Jews, and that they must live on different sides of the Fence. Though no one specifically told Bruno this before he asked, his feelings about not telling his family about Shmuel indicate that he had some premonition that the division created by the Fence served some greater purpose. Neither Bruno nor Gretel understands exactly what the word "Jew" means, but Gretel does understand that as a German, she is supposed to feel disdain for this group of people. This kind of senseless indoctrination is how the Nazi party raised young supporters—they didn't have to have facts or reasoning to back up their propaganda. Boyne uses this instance to represent how hatred was spread between the generations without proper understanding of what its implications were. 

Chapter 17 Quotes

He paused for a moment and looked out the window to his left—the window that led off to a view of the camp on the other side of the fence. “When I think about it, perhaps she is right. Perhaps this is not a place for children.”

Related Characters: Father (speaker), Bruno, Gretel, Mother
Related Symbols: Out-With, The Fence
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

One day, Father calls Gretel and Bruno into his office. He explains that he and Mother have been discussing the possibility of returning to Berlin, though he himself would remain at Auschwitz to command the camp. In this quote, Father expresses that Mother has told him that she did not think Auschwitz was a suitable location to raise her family. 

This quote is a rare moment of introspection by Father, a character whom the reader hears about but seldom sees speak. Father is largely characterized as a cold person, a figure whom Bruno longs for more time with and respects, but is also somewhat scared of. Furthermore, as a commander of a concentration camp, Father oversees the torture, starvation, and murder of thousands of people each day. At Mother's urging, he comes to understand that this kind of environment could be toxic to his children. This moment of reflection shows that while he is capable of extremely horrific acts of war, he simultaneously harbors compassion for his family. The stark mental divide many Nazis held between their work and their personal lives was something psychologically studied after the Holocaust, as men who otherwise seemed like decent, moral human beings could commit atrocities while staying sane and otherwise "normal."

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Gretel Character Timeline in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The timeline below shows where the character Gretel appears in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...and Grandfather live nearby. He privately wishes that instead of bringing along his twelve-year-old sister Gretel, whom he thinks is a “Hopeless Case,” that the family could bring along his grandparents... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Boundaries  Theme Icon
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Bruno, who often does not get along with his twelve-year-old sister Gretel, secretly wishes she could have stayed behind in Berlin. Three years his elder, he has... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
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Bruno runs into Gretel’s room to find her arranging her dolls in her new bedroom. The siblings theorize about... (full context)
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Bruno tells Gretel that he doesn’t like it in the new house, and she agrees with him again.... (full context)
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Bruno finally gives in to Gretel’s demands that he explain what he meant by seeing other children, and he pulls his... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Outside the window, Gretel realizes that what Bruno has seen are not just children: they are men of all... (full context)
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Gretel and Bruno are confused as to who would “build such a nasty-looking place.” Bruno guesses... (full context)
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...groups of soldiers to a place where they could no longer be seen.” Bruno and Gretel are both confused as to why their Father would move them from a nice street... (full context)
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...scatter, until the soldier tells them to get into a single line, and he laughs. Gretel wonders if it’s some kind of rehearsal, even though most of the children look like... (full context)
Chapter 5
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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...Bruno says his grandparents are back in Berlin, but Father says that having Mother and Gretel close by is more important. Bruno goes on to complain that his friends and the... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...slams so loudly downstairs that it seems like a gunshot. It turns out to be Gretel, who comes into Bruno’s bedroom. She demands that Maria run her a bath. Bruno tells... (full context)
Chapter 7
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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...find the materials. He sees Lieutenant Kotler (the blond young soldier Bruno saw before) and Gretel speaking together outside, and Bruno is reminded of the cold atmosphere that surrounds the Lieutenant.... (full context)
Chapter 8
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...being the center of attention at family parties. Grandmother liked the idea of Bruno and Gretel following her love of the spotlight, and every Christmas and birthday party, she would organize... (full context)
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...but that only alerts the adults that the children are still present, and he and Gretel are sent to their rooms. (full context)
Chapter 9
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For a while, most things at Out-With remain the same—Gretel is unfriendly to Bruno, and Bruno misses Berlin, though his specific memories of his old... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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Nationalism  Theme Icon
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One day Father decides that Bruno and Gretel should resume their studies. A few days later, a man named Herr Liszt comes to... (full context)
Chapter 11
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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Complicity Theme Icon
...“the Fury” incorrectly, but fails to instruct him on the proper way to say it. Gretel tells Bruno that the Fury runs the country. Father speculates that the Fury will bring... (full context)
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An hour before the Fury is scheduled to arrive, Gretel and Bruno are summoned to Father’s office, one of the rare occasions they are allowed... (full context)
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...and Eva stay at the dinner table for the better part of two hours, and Gretel and Bruno are not invited to come say goodbye when they depart. From outside his... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...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... (full context)
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...time concentrating on reading in his bedroom after his lessons have ended for the day. Gretel comes into his room, and they bicker as usual. Bruno complains about the rain, and... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Nationalism  Theme Icon
...Lieutenant Kotler has been transferred away from Out-With, much to the dismay of Mother and Gretel and to the delight of Bruno. Gretel is now going through “a phase” that means... (full context)
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...Bruno considers talking to his parents about letting Shmuel out, but decides to talk to Gretel instead. (full context)
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Gretel had become obsessed with maps and following events in the newspaper, and has thrown away... (full context)
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Bruno is still confused, but Gretel interrupts their conversation to shriek that she has found a tiny egg in her hair.... (full context)
Chapter 17
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Life goes on as usual for several weeks. Gretel becomes more obsessed with her maps, and Mother takes more naps and drinks more “medicinal... (full context)
Chapter 20
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
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...Out-With for some time, hoping Bruno will turn up. When she does return to Berlin, Gretel notices that Mother spends most of her time crying, and Gretel, too, misses Bruno very... (full context)