Though it is raining the next day, Bruno goes to meet Shmuel at the fence anyway. Bruno is unhappy to leave his clothes in the mud, but seeing the look on Shmuel’s face when he asks Bruno to come help find his father makes Bruno realize that he must go through with the plan to please his friend. The striped pajamas are smelly, but he changes into them anyway. They remind Bruno of the costumes he used to dress in for Grandmother’s plays. With both of them dressed in the striped pajamas, Bruno and Shmuel look almost identical. Despite the mud, Bruno climbs under the fence. The two boys have an urge to hug each other, but do not.
Bruno sees going under the fence as one great final adventure to enjoy with his friend before he must go back to Berlin. His shaved head conveniently allows him to fit right in with the other prisoners, and he and Shmuel look nearly identical, except for Bruno’s heavier weight. This visual similarity is Boyne’s metaphor for the great tragedy of the Holocaust—all of the prisoners are victims of hatred, dehumanization, genocide, and are just as human as the rest of the German population. Finally Bruno, though remaining naïve and ignorant as ever, does something active to help his friend, and “steps into his shoes” for a while. This act leads to Bruno’s death, but it is also a redemption for him, as his better nature wins out over his upbringing of privilege and Nazi indoctrination.
Bruno is shocked at the world on the other side of the fence. He thought it would be filled with happy families, but instead miserable, sickly people sit in groups, being taunted by soldiers or staring into space. Bruno says he doesn’t like it there and wants to go home, but Shmuel wants help to find his father. They search for evidence, but find nothing. After a while, Bruno asks Shmuel to walk him back to the fence. At that moment the soldiers round people up to “march,” and Shmuel tells Bruno not to say anything or the soldiers will become angry. Bruno wants to go home, but he and Shmuel find themselves swept into the march and then into a long, warm room. Bruno figures he will stay there until the rain lets up. Frightened, the two boys hold hands. Bruno tells Shmuel that he is his best friend for life. The soldiers close the doors to the room, and everyone gasps. The room goes dark, and Bruno continues to hold Shmuel’s hand, and “nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let it go.”
As we have seen, Bruno has only known a life of wealth and comfort, and despite having watched the prisoners from his window, has never comprehended that people would ever be forced to live in such horrific conditions. Though his instincts tell him to leave the camp immediately, his genuine love for Shmuel gives him the courage to stay and try to search for Shmuel’s father. When the boys are rounded up in a “march,” they are led into a gas chamber, where they are killed by lethal gas—without ever knowing what is really happening. Though this ending is sudden and grim, it is the reality of how millions of people lost their lives during the Holocaust. For Bruno, the reality he has been able to avoid thus far is suddenly thrust upon him, and this conclusion again emphasizes Boyne’s point that all human lives are equally valuable, and that all people are essentially the same. The small comfort at the end of the book is that the two boys have each other—if it were not for Bruno’s presence, Shmuel would have died completely alone and frightened. However, had Bruno’s parents not guarded Bruno’s ignorance and innocence so closely (and had Bruno’s father not been an instrumental member of the Nazi party), Bruno would have never wandered into his death.