Back in the present, Shmuel explains to Bruno how he got to Out-With. He tells Bruno that he used to live with his parents and brother Josef in a small flat above his father’s watchmaking shop. He used to have a watch his father made, but the soldiers took it away from him. One day his mother made them wear armbands with a special star on it. Bruno says his father wears an armband on it, but with a different design. He draws a swastika in the dirt to show Shmuel. Bruno says he’s never worn an armband, and wishes he could, bug Shmuel counters him by saying that Bruno’s never been forced to wear one like he has.
Shmuel, like other Jewish victims of the Holocaust, was forced to wear the Star of David to denote his religion. Father, meanwhile, wears a swastika to show his allegiance to the Nazi party. Though Bruno says he wishes he could wear an armband, Shmuel associates the armband with his imprisonment, and points out that Bruno has never been forced to wear one against his will. Even before he came to Auschwitz, it’s clear that Shmuel grew up less rich and sheltered than Bruno.
Shmuel goes on with his story, and says that after a few months of wearing the armbands, he came home to find his mother telling him they couldn’t live in their house anymore. Bruno exclaims that the same thing happened to him too, after the Fury came to dinner. He asks Shmuel if the Fury had gone to his house and done the same thing. Shmuel says no, the soldiers had made him and his family live in a different part of Cracow, behind a big wall that had been built. Shmuel and his family lived in one room with another family: eleven people in total. Bruno is in disbelief that this was even possible. Shmuel says he hated it because the older boy from the other family beat him for no reason. After living there for several months, the soldiers put many people on a train, and the train had taken them to Out-With. Shmuel said there was no room to breathe on the train. Bruno explains that they should have gotten on another train with lots of seats, like the one he had taken from Berlin. Shmuel shakes his head and says it wasn’t possible. Bruno, exasperated, says of course it was possible, and Shmuel must have been unable to find the extra doors. Shmuel insists it wasn’t possible, and goes on to say that they had to walk to Out-With. Bruno loudly says that he and his family had taken a car. Shmuel concludes that his mother was taken away from his family, and that he, his father, and brother were put into huts on his side of the fence, and this is where he has been ever since. He looks very sad when he tells the story, and Bruno is confused why he seems so upset—Bruno feels that a similar thing had happened to him when he left Berlin.
Here Shmuel describes what happened to many Jewish victims of the Holocaust: his family was moved into a ghetto in Cracow, Poland, and forced to live with another family in a tiny room. The Jews were then rounded up and put on trains to the concentration camps, where his mother was separated from the males of the family and sent to a women’s camp. Bruno struggles to understand what happened to Shmuel, and doesn’t see how it is any different from him being forced to live away from Berlin. He continues to try and speak over Shmuel, to show that his own story is just as adventurous and traumatic, though we sense that Bruno actually can (or should be able to) understand the vast differences in their situations. Bruno seems naïve and ignorant not just about the war and Nazism, but even about the existence of people poorer than himself.
Shmuel tells Bruno that there are hundreds of other people on his side of the fence, and Bruno says that that’s unfair—he has no one to play with on his side of the fence. Shmuel says they don’t play, and Bruno is confused as to why they don’t. Shmuel asks Bruno if he has any food, and Bruno says he was going to bring chocolate but forgot. Shmuel says he only ever had chocolate once, and Bruno says he loves it but that Mother tells him it will rot his teeth. Shmuel asks him if he has any bread, but Bruno says dinner isn’t served until half-past six. He asks Shmuel what time his dinner is served, but Shmuel just shrugs his shoulders and says he must get back. Bruno asks if Shmuel could come over for dinner sometime, and Shmuel says perhaps, though he doesn’t sound convinced. Bruno says he could come to him, but Shmuel says that Bruno is on the wrong size of the fence. Bruno lifts the fence, and they see that there is a decent enough sized hole for a small boy like Bruno or Shmuel to fit under. Shmuel looks nervous and says he must go back before he gets in trouble. As he walks away, Bruno notices how small and skinny Shmuel is, and shouts that he will return tomorrow. Shmuel does not reply, and runs away.
Bruno’s incredible lack of understanding of the camp continues to be evident when he tries to invite Shmuel over for dinner, and insensitively asks Shmuel when his dinner is served. Shmuel likely receives little to no food in the camp, which is why he is so thin and gaunt, and naturally asks Bruno if he has any food with him. Though Bruno can’t comprehend what happens on Shmuel’s side of the fence, something tells him that it would not be right for him to go under the fence—and something tells Shmuel it is not worth trying to escape under, either. The prospect of what could happen to him if he gets caught scares Shmuel, and he runs away. This convenient hole in the fence is another rather unlikely plot device, and one probably created to emphasize the “fable” aspect of the story rather than its historical accuracy.
Bruno decides he has had enough exploration for the day, and returns home, excited to tell his family what he has discovered. However, the closer he gets to his house, the more he realizes that it is probably not a good idea to tell his family about Shmuel. They may not want him to be friends with Shmuel, and he does not want to be forbidden from exploring. He decides that what his family doesn’t know won’t hurt them.
Bruno’s instinct continues to tell him that something dangerous is happening in the camp, and that he should not tell his family about Shmuel. It is telling, however, that despite this instinct, Bruno still avoids actually seeking out the harsh truth that is right in front of him, or to doing anything to change it.