It continues to rain on and off for the next few weeks, and Shmuel and Bruno are able to have their conversations at the fence only sporadically. Bruno becomes concerned that his friend seems to grow thinner each day, and continues to bring him food. However, being a nine-year-old boy, Bruno still eats a lot of it along the walk to their spot in the fence. Bruno continues to dislike Kotler, because he calls him “little man” and makes Mother laugh more than Father does. One day Bruno sees a dog barking from his window, and Kotler comes outside and shoots it. Bruno is still upset with how Kotler treated Pavel, and is mad that when Father is away on business, Kotler seems to stay overnight and acts as if he is in charge of the house.
After several months, Bruno finally settles into a routine at Auschwitz, thanks to his new friendship with Shmuel. Kotler “making Mother laugh” provides further evidence that he and Mother are engaging in an affair, either physical or emotional, when Father is away. Kotler shooting the dog is indicative of him attempting to assert dominance over the household in Father’s absence, and also evidence of his brutality towards the prisoners in the camp. He seems to be a sociopath—the kind of person who would do well as a guard at a concentration camp.
One day Bruno is reading Treasure Island in the living room, a book that Father gave him. Kotler pulls it away from him and taunts him, playing keep-away with the book. Bruno finally pulls it back, and Kotler asks if Bruno is ready for Father’s birthday party, which the whole house has been preparing for days. They continue to taunt each other until Mother comes in. She calls him Kotler “Kurt” and “precious,” and tells Bruno to leave the room so she can have a private word with him. They close the doors behind Bruno, making him feel angry.
Though Bruno is used to being left out of the conversations between adults, he is made especially angry when Kotler is condescending towards him—Kotler is only 19, and isn’t his father. Mother’s affair with the young Kotler goes totally over Bruno’s head, as usual. For Mother, this affair may be an act of rebellion against Father and the life at Auschwitz he has forced her into, or simply a bored dalliance in their desolate location—or she and Kotler may have a genuine affection for one another.
Angered, Bruno goes into the kitchen and is shocked to find Shmuel sitting there. Shmuel says that Kotler brought him there to polish Mother’s small glasses for the party, since they needed someone with tiny fingers to do the job. Bruno looks at Shmuel’s shriveled hands, and they remind him of a model skeleton that Herr Liszt once brought to teach anatomy. Bruno puts their hands side by side: his hand is fat and healthy, while Shmuel’s is skinny and sick-looking, the fingers like “dying twigs.” Bruno asked Shmuel how his hand came to look like that. Shmuel said his hands used to look like Shmuel’s, but now everyone on his side of the fence looks like he does.
Bruno is shocked to see Shmuel in his kitchen. Bruno may have never thought about it in such specific terms, but he clearly never expected the world in the camp to overlap with the world inside his house. The clear disparity between Bruno’s and Shmuel’s hands makes Bruno feel sick, and he must turn away—he knows Shmuel is very thin, but fails (or is afraid) to realize that this is because Shmuel is being starved on purpose.
Bruno rummages for something to eat in the refrigerator, settling on some cold chicken with sage and onion stuffing. He cuts a few pieces, and talks to Shmuel while stuffing food in his mouth. Shmuel becomes listless while watching Bruno eat, and Bruno apologizes for not having offered him food. He offers to cut him some food, but Shmuel says he is afraid Kotler will catch him. Bruno says it’s no big deal, and cuts him pieces. Shmuel eats the food very quickly, and thanks Bruno.
Bruno, still failing to understand Shmuel’s dangerous position, offers Shmuel food out of politeness, somehow still not associating Shmuel with Pavel and his position as a servant to be beaten or killed. Shmuel knows the consequences he might face for eating, but also knows how hungry he is—and hunger wins. This scene seems to capture Bruno’s character: kind and well-meaning, but incredibly naïve and even willfully ignorant.
Kotler comes in and stares at the two boys talking. He shouts at Shmuel for speaking in the house. Shmuel apologizes quietly, but Kotler becomes enraged when he sees that Shmuel has been eating. Shmuel says that Bruno gave him the food, since they are friends. Terrified, Bruno replies after a moment, and says that he has never seen Shmuel before in his life. Shmuel seems despondent, and Kotler says that Shmuel is to finish cleaning the glasses, after which they will have a “discussion about what happens to boys who steal.” Kotler ushers Bruno out of the room, and calls Shmuel by the same name he used on Pavel when he instructed him to get a tire for Bruno. Bruno feels horribly ashamed for denying that Shmuel is his friend, and feels as if he will be sick. He sits without reading for several hours, and when he returns to the kitchen later, Shmuel is gone.
Unfortunately, Kotler does catch Shmuel eating food—and Bruno fails to defend his “friend” at the crucial moment, leading Kotler to infer that Shmuel stole the food. Kotler implies that Shmuel will receive a punishment later, and knowing Kotler’s cruel and sociopathic nature, this punishment could be anything. Bruno feels horrible, but because of his ignorance, he still doesn’t seem to understand the ramifications of his actions. With Kotler’s insult, Shmuel is now explicitly associated with Pavel (or should be), and so Bruno should realize that Shmuel could just as easily be beaten or killed like Pavel was.