The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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Themes and Colors
Innocence and Ignorance  Theme Icon
Boundaries  Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Nationalism  Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Boundaries  Theme Icon

Bruno’s world in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is filled with places he is not allowed to go, and the reasons for these boundaries are rarely explained to him. He is never allowed into his Father’s office, “with no exceptions,” and he and his sister Gretel are often shooed away from dinner parties and important conversations behind closed doors. Bruno, as a nine-year-old boy, loves nothing more than to explore, and this is how he comes to meet Shmuel through the fence of the concentration camp. Despite the barrier between them, the boys develop a relationship based on conversation, rather than the rough-and-tumble games that Bruno enjoyed with his three best friends back in Berlin.

The boundaries in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas—whether they are social boundaries, such as the inability to ask certain questions, or physical ones, such as a closed door or a fence—all lead to dire consequences. Because Bruno does not feel that he can ask his family who the people in the “striped pajamas” on the other side of the fence are, and his parents and sister do not feel that he deserves an adequate response, Bruno has no idea what the outcome may be when he follows Shmuel in the “march” inside the death camp.

The only time the imposed boundaries within the world of the book are broken down are when Bruno crawls under the fence and blends in with the rest of the prisoners, an act of curiosity and bravery that leads to his death and Shmuel’s. However, one small comfort of the bleak ending is that Shmuel, for all of his terror in the concentration camp, dies in the company of a good friend who has supported him throughout the last year of his life.

As is the case for much of the text, the idea of boundaries acts as an allegory for one aspect of the horrors of the Holocaust. Despite the fact that decades now separate the carnage and terror of camps such as Auschwitz from the world today, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas shows how dangerously easy it can be to get caught up in such acts when people are forcibly divided, and when people are unable to openly discuss the consequences of current affairs. Human rights violations aren’t often that far away—just on the other side of a fence.

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Boundaries ThemeTracker

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Boundaries Quotes in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Below you will find the important quotes in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas related to the theme of Boundaries .
Chapter 2 Quotes

“We don’t have the luxury of thinking,” said Mother. “…Some people make all the decisions for us.”

Related Characters: Mother (speaker), Bruno, Father
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno's family travels to their new home (in the concentration camp of Auschwitz, where his father will serve as commander) far away from Berlin. He is upset to see how different the new home, and location, is from their house in the center of the city.

When Bruno tells Mother that he thinks moving was a bad idea, she replies with this quote: that "Some people" make all the decisions for the family. Mother frequently uses the phrase "Some people" to refer to Father. In this quote, Mother is explaining that, as a woman and a child, she and Bruno are subordinate to the decisions of Father, the patriarch of the family. In effect, they not only can't voice their concerns, but that they aren't even allowed to think them—their role is simply to obey. This idea of complete obedience is further reinforced when, as she speaks, Mother begins to unpack boxes, showing Bruno that even though he (and she) are unhappy with their new situation, the family is there to stay whether he likes it or not.

The idea of simply accepting situations and following orders also serves as a larger criticism of Nazi Germany in general. After the war, many Nazi soldiers defended their actions by claiming that they were only "following orders" as they carried out the horrors of the Holocaust. In this way, Boyne uses Mother's insistence that she has to listen to father as well, as Bruno's innocence and ignorance, to represent the blindness with which many soldiers followed Hitler's orders, and in so doing perpetrated the horrors of the Holocaust.


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He put his face to the glass and saw what was out there, and this time when his eyes opened wide and his mouth made the shape of an O, his hands stayed by his sides because something made him feel very cold and unsafe.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

At his mother's command, Bruno goes to his new bedroom in the family's house at Auschwitz and begins to unpack his things. Upset at the prospect of this new unwanted life far away from his former home in Berlin, Bruno attempts not to cry by looking out a window that vaguely reminds him of one that was in their old house. He hopes to be able to see faraway Berlin, but instead sees the concentration camp Auschwitz, which he comes to incorrectly pronounce as "Out-With." 

The sight of the people inside the fence, imprisoned from the outside world—despite the fact that he has no idea that they are Jews rounded up to be eventually exterminated by the Nazis—gives him an unsettled feeling. That this little boy, who has no idea what is actually going on in the concentration camp, has the feeling that what is going on in the camp is wrong serves as a condemnation of the people of Nazi Germany, many of whom did know what was going on in the concentration camps, and still followed orders and avoided asking questions. At the same time, Bruno's initial horror at this sight also calls into question just how "innocent" he himself is during the rest of the story—part of his ignorance may be willful.

Chapter 4 Quotes

…all of them—the small boys, the big boys, the fathers, the grandfathers, the uncles, the people who lived on their own on everybody’s road but didn’t seem to have any relatives at all—were wearing the same clothes as each other: a pair of grey striped pajamas with a grey striped cap on their heads.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker)
Related Symbols: Striped Pajamas
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

After Bruno makes a passing remark about the "other children" outside the window, Gretel demands that he explain what he means. He points to the concentration camp outside the window, and Gretel is shocked by what she sees. Neither of the children has a concrete explanation as to who the people are, or why there are no women on the other side of the fence. 

The innocence of Bruno and Gretel leads them to characterize the men in the concentration camp in terms of familial relationships, such as "fathers" and "uncles." They do this because such relationships define how Bruno and Gretel know most of the adults in their lives. Though there appears to be no warmth between the people in the camp, the children have no better explanation for who they are or why they are all living together. They also apparently have no concept of what poverty is, or the fact that these people did not choose to live in the squalor of the camp. 

In Nazi-ruled Germany, clothing was an important marker of status: The Nazis wore swastika armbands, while Jews wore yellow stars indicating their religious and ethnic status. Thus, the "striped pajamas," really prison-issued uniforms, were meant to mark and demean the Jewish people as prisoners. That Bruno sees these clothes as pajamas further indicates his innocence and foreshadows how that innocence will allow him to see past those clothes to the people who wear them.

Chapter 5 Quotes

“Ah, those people,” said Father, nodding his head and smiling slightly. “Those people…well, they’re not people at all, Bruno.”

Related Characters: Father (speaker), Bruno
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

In a moment of bravery, Bruno enters Father's office, which is usually off-limits, to confront his father about his unhappiness at Auschwitz. Though Father repeats what Mother and Maria have already told Bruno—that he must accept their new life away from Berlin—Bruno refuses. Angered, Father orders his son to go to his room. Before he goes, however, Bruno asks Father about the boys and men living on the other side of the fence. 

As a high-ranking Nazi official, Bruno's father subscribes to and perpetuates the anti-Semitic views held by Hitler and his followers. Supported by pseudoscience, much of the Nazi Party's rhetoric and self-conception rested on the claim that Jews and other minorities were less than human, and inferior to the blond-haired, blue-eyed "Aryan" image the party favored. In his new role as a director of the camp, Father is instrumental in overseeing the systematic torture and murder of the boys and men who are wearing what Bruno innocently sees as "striped pajamas." Here Father seems to confidently justify his actions—after all, if those being murdered aren't really human, then it isn't really murder. In this quote, Boyne also includes the image of Father's slight smile to underscore how key coordinators of the Holocaust, such as Father and Hitler, truly believed that their unspeakable actions were justified, and that those who did not agree were silly (much as Father seems to think Bruno's questions are silly). 

Chapter 6 Quotes

“Bruno, if you have any sense at all, you will stay quiet and concentrate on your schoolwork and do whatever your father tells you. We must all just keep ourselves safe until this is all over. That’s what I intend to do anyway. What more can we do than that after all? It’s not up to us to change things.”

Related Characters: Maria (speaker), Bruno, Father
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

After a few days at Auschwitz, Bruno encounters Maria and asks her how she feels about the family's move. Maria avoids any chance Bruno gives her to speak ill of his Mother and Father, and instead tells him that he must follow his parents' wishes. Bruno goes on to complain that his father has made a "terrible mistake" in moving the family.

In this quote, Maria tells Bruno that he is not allowed to constantly state how he feels. As a young child who is still figuring out the world and his social situation, Bruno has difficulty with processing and containing his emotions. (Furthermore, he is rather rich and spoiled, and so is used to getting his way when he complains.) Maria, who is better versed in the political and social situation in Germany, knows that one wrong, overheard sentence can have someone thrown in jail, or worse. As a maid, her livelihood is at the mercy of Mother and Father—she is not only a woman, but also a social inferior to the Nazi couple. If she were to be found speaking ill of the family, or found to have encouraged any such thoughts in Bruno, Maria could potentially be fired or more harshly punished.

While Maria's fearful silence seems totally justified, it also means that she becomes unwillingly complicit in the crimes that her employer (Father) is perpetrating. She would endanger herself if she spoke out, but she endangers many more by remaining silent. This shows the very difficult choices that faced everyone in Nazi Germany—except for those who could still remain as ignorant and innocent as Bruno.

Chapter 7 Quotes

“Young man,” said Pavel (and Bruno appreciated the fact that he had the courtesy to call him ‘young man’ instead of ‘little man’ as Lieutenant Kotler had), “I certainly am a doctor. Just because a man glances up at the sky at night does not make him an astronomer, you know.”

Related Characters: Pavel (speaker), Bruno, Lieutenant Kotler
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

In an effort to defeat his boredom, Bruno creates a swing out of an old tire and a tree just outside the house. He soon falls, and hurts himself. Pavel, one of the new butlers at Auschwitz, runs out of the kitchen and takes the injured boy inside to clean up his scrapes. Bruno insists he must be taken to a doctor, but Pavel tells him he will be just fine with the bandage he has made. Bruno argues that Pavel cannot know this since he is not a doctor, and Pavel says he used to be one.

As a prisoner of the Nazis, Pavel has been captured from his home and career as a doctor to serve Father, his family, and the Nazi soldiers that visit. Able bodied Jewish men and women from every profession were forced to work in labor camps; the young, old, and those who could not work were often immediately killed. Boyne once again emphasize's Bruno's innocence by showing that he has no understanding as to why someone who is trained as a doctor would peel his vegetables and serve dinner. Bruno has been taught that the prisoners at Auschwitz are "not people at all," but this idea doesn't seem to fit with what Bruno now learns about the intelligent, friendly Pavel.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Bruno was sure that he had never seen a skinnier or sadder boy in his life but decided that he had better talk to him.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel
Related Symbols: Striped Pajamas, The Fence
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

One afternoon, Bruno decides that he will explore the grounds outside of the house. He walks for some time until he reaches the fence, where he encounters a boy sitting down. The boy is wearing the "striped pajamas" he has seen from his bedroom window, and he wears a yellow star on his chest. 

The boy is very thin and gaunt because he is starved and overworked by Nazi soldiers inside the fence. Bruno is shocked at the boy's physical and emotional state because he has lived in a very sheltered world, in which he has never encountered poverty, and he also seems to be keeping himself willfully ignorant about the suffering people he sees from his window. Yet Bruno also has the natural innocence and kindness of a child, as Boyne uses this extended analogy to show how hatred is learned, not instinctual—despite the fact that Bruno is a German child of Nazis, and the boy (Shmuel) is a Jewish prisoner, Bruno's first reaction is to try and make friends.

“Poland,” said Bruno thoughtfully, weighing up the word on his tongue. “That’s not as good as Germany, is it?”
Shmuel frowned. “Why isn’t it?” he asked.
“Well, because Germany is the greatest of all countries,” Bruno replied, remembering something that he had overheard Father discussing with Grandfather on any number of occasions. “We’re superior.”

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel (speaker), Father , Grandfather
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

The boy on the other side of the fence tells Bruno his name is Shmuel, and that he is from Poland. In this quote, Bruno repeats what Father and Grandfather have said about Germany being a separate and "superior" nation compared to others. 

Bruno believes that Germany is a superior nation only due to what he has heard his elders say, and not due to a personally held belief (or any kind of truth he has experienced). This system of indoctrination is how the Nazi party cultivated a younger generation of nationalistic party supporters. It is also indicative of the role that parents, in any society, play in shaping their children's beliefs. Here, Boyne shows that prejudices are often passed from one generation to the next, so that when a boy such as Bruno grows up, he continues to believe that Germans are superior and cultivates a disdain for other cultures. It is this dangerous cycle that fed into the widespread Nationalism and anti-Semitism of World War II. 

Chapter 12 Quotes

Shmuel looked very sad when he told this story and Bruno didn’t know why; it didn’t seem like such a terrible thing to him, and after all much the same thing had happened to him.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

Bruno continues to visit Shmuel along the Fence every day. Shmuel tells Bruno of how he arrived at Auschwitz from his home in Cracow. First, he and his family were forced to wear armbands with the Star of David, indicating that they were Jews. One day, they were told they were not allowed to live in their home anymore, and had to move to a small apartment with many other families. They were then herded onto a train and brought to the camp, where Shmuel's mother was separated from Shmuel, his brother, father, and grandfather. 

As Shmuel tells the story, Bruno keeps thinking that the same thing happened to him—that he too boarded a train and lost his home due to the Fury. In this sense, Bruno can relate to Shmuel's upset at having left his home, but Bruno's privilege and ignorance also means that he cannot comprehend the horrors that Shmuel encounters behind the fence. To Bruno the two boys' situations seem similar, but we as readers know that they couldn't be more different. Here Boyne suggests the inability of an outsider to ever truly empathize and understand the plights of another person—Bruno considers Shmuel his friend, but he doesn't really understand Shmuel at all.

“Dinner isn’t served until half past six. What time do you have yours?”
Shmuel shrugged his shoulders and pulled himself to his feet. “I think I’d better get back,” he said.
“Perhaps you can come to dinner with us one evening,” said Bruno, although he wasn’t sure it was a very good idea.
“Perhaps,” said Shmuel, although he didn’t sound convinced.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel (speaker)
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

When Bruno visits Shmuel, it is in the lazy afternoon hours between his morning lessons and dinnertime. The boys can spend long stretches of time talking, but Bruno must return to the house before anyone notices he has been gone.

Bruno constantly discusses food in front of Shmuel, not realizing that Shmuel receives very little food on his side of the Fence, if any at all. Inside concentration camps, prisoners lived in squalor and faced constant starvation. Bruno does not understand that Shmuel does not have a "dinner time" inside the Fence, and seemingly doesn't understand that Shmuel cannot leave the Fence at all, much less come to Bruno's house. Though Bruno does not understand the underlying reasons for this, he does have a premonition that he has made an offer to Shmuel that neither of them will realistically be able to act upon. This again casts into doubt just how "innocent" Bruno still is regarding the true nature of Auschwitz.

Chapter 13 Quotes

“There aren’t any good soldiers,” said Shmuel.
“Of course there are,” said Bruno.
“Well, Father, for one,” said Bruno. “That’s why he has such an impressive uniform and why everyone calls him Commandant and does whatever he says. The Fury has big things in mind for him because he’s such a good soldier.”
“There aren’t any good soldiers,” repeated Shmuel.
“Except Father,” repeated Bruno, who was hoping that Shmuel wouldn’t say that again because he didn’t want to have to argue with him. After all, he was the only friend he had here at Out-With. But Father was Father, and Bruno didn’t think it was right for someone to say something bad about him.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel (speaker), Father
Related Symbols: The Fury
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

One day at the Fence, Bruno and Shmuel discuss what they want to be when they grow up. Shmuel notes that he wants to work in a zoo, while Bruno says he wants to become a soldier like Father. In this quote, Shmuel counters Bruno to claim that there are no good soldiers, and Bruno refutes his statement out of respect for his father.

As a prisoner in a concentration camp, Shmuel has no reason to believe that there are any good soldiers in the world. The only soldiers he has encountered are ones that taunt and torture him and the other prisoners in the camp. Even Bruno understands that someone like Lieutenant Kotler has a sadistic side, and thinks that he would not want to be that kind of soldier, but he defends Father by default, as he does not understand that Father's true role in Shmuel's suffering. This again shows Bruno parroting the ideology he has been taught, as even in his relative innocence he still places country and family over his new friendship with Shmuel.

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 14 Quotes

Bruno tried to return to his book, but he’d lost interest in it for now and stared out at the rain instead and wondered whether Shmuel, wherever he was, was thinking about him too and missing their conversations as much as he was.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:

One rainy day, Bruno is stuck inside the house with Gretel and is unable to go visit Shmuel at the Fence. He makes a passing remark to her that he should be somewhere else, and she demands to know what he means by this. Bruno has a feeling that he should not tell Gretel about Shmuel, and instead tells her that he has an imaginary friend. Gretel laughs at him and goes into her room to arrange her dolls. In this quote, Bruno thinks about how much he misses his afternoon conversations with Shmuel.

Despite the differences in the two boys' lives, they find more in common with each other than they find to be different. This allows them to spend hours talking, and in this quote, Bruno realizes how close he has come to feel with Shmuel as a friend. He hopes that Shmuel feels as strongly about their friendship as he does. Boyne uses the friendship between Shmuel and Bruno to highlight the absurdity of the supposedly inherent differences the Nazis claimed existed between Aryan Germans and Jews. At the end of the day, he claims, the only thing really separating the two groups of people is a manufactured fence and an ideology of prejudice and hatred. 

Chapter 15 Quotes

“What are you doing here?” repeated Bruno, for although he still didn’t quite understand what took place on the other side of the fence, there was something about the people from there that made him think they shouldn’t be here in his house.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

On Father's birthday, the whole house is busy preparing for a party. Bruno walks into the kitchen and is shocked to see Shmuel there. Shmuel tells Bruno that Lieutenant Kotler brought him into the house to polish the smaller glasses and silverware because he has tiny fingers. 

Though Bruno still does not know the true reason why Shmuel lives on one side of the Fence and he lives on the other, Bruno has a sense that someone like Shmuel is not normally welcomed into their home. Like Pavel, Shmuel is only welcomed into the house to perform tasks commanded of him by Nazi officials. Just as when he almost tells Gretel of his friendship with Shmuel, here Bruno somehow knows that he should not let his family know the truth. This understanding shows that, while he enjoys his time with Shmuel, Bruno is also subconsciously retaining some of the disdain that Kotler and Father show for the people on the other side of the Fence. Even an idealized friendship between young children is already affected by outside prejudices and beliefs, and Bruno isn't as innocent as he seems (or seems to want to be). 

It was the first time they had ever touched.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel
Related Symbols: The Fence
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

While Shmuel is in the house polishing the silverware, Bruno notes that, though the boys are the same height and age, Shmuel's hand is very different from his—the fingers are bony and shriveled, and his veins are visible through the thin skin. This is because Shmuel is starved and tortured on the other side of the Fence, while Bruno is well fed and taken care of in his home. The realization that this comparison of hands is the first time they have ever touched further informs Bruno of the divide between the two boys' lives. At the same time, this simple bit of contact is also a reminder of the boys' common humanity, despite the many boundaries placed between them.

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. 

“I look just like you now,” said Bruno sadly, as if this was a terrible thing to admit.
“Only fatter,” admitted Shmuel.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel (speaker)
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

Gretel discovers a tiny egg in her hair, and Mother soon realizes that both of the children have head lice. While Gretel is treated with a special shampoo, Father decides that Bruno should shave his head. When Bruno and Shmuel meet at the Fence, they realize that with two shaved heads, they look more similar than usual. 

Both boys are conscious of the fact that Bruno is fatter and more well-nourished than Shmuel, though only Shmuel fully comprehends the reasoning behind this. Bruno understands that Shmuel looks sickly, and Bruno also has absorbed the belief that as a person on the other side of the Fence, Shmuel is somehow divided from and inferior to him, so here Bruno feels "sad" about this new resemblance. Previously in the novel, the two boys also discover that they have the same birthday. Boyne continues to create similarities between the two boys in order to highlight their most pressing difference: that Shmuel is being starved and tortured behind the Fence, whereas Bruno lives in comfort. By continuing to illustrate how well the two boys get along, and to show that they are more similar than they are different, Boyne shows how the prejudices against Jews (which had been present in Europe for centuries) were exacerbated by the Nazi party in order to use the group as a scapegoat for all of Germany's problems. Just like Gretel's inability to name what a "Jew" or an "Opposite" is, this hatred was senseless. 

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."

Chapter 18 Quotes

Shmuel bit his lip and said nothing. He had seen Bruno’s father on any number of occasions and couldn’t understand how such a man could have a son who was so friendly and kind.

Related Characters: Shmuel (speaker), Bruno, Father
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

Shmuel remarks to Bruno that he hates soldiers, since he knows that they hate him and the rest of the prisoners on his side of the Fence. Bruno, confused, asks him if he hates his Father. Shmuel wants to say yes, but holds back his answer. In this quote, he wonders how Bruno could be so kind when his Father is so cruel. 

Bruno, meanwhile, seems unwilling to accept that his Father is directly in charge of the misery that Shmuel faces every day. Bruno remains very naive and ignorant, but the more he learns the more uncomfortable he grows with the truth of his and Shmuel's situation. Here Boyne also makes his usual point about the inherent innocence of children, as the division between Father and Bruno represents the idea that hatred is not instinctive, or naturally divided along racial or national lines, but rather that it must be taught. Boyne contrasts Bruno and Father to show that it is possible for a younger generation to fix the toxic and prejudiced views of its elders. 

Chapter 19 Quotes

Bruno had an urge to give Shmuel a hug, just to let him know how much he liked him and how much he’d enjoyed talking to him over the last year.
Shmuel had an urge to give Bruno a hug too, just to thank him for all his many kindnesses, and his gifts of food, and the fact that he was going to help him find Papa.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel (speaker)
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:

One day at the Fence, Shmuel tells Bruno that he cannot find his father anywhere. Bruno agrees to help Shmuel search for him. Shmuel gets Bruno a pair of striped pajamas in his size, and the boys find a boy-sized hole in the Fence through which Bruno can fit. The boys realize that with their shaved heads and pajamas, they look completely identical. 

In this quote, both Bruno and Shmuel both internally acknowledge how important the other boy has been to them during their time at Auschwitz. For Bruno, Shmuel made Auschwitz feel like home, and for Shmuel, Bruno was a major source of comfort and escape from the horrors of the camp inside the Fence. Shmuel is particularly touched that Bruno would be willing to come inside the Fence to help Shmuel look for his father. Their mutual bond and admiration shows that friendship can transcend prejudices and war.

Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel’s hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let it go.

Related Characters: Bruno (speaker), Shmuel
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:

After searching around the camp for over an hour, Bruno and Shmuel fail to find Shmuel's father. Suddenly, the soldiers blow whistles indicating that the prisoners must begin to march. Bruno wants to leave, but Shmuel tells him the soldiers will become angry if they don't follow orders. The boys end up inside of a metal room with many other people. Bruno is not sure why the soldiers put everyone inside the room, but holding Shmuel's hand gives him comfort. 

In Nazi concentration camp, Jews and other minority groups were systematically murdered in gas chambers. It is into one of these chambers that the Nazi soldiers led Bruno and Shmuel. Though Bruno's parents intentionally did not tell him what the camp was for due to his young age, it is in this moment that his naïveté has proven fatal. Holding hands, Shmuel and Bruno die together in the gas chamber, and Bruno seemingly never really learns the truth about the situation. The image of a German boy and a Jewish boy holding hands in a Nazi gas chamber is a symbol of love and innocence in the face of evil. Boyne uses this tragic ending to show both the dangers of ignorance and of senseless prejudices and hatred in society. 

Chapter 20 Quotes

Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again.
Not in this day and age.

Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

A few months after Father realizes what happens to Bruno, World War II ends. When the Allied soldiers come to arrest him for his war crimes, he gives himself up, and no longer cares what they do to him. 

This quote represents the crux of Boyne's reason for writing the allegorical tale of Bruno and Shmuel. After a tragedy, people tend to claim that such an event will never happen again, though centuries of wars and genocides show that this is not the case. A mass genocide on the scale of the Holocaust is an important reminder of just how dangerous prejudices between groups in society can be. It is crucial that all of humanity remember the horrors of the Holocaust so that it never happens again. But as with everything in history, some things can become forgotten by later generations, for whom the sadness and fears of war are not as fresh—and then the cycle of violence and complicity continues. This last line of the novel serves as a warning: this story, though set in the 1940s, could potentially happen anytime, anywhere, if people do not put friendship and common humanity before hatred and prejudice.