Though Bruno misses his three best friends very much, the two people he misses the most from Berlin are Grandmother and Grandfather. Bruno’s grandparents live in a small flat “near the fruit and vegetable stalls,” and his Grandfather, who is 73, runs a restaurant. Grandmother, who is 62, met Grandfather as a young woman during one of her concerts (she used to be a professional singer). She has long red hair and green eyes, and says there is “Irish blood” in her family. She is still known for singing, and for 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 little plays for herself and the children. At some point in the play, she would always sing, give Bruno a magic trick to do, and make sure Gretel had the opportunity to dance. She would also make them special costumes, and the children would rehearse the play for a week before Christmas.
Grandmother was a kind of matriarch in Bruno’s family, and apparently very different from her strict, forbidding son. Instead of dismissing Bruno and Gretel as merely children who should be seen and not heard, Grandmother sought to engage with her grandchildren. She was a dynamic woman who liked to create and perform in shows, and she always made sure to showcase her grandchildren’s talents treating them like people capable of understanding and reason.
Bruno remembers how the play they had performed at their last Christmas in Berlin had ended in sadness. Something exciting had happened with Father—he was now to be addressed by Maria, their Cook, and Lars the butler as “Commandant,” after the Fury and a “beautiful blonde woman” had come for dinner. Mother told Bruno to congratulate Father, but he wasn’t sure what for. On Christmas day, Father wore a brand new uniform, (one which he now wears every day), and the soldiers that came in and out of the house seemed to respect him more. Grandfather seemed proud, but Grandmother acted unimpressed.
As we will learn more about later, Father had dinner with Hitler and his girlfriend Eva Braun soon before Christmas. During this meeting, he was awarded the title of Commandant, and was put in charge of Auschwitz. While Grandfather saw this as an honor, Grandmother was apparently not so pleased by her son’s increasing role in the war and in the Nazi party.
Grandmother asks Father if there was something that went wrong when she was raising him, and Father tells Grandmother that this isn’t the time to say such things. Grandmother goes on, asking Father how he can feel special without caring what the new uniform and title really mean and stand for. Grandfather says that he is proud of Father, and proud of him for surviving World War I and coming this far in his positions in the military. Mother comments that she thinks Father looks handsome, but Grandmother calls her foolish for thinking that this is important. Bruno then asks if he looks handsome in his ringmaster’s costume, but that only alerts the adults that the children are still present, and he and Gretel are sent to their rooms.
Grandmother, who is clearly not a defender of the Nazi party, is vocal about her distaste for Father’s new job. This makes her stand out from the rest of Bruno’s family members. Mother and Maria are clearly unhappy with Father’s role at Auschwitz, but they are afraid to speak their minds. Grandmother, on the other hand, has an authority over Father in a way that they don’t, and also seems more outspoken and courageous in her manner. As usual, Bruno is only focused on his childhood games, and has no idea what’s going on.
The children sit at the top of the stairs and try to eavesdrop on the adults’ conversation. Unfortunately, most of the voices are muffled. After a few minutes, the door slams open, and Grandmother comes out, saying that she is ashamed of her son. Father calls after her and says that he is a patriot, but Grandmother retorts that seeing him in the uniform makes her sick, and makes her want to “tear the eyes” from her head. She storms out of the house. Bruno recalls that he had not seen much of Grandmother after that night, and didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to her before they left for Out-With. He decides to write her a letter, and tells her all about how horrible he thinks Out-With is and about the people he sees on the other side of the fence. He tells her that he misses her, and signs the letter, “your loving grandson, Bruno.”
Once again the children are banned from any conversation with a sensitive subject, and can only hear bits and pieces of the argument downstairs. Father maintains that he is doing a good thing for the country—essentially “shutting up and following orders,” as he explained to Bruno. Only Grandmother speaks out against the Nazis (but also has the privileged position of doing so without real repercussions), and believes that her son’s new uniform really turns him into a monster, not a hero. Grandmother would understand Bruno’s description of the people in the “striped pajamas,” and realize just how horrifying her son’s new position is.