The protagonist of the novel. Bruno is a nine-year-old German boy who misses the life and friends he left behind in Berlin after his family unexpectedly moves to Poland for his father’s job. Bruno has a special affection for adventure stories, and though he generally abides by his parents’ strict rules, he occasionally breaks them in order to go exploring. He feels intimidated by his father’s stern personality, but he also looks up to the man and respects his authority. Though he knows the importance of treating others with politeness and respect, Bruno still struggles with his tendency to be self-centered.
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A Jewish boy. Shmuel is the boy in the striped pajamas named in the novel’s title. He belongs to a family of Polish Jews who were arrested by German troops and imprisoned at Out-With (Auschwitz) Camp. Shmuel meets Bruno one day when both boys are wandering near the massive fence that marks the boundary of the camp. The boys develop a friendship by meeting nearly every day and talking about their lives on each side of the fence. Over the course of their friendship, Shmuel grows thinner and weaker, and his grandfather and father both disappear.
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Bruno’s father. Father is a commanding officer within the Nazi Party who takes charge of operations for the Out-With (Auschwitz) Camp in Poland. He believes strongly in Germany’s cultural and political superiority and in the righteousness of his work for the “Fatherland.” He projects great power and authority in his position as commandant, but the nature of his professional duties causes tensions with both his wife with and his mother. Though he loves his children, he has a largely cold and strict relationship with them.
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Bruno’s mother. Mother spends her time caring for her children, managing the family’s servants, and presiding over every detail of the home. She resents her husband’s unbending commitment to his career, and though she complies when his job requires the family to leave Berlin, she grows increasingly disenchanted with her new reality. In the family’s new home near Out-With (Auschwitz) Camp, she takes a lot of naps and drinks many “medicinal sherries” to deal with her depression and anxiety. She also begins to flirt with Lieutenant Kotler and spends a lot of time alone with him while Father works.
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Bruno’s sister. Three years older than Bruno, Gretel shares her brother’s grief about leaving Berlin. On the rare occasions that she’s not acting superior to Bruno, Gretel commiserates with him about their shared loneliness. Otherwise, she spends much of her time by herself, playing with her large doll collection or using maps to keep track of the progress of the war.
Lieutenant Kurt Kotler
A German soldier. Lieutenant Kotler is a handsome, young soldier who works for Father at the Out-With (Auschwitz) Camp. He displays excessive cruelty toward the Jews at the camp, and Bruno witnesses him kill a dog. Bruno hates the patronizing tone Lieutenant Kotler uses with him, and he also hates how his sister fawns over the soldier. Lieutenant Kotler shows little interest in Gretel, and he spends much time flirting with Mother. Bruno thinks Lieutenant Kotler walks around Out-With like he owns the place, and he feels pleased when the soldier disappears from the camp after Father learns more about his family history.
A prisoner at Out-With (Auschwitz). Pavel is an elderly Jewish man imprisoned in the camp. He used to be a doctor, but he’s now forced to serve Bruno’s family. He peels vegetables in preparation for the evening meal during the day and serves the family dinner in the evening.
Adolf Hitler. The narrator only ever refers to this character as “the Fury.” The use of this term mimics a child’s mishearing of Führer, a German word that means “leader” and referred to the leader the Nazi Party: Adolf Hitler. Bruno met the Fury only once, when the Fury came to the house in Berlin for dinner and spoke to Father about taking command of Out-With (Auschwitz) Camp. Bruno made special note of the Fury’s short stature and rude, even childish sense of entitlement.
The Fury’s female companion. Eva accompanied the Fury when he came to dinner at the family’s house in Berlin. Whereas the Fury struck Bruno as rude and short-tempered, he found Eva gentle and kind.
Bruno’s grandmother. Grandmother is the mother of Bruno’s father. Bruno loves her and misses her intensely after his family moves to Out-With (Auschwitz). Grandmother used to be a touring singer, and Bruno has fond memories of acting with her and Gretel in the special plays she wrote for them every Christmas and on birthdays. Though she is close with her grandchildren, Grandmother despises her son’s line of work and loudly proclaims her disappointment in his political affiliations.
Bruno’s grandfather. Grandfather is the father of Bruno’s father. He spent his entire life running a restaurant in central Berlin. In contrast to Grandmother, Grandfather feels proud of his son’s advancement in the Nazi Party.
The maid for Bruno’s family. Maria has long served as the family maid. Maria’s mother used to work for Father’s parents, and when she fell ill and died, Father covered the cost of her mother’s burial. Father also gave Maria a job when she was on the brink of poverty. Maria has always felt grateful for Father’s kindness and generosity, and though she inwardly disapproves of his work, she refuses to speak a word against him.
Bruno and Gretel’s tutor. Herr Liszt comes to Out-With (Auschwitz) Camp every day to serve as a tutor for Bruno and Gretel, who otherwise have no access to school. He is a strict and rigorous teacher who strongly emphasizes the study of history and geography.
Bruno’s neighbor in Berlin. Herr Roller fought for Germany during World War I, and when he returned from the war, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Bruno misinterprets Herr Roller’s behavior as a kind of madness.
The butler for Bruno’s family.
The cook for Bruno’s family.
Karl, Daniel, and Martin
Bruno’s three “best friends for life” from Berlin.