And what reason did he give, might I ask . . . for leaving Germany at the moment of her greatest glory and her most vital need, when it is incumbent upon us all to play our part in the national revival?
Father quickly becomes suspicious when Kotler mentions how his father left Germany, believing his departure to be an abandonment of their cultural cornerstone. Father justifies his position at Out-With by asserting that he is fulfilling a national duty. Father stresses his patriotic allegiance, but that idea is also clearly the line Father uses to justify his actions to himself. He sees and contributes to the horrors at Auschwitz firsthand, but he believes his job is crucial to his country. Rather than committing genocide, he believes he is helping his nation in a time of crisis, even if he would rather be in Berlin, away from the concentration camp.
Shmuel bit his lip and said nothing. He had seen Bruno’s father on any number of occasions and couldn’t understand how such a man could have a son who was so friendly and kind.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas rarely tells us explicitly what goes on in Nazi Germany. Instead, it uses Bruno’s limited perspective and the occasional thought from other characters to help us piece together the story. Just before this quote, Shmuel asserts that there are no good soldiers and says all the soldiers hate the Jews. Although Bruno believes his father is the exception, Shmuel clearly reveals that Bruno’s father is just as cruel as the rest of his captors. Bruno does not see his father’s cruelty, so the novel hides Father’s direct actions. However, Shmuel’s perspective clarifies that, no matter how Father may treat his family, Father is capable of and actively contributes to evil.
If Bruno was honest with himself, he would have admitted that Father rarely became angry; he became quiet and distant and always had his way in the end anyway.
Father is not a violent man with his family. Instead, he is firm, calculating, and expects the house to run according to his rules. Once, Bruno hears him yelling at Mother, but other than that instance, the household remains in order out of a great respect (bordering on fear) for Father. Bruno and Gretel take this seriousness for granted and don’t try to push Father’s limits. Bruno also acknowledges that he knows his Father loves him, and the conversation Bruno has in his office confirms Father’s capacity for gentleness. This gentleness with his family, however, stands in stark contrast to the inhumane violence Father and other Nazis inflict on the prisoners in Auschwitz, calling his character completely into question.