Summary: Chapter 13
As the weeks passed, Bruno realized his family would not return to Berlin anytime soon. However, his visits with Shmuel prevented him from feeling too unhappy about his new life.
Every day after his lessons, Bruno stuffed his pockets full of bread and cheese to take to Shmuel. One day, Maria caught Bruno sneaking food. He lied and told her he might grow hungry on his afternoon walk. Bruno also took the opportunity to ask Maria about Pavel. He wanted to know why Pavel said he was a doctor since he as worked a servant. Maria explained that Pavel was a doctor before coming to Out-With. She offered to tell Bruno everything she knew about Pavel’s life, provided he promised not to tell anyone. Bruno eagerly agreed.
At their usual meeting place, Bruno passed Shmuel the bread and cheese through the fence and apologized for being late. He explained about Pavel and asked if Shmuel knew him since he was a doctor. Shmuel didn’t know Pavel. There were thousands of people on his side of the fence, and they had little need for doctors since the soldiers didn’t want the people on his side to get better.
Bruno changed the conversation and announced that he wanted to become a soldier when he grew up. Shmuel said there were no good soldiers, but Bruno insisted that Father was a good soldier. Shmuel tried to tell Bruno how bad things were on his side of the fence, but instead of responding, Bruno asked if Shmuel had any sisters. When Shmuel said he didn’t, Bruno congratulated him and complained about Gretel and her crush on Lieutenant Kotler. Shmuel grew pale and asked Bruno not to talk about Lieutenant Kotler. Bruno agreed that the soldier was scary.
At dinner that evening, Bruno noted that Pavel looked thinner and weaker. During the meal, Bruno complained about Herr Liszt’s focus on history. Father insisted on the importance of the subject: “If it wasn’t for history, none of us would be sitting around this table now. . . . We are correcting history here.”
Lieutenant Kotler, who had joined the family for dinner, said he had always preferred the social sciences over the arts despite the fact that his father was a literature professor. Lieutenant Kotler hadn’t kept up with his father since he took a teaching job in Switzerland in 1938. Father began to ask Lieutenant Kotler questions about his father’s age and his reasons for leaving in 1938, “at the moment of [Germany’s] greatest glory and her most vital need.” Lieutenant Kotler grew anxious and said he didn’t know why his father had left, only that he may have had disagreements with government policy. Father dropped the subject, implying he would continue the conversation with Lieutenant Kotler later in private.
Father called for more wine. Pavel refreshed his glass, but when he turned to fill Lieutenant Kotler’s glass, he dropped the bottle into the soldier’s lap. Bruno and the rest of the family looked on as the soldier attacked Pavel.
Summary: Chapter 14
Weeks passed, and Bruno continued to sneak out after his lessons. One day, Shmuel had a black eye, but he didn’t want to talk about it. Bruno asked if he could crawl under the fence so they could play on Shmuel’s side. Shmuel said no and wondered aloud why Bruno wanted so badly to leave his side of the fence, which was much nicer. Bruno asked why they wore the striped pajamas, and Shmuel responded that the soldiers had taken their clothes when they arrived. Bruno disliked his own uncomfortable clothes and felt jealous that others got to wear pajamas all the time.
A few days later, it rained, so Bruno couldn’t go to meet Shmuel. Gretel burst into Bruno’s room to complain about her boredom. Bruno sympathized with her and said that if it weren’t raining, he’d be with Shmuel. Gretel asked who he was talking about, and Bruno lied, saying he’d created an imaginary friend for himself. Gretel believed the lie and asked what Bruno did with his imaginary friend, and he said, truthfully now, that they talked about their lives. Bruno said that just yesterday his friend had told him his grandfather was missing.
Gretel said his friend sounded like “a barrel of laughs” and warned that he should stop pretending before Father found out. Inwardly, Bruno regretted not having tried to cheer his friend up, and he wondered if Shmuel was thinking about him just then.
Analysis: Chapters 13–14
As shown in Chapter 13, Bruno cared for Shmuel but simultaneously failed to listen closely to what his friend tried to tell him. Bruno noticed during their daily conversations that Shmuel had grown thinner and always seemed hungry. In order to help his friend stave off hunger, Bruno started stealing food from the kitchen. In addition to the general risk Bruno took to visit with Shmuel each day, the fact that he also risked getting caught for stealing food demonstrates that he truly cared about his new friend’s well-being. Yet in their conversations together, Bruno often failed to listen to Shmuel. Bruno consistently reverted to subjects of particular interest to himself. For instance, when Shmuel attempted to describe the horrific conditions he lived in, Bruno changed the subject and asked Shmuel if he had any sisters. Had Bruno listened to Shmuel’s story of his life, presented in Chapter 12, he would have known that Shmuel had only one sibling, his brother, Josef. But Bruno only asked this question so that he could complain about Gretel. This kind of tactic shows a level of selfishness that coexisted with Bruno’s growing care for Shmuel.
Father’s comment at the dinner table about correcting the wrongs of history further develops the motif of German history that has already appeared in several chapters. Mother’s comment in Chapter 7 regarding Herr Roller is an earlier example of the same motif. Whereas Bruno considered the man insane, Mother clarified that he suffered psychological afflictions that stemmed from his experience fighting in World War I. With a pitying tone, Mother reflected that many other young Germans suffered greatly as a result of that war. Mother’s comment foreshadowed the moment in Chapter 9 when Herr Liszt insisted on the importance of studying history, which would elucidate “the great wrongs” that had been committed against Germany. Here in Chapter 13, Father’s claim about the importance of history takes these earlier comments a step further. If, as Mother and Herr Liszt have already suggested, great wrongs had been committed against Germany, then those wrongs needed to be addressed. And as Father implied, his work at Out-With aimed to “correct” these great wrongs of history that had been perpetrated against Germany and the German people. In addition to furthering the motif, Father’s comment provides greater clarity regarding the broader historical background against which Bruno’s story plays out.
When Lieutenant Kotler viciously attacked Pavel during dinner, he did so out of fear for his personal well-being. Bruno noticed over the course of dinner that Lieutenant Kotler grew increasingly anxious, particularly after he explained how his father had taken a job in Switzerland in 1938. Father immediately began to interrogate the young soldier. From Father’s perspective, it seemed very suspicious that a German would leave the country in 1938. At that time, the Nazi Party had begun its offensive by marching troops into Czechoslovakia. Father referred to these events obliquely, commenting that 1938 foreshadowed “the moment of [Germany’s] greatest glory.” Even more suspicious than the time of departure was the place to which Lieutenant Kotler’s father fled. Switzerland remained politically neutral during World War II and provided safe haven for Jewish refugees seeking asylum. Although Father didn’t announce his theory aloud, the reader can deduce that he suspected Lieutenant Kotler’s father of being a Jew. And if his father was Jewish, that meant Lieutenant Kotler was Jewish as well. Fearing the implications of Father’s interrogation, Lieutenant Kotler attempted to show his loyalty to the Nazi Party by brutally beating Pavel, a Jewish man.
By the end of Chapter 14, Bruno begins to grow into a more self-reflective person, particularly with regard to his friendship with Shmuel. Even in Chapter 13, Bruno remained self-centered in his conversations with Shmuel. Bruno consistently failed to listen to his friend and instead steered the discussion back toward whatever interested him. By contrast, Chapter 14 reveals a development in Bruno’s ability to reflect on his own behavior within the context of his new friendship. The impetus for this development came during the rainy day when Bruno couldn’t visit Shmuel. Clearly missing his friend, Bruno accidentally mentioned Shmuel while talking with Gretel. In this moment, Bruno realized how much Shmuel meant to him. For this reason, after convincing Gretel that Shmuel was an imaginary friend, Bruno began to discuss the real details of their relationship. In the process of relating things that he and Shmuel had actually discussed, Bruno could take a new, more distanced perspective on their friendship. This perspective enabled him to see his own failure to listen closely to Shmuel. It also gave him the empathy to recognize “how sad that must have made his friend.”