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In Chapter 11, the narrative shifts to the past, shortly after Father had received his promotion to commandant. Father came home one evening and announced that “the Fury” would come to dine at the house later that week. Bruno asked who the Fury was. After Father tried and failed to correct Bruno’s pronunciation of the word, Gretel explained that “the Fury” was Germany’s leader. Mother spent the next few days working diligently to prepare the house to receive their guest. In the hour before the man’s arrival, Bruno and Gretel came down dressed in their finest clothes. Father instructed them to talk to their guest only if he addressed them and to speak loudly and clearly like an adult.
The Fury arrived with his companion, Eva, and Bruno noted that the man appeared shorter and weaker than Father. He also had a mustache that seemed oddly shaped, as if he’d missed a part while shaving. Father introduced the guests to Bruno and Gretel. The Fury’s companion took an interest in the children and spoke with them at length. The Fury, however, said little. When Gretel announced that she could speak French, he responded curtly: “Yes, but why would you want to?” He then walked into the dining room, took a seat in Father’s chair, and impatiently called to Eva to come. The guests stayed for two hours, and Mother and Father argued after they left. A couple days later, Bruno came home to find Maria packing his belongings.
Chapter 12 returns to Bruno and Shmuel’s conversation as Shmuel answers Bruno’s question about what the people in the striped pajamas were doing in the camp.
Shmuel explained that he used to live with his parents and his brother Josef in an apartment above the store where his father mended and made watches. One day, he came home to find his mother sewing armbands with stars on them. She explained they would each have to wear an armband whenever they left the house. Bruno interrupted to note that Father wore an armband, but with a different symbol. Bruno said he’d like to wear an armband, but he didn’t know which symbol he preferred.
Shmuel continued with his story, describing how circumstances had changed a few months after he started wearing his armband. He came home one day, and his mother explained they couldn’t live in their apartment anymore. Bruno again interrupted to share his similar experience. Shmuel and his family were forced to move to a heavily guarded section of Cracow where they had to live in a cramped room with another family. They lived there for months. Shmuel’s parents argued a lot, and another boy named Luka constantly picked on him. Bruno said his sister, Gretel, picked on him too.
One day, soldiers arrived with large trucks and told everyone to leave their houses. Some people tried to hide. The trucks took the people to a train where they were crammed in so tightly they could hardly breathe. Bruno recalled the crowded second train he had seen when his family traveled to Out-With. He told Shmuel that he should have gotten on the less crowded train across the platform. Shmuel insisted that he couldn’t have gotten out since the train car had no doors. The train carried them to a cold place, and from there, they walked to Out-With. When they arrived, soldiers took Shmuel’s mother away, and he and his father and brother were forced to live in a hut.
Bruno wanted to know what kinds of games Shmuel played with the other boys and what it was like to explore on his side of the fence. Instead of answering, Shmuel asked if Bruno had any food. Bruno didn’t have any, but he said Shmuel should come to dinner at his house sometime. Either that, or he could go over and meet Shmuel’s friends. Bruno lifted the wire fence off the ground to show that he could crawl under it. Shmuel said he needed to go so he wouldn’t get in trouble. As he walked away, Bruno called out that he’d come back the next day. On his way back to the house, Bruno decided not to tell anyone about his new friend.
In Chapter 11, the reader learns that “the Fury” is Adolf Hitler. When the Fury, who was Father’s boss, came to dinner at the family’s house in Berlin, Bruno closely observed the man. His observations about the guest’s appearance clearly indicate that the Fury is Adolf Hitler. For example, Bruno noted that the man had an oddly narrow mustache that looked like the sides had been shaved and the middle section forgotten. This description matches the style of mustache Hitler wore and which became so closely associated with his appearance that it became known as the “Kaiser” (emperor) mustache. The narrator also presents a linguistic clue that further clarifies the Fury’s identity. Just as Bruno had previously misheard the name Auschwitz as “Out-With,” his use of the term “the Fury” to refer to Father’s boss represents another instance of mishearing. In this case, Bruno misheard the word Führer as “Fury.” Führer is a German word that means “leader,” and when Adolf Hitler came to power as Germany’s ruler, it was commonplace to refer to him by that word alone—“the Führer.”
Read more about how Bruno’s mishearing of Fuhrer as “Fury” reflects his perception of Hitler as an angry little man.
Significantly, the Fury made a negative impression on Bruno. Given the man’s reputation and the solemn way the adults in his life spoke of him, Bruno had expected to meet a great man whose strength and dignity commanded respect. Seen from Bruno’s childlike perspective, however, the Fury did not have an especially imposing physical presence nor did he conduct himself in a dignified way. Not only did he fail to address Bruno and Gretel with respect, but he treated his female companion, Eva, with rude impatience, “clicking his fingers as if she were some sort of puppy dog.” Finally, Bruno felt repulsed by the sense of entitlement on display when the Fury marched into the dining room alone and assumed the position at the head of the table. From Bruno’s point of view, the leader of Germany was neither great nor powerful but petty and weak. Bruno’s evaluation powerfully undermines the historical persona of Hitler as a charismatic leader. It also helps further establish the essential difference that separated Bruno from his Father’s faith in Hitler and the Nazi Party.
In Chapter 12, the two symbols that appear in the text provide a visual reference for the division represented by the fence. The first symbol is known as the Star of David, and it represents Jewish identity. The Star of David consists of two triangles superimposed on each other with one pointing up and another pointing down. As Shmuel noted, he and everyone else in his family had to wear an armband bearing this symbol whenever they left the house. The second symbol is known as the Nazi Swastika and featured prominently on the uniform of Bruno’s father. The Nazi Swastika features two Z-shaped figures superimposed on one another with one turned on its side. Although the Swastika symbol had existed for a long time in a variety of Eastern religions, the Nazis adopted it as an icon for their political party and its nationalist ideology. As becomes clear from Shmuel and Bruno’s conversation, these symbols stand in opposition to one another, and they serve to divide people into the same two groups that exist on either side of the fence: Jews like Shmuel and Germans like Bruno.
The continuation of Bruno and Shmuel’s conversation further develops the idea that the two boys serve as narrative doubles. In Chapter 10, Bruno and Shmuel learned that they shared the same birthday. Yet despite this remarkable similarity, their different life circumstances conspired to make them into enemies. The conversation between the two boys in Chapter 12 shows a similar set of convergences and divergences in their experiences. For instance, both of the boys experienced sudden, shocking changes to their everyday life. Each came home one day and learned that his family would have to leave their home with almost no warning. Also, each family moved to a far less pleasant place. Despite the surface similarities, however, the context for each move was very different. Whereas Bruno’s family elected to move so that Father could take command of the Out-With Camp, Shmuel’s family had no choice in their removal, first to the ghetto and then to Out-With. These examples reinforce the sense that Bruno and Shmuel are symbolic doubles.
Read more about how Shmuel and Bruno are symbolic twins.