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Life changed little at Out-With in the ensuing weeks. Gretel remained unkind as ever, and soldiers like Lieutenant Kotler continued to walk around as if they were more important than everyone else. Eventually, Father decided that Gretel and Bruno needed to return to their studies, and a man named Herr Liszt started coming to the house to tutor them. Though Herr Liszt was outwardly kind, Bruno sensed anger in the man. Bruno also felt disappointed that the new tutor refused to teach art and literature. Herr Liszt insisted that stories were useless and vowed to focus solely on history and geography. He believed the children should know the history of “the Fatherland” and “the great wrongs” that had been done to the German people.
A few days after the new lessons began, Bruno sat alone in his room and recalled how he’d spent his childhood exploring his family’s massive house. He decided to try exploring again, though he’d have to do it outside since the new house was too small. Bruno thought about the people in the striped pajamas outside his window, and he realized that in the months his family had been at Out-With, he hadn’t wondered much about who they were or what they were doing there. He asked himself if those people were really all that different from the people on his side of the fence. He’d seen soldiers mix in with the people in the striped pajamas on the other side of the fence, but he’d never seen people in striped pajamas on his side of the fence.
Setting off to explore, Bruno left the house and started walking along the fence. As he walked, he tried not to think about the fact that his parents had expressly forbade him from going anywhere near the camp.
Bruno walked along the fence for nearly an hour. During that time, he didn’t see anyone near the fence. But suddenly he saw a moving dot in the distance, and as the figure moved closer, the dot grew bigger until Bruno saw it was a boy.
Bruno cautiously greeted the other boy, who wore striped pajamas and an armband with a star on it. The boy sat down on the ground, and Bruno examined him. He had grayish skin and large, sad eyes. He was also very skinny. Bruno announced that he’d been exploring and that he’d found very little except for the other boy. He introduced himself, and the other boy said his name was Shmuel. Bruno liked the sound of Shmuel’s name. When Bruno asked Shmuel how old he was, he said he was nine and that his birthday was April fifteenth. Shmuel’s answer shocked Bruno since he, too, was nine and shared the same birthday.
The boys continued to talk. Bruno asked Shmuel if he had any friends, and Shmuel indicated that there were more boys his age on his side of the fence. Bruno complained about being stuck on his side where he was the only boy. Bruno said he came from Berlin, and Shmuel said he came from Poland. Neither boy knew where in Europe Poland was located, but Shmuel explained that they were in Poland now. Shmuel said he came from a much nicer part of Poland, and Bruno insisted that wherever it was it couldn’t be as nice as Berlin.
Bruno told Shmuel he wanted to be an explorer when he grew up. He explained that the important thing about exploring is that you have to know whether what you find is interesting and hence worth learning about or else dangerous and hence better left alone. Bruno thought Shmuel belonged to the first category, and he proceeded to ask his new friend what all the people were doing on his side of the fence.
The lessons Herr Liszt provided to Bruno and Gretel sought to impart a problematic narrative about how history had victimized Germany. Herr Liszt insisted that the only subjects worth studying were history and geography. He believed that these subjects had superior value because they illuminated “the great wrongs” the rest of Europe had committed against the German people. Herr Liszt did not elaborate more fully on the nature of these “great wrongs.” However, it is widely known that, following its defeat in World War I, Germany’s economy and international reputation declined significantly. Humiliated by loss and dissatisfied by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which brought the war to an official end, Germany suffered something of an identity crisis. In 1919, Adolf Hitler founded the Nazi Party (then called the German Workers’ Party) to address this identity crisis. The Nazi Party promoted nationalist pride in the German “Fatherland” and erroneously identified the Jewish people as the source of Germany’s woes. By the 1930s, the Nazi Party had grown into a movement, which then led to the Holocaust of the 1940s during which many Germans believed the “great wrongs” of history would be righted.
Read more about the motif of the great wrongs of history.
Bruno’s love of literature (as opposed to history and geography) indicates a capacity for imagination and empathy that led directly to his new friendship with Shmuel. The interest Bruno had in literature stemmed in part from the plays his grandmother used to write for the family’s Christmas festivities but even more so from his love for adventure stories. Much like the medieval knights-errant he so cherished in these stories, Bruno fancied himself an explorer. As Bruno informed Shmuel, explorers commonly encounter things they find strange, and they must learn to differentiate between what’s interesting and what’s downright dangerous. Learning to decipher such a difference requires an open mind and a capacity for imagination, and when Bruno encountered Shmuel, he had an open-enough mind to judge the boy as interesting rather than dangerous. Furthermore, even though Bruno’s expedition along the fence started out as part of a childish fantasy, that fantasy resulted in a real-world encounter with a strange-looking boy. Thus, Bruno’s openness to imaginative play led directly to his new friendship with Shmuel.
Read more about adventure stories as a motif.
Symbolically, Bruno and Shmuel function as narrative doubles. As the two boys learned during their first conversation, they were born on the exact same day. Their shared birthday made Bruno and Shmuel twins of a sort. And yet, despite this twinning, one crucial factor divided these boys. Whereas Bruno was born a German, Shmuel was born to a family with Jewish ancestry. This accident of birth placed the boys on opposite sides of a social and historical divide. According to the ruling ideology of Germany’s Nazi Party, Jews were the enemies of the German people. Father alluded to this ideology back in Chapter 5 when he informed Bruno that the people in the striped pajamas were “not people at all.” According to this logic, Bruno and Shmuel were mortal enemies and actually members of different species. Thus, despite being twins of a sort, the two boys also stand in opposition to one another. At once the same and yet different, Bruno and Shmuel represent a complex narrative doubling.
Read more about the motif of doubling.
Although Bruno showed a capacity for open-mindedness when he befriended Shmuel, he also thoughtlessly repeated learned biases during their first conversation, reflecting his sheltered and racist upbringing. As Bruno and Shmuel introduced themselves and bonded over their shared dislike of Out-With, they told each other about where they grew up. Bruno informed Shmuel that he’d spent his childhood in Berlin, and he boasted about the greatness of his home city. Shmuel told Bruno that he’d grown up in a Polish city that was much more beautiful that Out-With. When Shmuel praised his own home city, Bruno’s first reaction was not to ask more questions about where Shmuel grew up or to compare notes about the people and places they knew. Instead, he simply announced that Berlin was superior then went on to claim that “Germany is the greatest of all countries.” In making this claim, Bruno mindlessly repeated an idea that he had heard frequently in his own home and that Herr Liszt reinforced in his lessons. Despite having virtually no first-hand experience of places outside of Germany, Bruno mimed the bias in favor of “the Fatherland” that he had learned from adults.
Read more about the power of friendship as a theme.