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After several weeks at Out-With, Bruno sought new ways to entertain himself. He wanted to avoid going mad like one of his old Berlin neighbors, Herr Roller, who would walk around the neighborhood in tears with his hands on his head. Bruno recalled that Mother had once cautioned him not to make fun of Herr Roller. He had experienced a head trauma during the Great War, and Mother insisted that Bruno had no idea about what the young men had gone through at that time.
Bruno hadn’t thought about Herr Roller much in recent years, but when the man flashed into his mind Bruno, realized he needed to create a diversion for himself. He decided to hang a tire swing from an old oak tree. Bruno collected lengths of rope from the basement and brought them out to the tree. Then he sought out a tire.
Neither Mother nor Father was at home, so Bruno went to speak with one of the soldiers. He came upon Lieutenant Kotler, the young soldier he had seen in the house on the day of the family’s arrival. Lieutenant Kotler always dressed neatly, and he had impressively muscular arms, but he wore too much cologne. To make matters worse, Gretel had made a habit of flirting with him, laughing at everything he said. Gretel was speaking with Lieutenant Kotler when Bruno approached to ask about finding a spare tire for his swing. The soldier spoke patronizingly to Bruno, then over to a thin old man named Pavel, who came to the house every day to peel vegetables and serve dinner. Lieutenant Kotler barked at Pavel and repeatedly called him a name Bruno didn’t understand. In a voice that made both Bruno and Gretel uncomfortable, the soldier commanded Pavel to fetch a tire from the storage shed for Bruno.
Later that day, Bruno tried out his new tire swing. While trying to push himself higher, Bruno lost his grip and fell, knocking his head and scraping his leg. Pavel appeared and carried the boy to the kitchen, where he fetched a first aid kit and dressed Bruno’s wounds. Bruno worried he might die from his injuries, but Pavel insisted he’d be fine. When Bruno asked how he knew, Pavel said he used to be a doctor. Pavel’s revelation confused Bruno, who didn’t understand how a servant could also be a doctor.
Mother came home and Pavel quickly returned to his task. She asked Bruno what had happened to him, and he explained about the swing and Pavel. Mother told Bruno to go upstairs, and as he left the room, he heard Mother tell Pavel that if Father asked, he should say she attended Bruno’s wounds.
Bruno missed his grandparents, who remained in Berlin. He especially missed Grandmother, who in her younger days had toured Europe as a singer. Bruno recalled how parties at his house were always dominated by Grandmother’s singing. He also thought about how Grandmother used to devise short performances for Christmases and birthdays. She involved both Gretel and Bruno in these elaborate performances, which featured costumes and musical numbers.
The last play they performed together ended poorly. It happened around the time Father had received a promotion, meaning that others had to address him as “commandant.” Father wore his new uniform on Christmas Day, and although Grandfather felt proud to see his son so attired, Grandmother felt ashamed. An argument broke out in which Grandmother expressed her anger and disappointment at the direction Father’s life had taken: “To see you in that uniform makes me want to tear the eyes from my head!” Grandmother stormed out of the house, and Bruno didn’t see her much before the family left Berlin.
Missing her, Bruno wrote her a letter describing his new life at Out-With.
Bruno’s recollections about Herr Roller gesture to the novel’s historical background. Worried that his boredom would drive him to madness, Bruno remembered a neighbor named Herr Roller who used to roam the streets. Sometimes he would talk to stray cats, and other times he would take his head in his hands and burst into tears. Bruno had thought the man was crazy, but Mother had rebuked him for making fun of the man, explaining that Herr Roller deserved pity. The man had fought in a previous war, and his experiences in the trenches had reduced him to this condition. Thus, what Bruno understood as expressions of madness were actually symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, a common affliction among people who fought during World War I. Mother had great sympathy for Herr Roller and the other young men of his generation, who had either died in Germany’s name or come back from the war psychologically disturbed. Mother’s immense sympathy for the suffering of German men foreshadows Herr Liszt’s insistence in Chapter 9 that the Germans had suffered “great wrongs.” It also foreshadows Father’s claim in Chapter 13 that Out-With had been established to “correct” these great wrongs.
Read more about the great wrongs of history as a motif.
Chapter 7 formally introduces Lieutenant Kotler, an inexperienced but energetic young soldier at Out-With of whom Bruno rightfully feels suspicious. For most people, Lieutenant Kotler made a strong first impression. He had meticulously combed hair and sported a freshly pressed uniform with polished shoes. He also boasted a muscular physique. Lieutenant Kotler’s youthful enthusiasm made him one of Father’s star soldiers. His overall attractiveness also made it easy for a young woman like Gretel to fawn over him. And as the reader will learn later, Mother felt attracted to Lieutenant Kotler too. Yet Lieutenant Kotler failed to impress Bruno, who had first encountered him in the hall on the day the family had arrived at Out-With. On that occasion Bruno immediately felt taken aback by the man’s serious disposition. In later encounters, Bruno found Lieutenant Kotler patronizing and self-important. He also exhibited a capacity for cruelty that Bruno found shocking. In short, whereas everyone else in the family found something to like about Lieutenant Kotler, Bruno instantly disliked him. As the reader learns to trust Bruno’s intuitions about people and situations, we too learn to distrust Lieutenant Kotler.
Read an in-depth analysis of Mother.
Unbeknownst to Bruno, his encounter with Pavel represents his introduction to the prisoners at Out-With Camp. Bruno had seen Pavel around the house and considered him a servant, just like Maria. Pavel came to the house each day to prepare vegetables for the family dinner, which he would also stay to help serve. Although Bruno didn’t comprehend it at first, the reader immediately understands that Pavel was not an ordinary servant but a camp prisoner. When Lieutenant Kotler addressed Pavel and told him to fetch a tire for Bruno’s swing, he barked at the old man and repeatedly called him a name. Bruno didn’t understand the word, which doesn’t actually appear in the text. Even so, the reader can gather that the word Lieutenant Kotler used was derogatory. Later, when Pavel helped dress Bruno’s wounds and told him he was actually a doctor, Bruno grew even more confused. He simply didn’t understand why a doctor would take a job as a servant. Yet despite still not understanding that Pavel was a prisoner, Bruno treated the man with gratitude and kindness. This brief encounter foreshadows Bruno’s friendship with another prisoner: the Jewish boy Shmuel.
Read an in-depth analysis of Shmuel.
Father’s parents reacted differently to his promotion to commandant, and their divergent reactions symbolize the divided response among ordinary Germans to the war and to the actions of the Nazi Party. Grandfather remained proud of his son. He had initially worried that Father would perish when he first enlisted during World War I. However, Father’s many achievements as a soldier and as a leader proved his commitment to Germany and the well-being of the German people. For these reasons, Grandfather supported Father’s involvement with the Nazi Party. Grandmother, however, refused to remain silent about her disapproval of Father’s promotion. She felt deeply disgusted by the Nazi Party and the war it was waging throughout Europe. She felt especially disgusted that her own son had played such a prominent role in it all. In contrast to Grandfather, Grandmother saw Father’s promotion not as a sign of his success but of his damnation—and, by extension, the damnation of Germany.