Maria, Bruno’s maid, was packing his stuff into crates. He was shocked. Bruno was perplexed and felt he didn’t deserve it. Lars, the butler, was packing Mum’s things. The whole family was about to be sent away. Bruno had a sister named Gretel. However, he hated her much. Apparently it had something to do with Dad’s job. Dad had to perform a special job. The thing was that Bruno didn’t really understand what his dad did. Mum refused to tell him what it was. The family would have to leave the house behind. They were going to relocated quite a distance away. The family had to leave Berlin. Bruno would have to bid goodbye to his friends. His best friends were Karl, Daniel and Martin. Already, Bruno seemed to miss them much. Bruno did not like the sudden change. He would miss the banister in the house. There was a quarrel breaking out in his parents’ room but he couldn’t figure out what was happening.
We don’t have the luxury of thinking. Some people make all the decisions for us. – Mother
The new house in Poland was desolate and isolated in nature. The entire area felt very lonely and deserted. Berlin was much more vibrant. Make the best of a bad situation. Bruno still harboured hopes of returning home quickly. Mum convinced him that it would be their home for the foreseeable future. To Bruno, life wasn’t fair. The quality of the house paled in comparison to his old place. Bruno was still living in denial. He met an important man in uniform in Father’s room. That man was very serious. There was nothing interesting to do. For once, Bruno started feeling scared.
Gretel (his sister) was a bossy person. She had unpleasant friends too. She enjoyed cursing Bruno and laughing about it. Bruno was 9 years old but seemed like a 6 year old due to his size. This often led to bullying episodes in school. Bruno complained to his sister that he hated the place. Bruno admitted that he missed his friends at school. He spotted some other children out in the far.
Through the window, Bruno saw that there were plenty of guys with varying ages on the streets. There didn’t seem to be any girls outside. Near their house was a thick tall wired fence. The huts at the other end of the fence seemed very low and drapt. Gretel convinced him that those were part of countryside. However, there were no animals in sight at all. The ground was filled with dirt and wasn’t suitable for farming. It didn’t seem like a holiday camp. A soldier were making civilian men march. There were thousands of men out there. The soldiers seemed to be ordering the kids around. Bruno realized that everyone was wearing the same grey striped pajamas with a grey striped cap on their heads. It was common throughout. How extraordinary, he thought!
It was time to speak to Father. This is a flashback moment. Both trains were pointed eastwards. Bruno hadn’t seen his father around at all. Daddy looked good in his uniform. Bruno could not make out what they were saying. His dad seemed to commanding some men in the group. Father taught Bruno how to salute. His office was out of bounds. Bruno entered his office. His room was lined with books. Bruno wanted to head back to Berlin and made that clear to Dad. His dad wanted him to grow to like the new place. However, Bruno was insistent. Bruno criticized his ability for having to post at a weird location. Father didn’t recognize those in pajamas as people. During salute, Bruno had to say ‘Heil Hitler’, although he didn’t know it meant at all.
Bruno, sometimes there are things we need to do in life that we don’t have a choice in…and I’m afraid this is one of them. This is my work, important work. Important to our country. Important to the Fury. You’ll understand that someday. – Father
The painting condition was bad. Everything seemed horrible. Bruno started talking to the maid, Maria. Maria seemed to be choosing her words wisely. Maria believed his dad knew what was best. Bruno said ‘Stupid Father’. Maria was grateful to Daddy for hiring her as a maid. In the past, Maria admitted that Daddy did a lot of kind deeds for the family. Gretel demanded the maid to give her a shower. Maria persuaded him to stay put and do his homework and not think about running away or anything.
Herr Roller was a crazy neighbor he knew back in Berlin. Apparently after a war, he suffered a serious head injury that caused it to happen. Mom seemed to avoid the topic of war in front of Bruno. Bruno wanted to create a swing on a tree. Now, he went about seeking a type. He approached Lieutenant Kotler for one. Now, they started chatting and Bruno asked for a favor. Kolter shouted at an old man, Pavel, who walked by. Kolter ordered him to show Pavel where the tyre was and carry it for him. Bruno thought Kolter was a nasty man. Soon after making the swing, Bruno suffered a bad fall and went unconscious. Pavel treated Bruno with a first aid box. Thankfully, it was just a minor cut. The old man seemed kind. Pavel admitted he was a doctor. However, he had to peel vegetables for dinner as well. Bruno kept asking about his past and why didn’t he work at a hospital. ‘If the Commandant asks, we’ll say that I cleaned Bruno up.’ – Mum. She was trying to claim credit for something she didn’t do.
Bruno missed Grandfather and Grandma. Grandpa was 73. He worked at a restaurant. Grandma was 62. She loved to sing and entertain guests. She wrote her own plays. She also made costumes for Bruno and Gretel. Dad wore a new army uniform and now he commanded a lot more respect. She was pissed that the soldiers did horrible stuff to others. The children were led upstairs. Grandma stormed out of the room. Bruno wrote to her and wished he could be back at Berlin.
I wonder if all the performances I made you give as a boy led you to this. Dressing up like a puppet on a string. Standing there in your uniform as if it makes you something special. Not even caring what it means really. What it stands for. – Grandma
Gretel was often in a bad mood and Bruno hated it. The soldiers still had meetings in my dad’s office. Maria still kept the house in good order. Herr Liszt was a tutor who came in every morning and afternoon to conduct lessons. He wanted to teach Bruno about his family history and his roots. Bruno couldn’t do much exploring now. He wore his shoes and walked outside. He came upon people with striped pajamas. Who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms? Nobody in striped pajamas was invited to their house. Bruno wanted to be an explorer like Christopher Columbus when he grew up. He was not allowed to explore. Exploration was banned at Out-With (Concentration camp).
Bruno kept walking along the fence. He walked for about an hour. Suddenly, he seemed to spot a dot in the distance. It turned out to be a boy. There was a fence separating them. The boy wore the same striped pajamas as the others. The boy looked terribly sad and skinny. Bruno wondered why he looked so sad. The boy was Shmuel. They had the same birthday. It was a strange coincidence. Shmuel wanted to have some alone time. Shmuel admitted he was from Poland. Bruno overheard his dad saying in the past that Germany is the greatest of all countries. Shmuel admitted that they were all in Poland now, except that in a not very nice part of the country. Berlin was lovely, in comparison Bruno wanted to be an explorer when he grew up. Why are there so many people on that side of the fence? And what are you all doing there?
The thing about exploring is that you have to know whether the thing you’ve found is worth finding. Some things are just sitting there, minding their own business, waiting to be discovered. Like America. And other things are probably better off left alone. Like a dead mouse at the back of a cupboard. – Bruno
The Fury had something to discuss with Dad. He would be dropping by for dinner. The Fury runs the country. The house would have to be cleaned and a special meal would have to be served. Bruno and Gretel weren’t invited for dinner. They had to greet the Fury and speak clearly when asked questions. Dad wanted the kids to show him utmost respect. He established a set of ground rules for the kids. The Fury was a short man and didn’t look strong. The woman beside him was beautiful. The Fury walked into the kitchen and sat at the chair meant for the head of the table. Bruno felt that the Fury was an incredibly rude man. Two days later, Maria started packing his stuff into wooden crates.
The soldiers took Shmuel’s watch away from him. There was a need to wear an armband with a star on it. Bruno’s dad wore one with the Nazi symbol. Shmuel’s family and another family was forced to live together under one roof. It was incredibly cramped. There was a huge wall outside their house that the soldiers constructed. One day, huge trucks came to pick people up. The trains were awful and there was no air to breathe. There were no exit doors on the train. After the train stopped, the people were placed in huts. Bruno wanted to invite him over for dinner, but he knew that probably wasn’t the best thing to do. Bruno wanted to crawl under the fence to meet Shmuel. Shmuel started running back to his camp. Bruno didn’t want to tell his family about his adventure. Some things were best left as a secret.
Bruno started to ask Maria about Pavel. He was the doctor in town. Bruno knew that Pavel was a doctor previously, but why wasn’t he one anymore. Bruno met Shmuel later that day at the fence. He brought some food for Shmuel. Pavel was suspected to be living on the other side of the fence. Like Shmuel, Pavel was from Poland. There were others from Czechoslovakia as well. Bruno thought his father was a good soldier. The Fury had big plans for him. Lieutenant Kotler scares Shmuel and he would rather not be talking about him. The weather was getting colder by the day. Pavel seemed to be weaker and weaker. Bruno hated history. His father corrected him by saying that history brought them to where they were currently. Gretel and Bruno got into an argument again. Lieutenant Kolter admitted that he enjoyed history. Kolter’s father disappeared. Dad suspected him of having disagreements with government policy. Father didn’t want to continue with the conversation anymore. Pavel dropped the wine bottle and everyone was furious with him. Pavel had been a very kind man in general. Kotler was furious at Pavel for dropping the wine bottle. His old life in Berlin seemed like a distant memory.
Bruno continued to visit Shmuel at the fenced area. One day, Shmuel had a black eye and didn’t want to explain what happened. Bruno wanted to climb underneath the fence to the other side. Shmuel confessed that the prisoners took away their clothes. It was pouring heavily and it was not possible to meet Shmuel. Bruno found her sister really boring. Bruno hated the rain too. Accidentally, Bruno revealed that he should have met Shmuel today. Bruno admitted he had an imaginary friend. Gretel thought he was a hopeless case. Instinctively, Bruno knew he got away with the lie. After relating his conversation with his imaginary friend, Bruno realized how sad Shmuel’s life was. Shmuel seemed to become thinner and thinner. Bruno had to control his appetite especially when he knew the food was meant for Shmuel. Bruno created a list of why he didn’t like Lieutenant Kolter. He shot a dog for no reason. Kotler called Bruno little man. He took his book and didn’t want to return it back. It was Dad’s birthday. Bruno was raging inside. Shmuel was at his house. Kotler was the one who brought Shmuel over. Shmuel was tasked with polishing the glasses. Shmuel’s hands were all skinny and it was obvious that he was starving. Bruno wanted to give him cold chicken. As Kotler was about to return, Shmuel didn’t want to receive food from him. Kotler came into the room and suspected that Shmuel was eating. Kolter was incessant in his questioning. Bruno lied and admitted that it was the first time seeing him. Naturally, Shmuel would receive some form of punishment back at the camp. From then onwards, Shmuel was no longer at the fence. He didn’t feel pain anymore. Bruno was very apologetic. Shmuel held out his hand and Bruno touched it.
Grandma passed away. The family returned to Berlin for the funeral. Gradually, Bruno realized it wasn’t that bad at Out-With. Kotler had been transferred away. Bruno loved his new best friend, although they never played together. Gretel threw away her dolls away and missed Kotler. Bruno wanted to find out more about the fence from his sister. Gretel informed him that the Jews and Germans could not mix. She admitted that Germans hated them. Gretel suddenly screamed for no reason. Both Bruno and his sis had lice in their hair. Bruno had his head shaved. Now, he looked like Shmuel.
Mother hated life at Out-With. She could not take it any longer. There was a chance of returning to Berlin. Gretel was no longer a hopeless case. Life went on as normal. Bruno didn’t cause any trouble. Father suggested heading back to Berlin. The Fury would not relieve Dad of his duties yet. Father thought Mum was right. He felt that it was time to go home. Now, Bruno had to break the news to Shmuel.
Shmuel finally met Bruno. Shmuel’s dad didn’t return home. Bruno was optimistic and hoped that he would return. Soldiers hated the Jews. Bruno would miss Shmuel once he had to return to Berlin. Bruno had his head shaved and thought that it would be smart to wear a pair of striped pajamas so that he could be at the opposite side of the fence. The aim was for both of them to look for Papa.
It was pouring and fortunately, the rain stopped after a while. Bruno was all muddy and it would be difficult to explain why he was so wet. Shmuel brought him a pair of striped pajamas. Bruno put the clothes on. Bruno had to walk in the mud. There were soldiers shouting at men which were not well clad and malnourished. Bruno wanted to find evidence. The sky got darker. It was time for the prisoners to go on marches. Bruno kept holding Shmuel’s hand and didn’t want to let go.
You’re my best friend, Shmuel. My best friend for life. – Bruno
Bruno vanished from the face of the Earth. Gretel returned to Berlin with his mum. Father missed Bruno a great deal.