The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Some books are my favorite because they took me to amazing, wonderful places, they made me laugh, they helped me smile again, and they gave me friends when I was lonely.

Other books are my favorite because they made me cry.

And not cry like they do in the movies, where one solitary tear traces down the heroine’s cheek while she gazes dramatically into the distance at a gorgeous sunset while angels sing in the background and an orchestra plays heartbreaking music to emphasis that she is indeed very sad.

I mean like sitting on my bed with a mound of tissues, sobbing my heart out while my siblings give me weird looks and wonder if they should take me to the emergency room. Or a mental hospital. Or both.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is one of my all time favorite books for just that reason.

Apparently there was a movie made after this book. I never saw it, and doubt I ever will see it. This story was brutal and heartbreaking enough on the page, even when told in the naive, nearly clueless perspective of a little boy who didn’t understand who the ‘Fury’ was or why his father was making them move to ‘Out-With’.

Whether he understands it or not, Bruno, a nine year old German boy growing up amid the turmoil of WWII, is forced to follow along with his father’s—and the ‘Fury’s’—wishes. His entire family: father, mother, and sister, are all moved to ‘Out-With’, and his new life there begins.

At first, it seems like a very dull place. His only neighbors are strange people behind a high fence, people who wear stripped pajamas and go about with their heads shaved. His father is in charge of this strange camp, and most days Bruno doesn’t see him at all. His sister is going through her ‘difficult’ stages, as he sees it, and he is bored and lonely.

Until he happens across Schmuel, a boy his own age, who lives on the other side of the fence.

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The odd pair become friends, despite the barriers between them, and Bruno starts to feel at home in ‘Out-With’. But ‘Out-With’ is not a place for a nine year old, and his peace doesn’t last long.

Thus, the horrors of the Nazi regime and of Auschwitz are hidden behind innocence. Through clever wording and brilliant insight, we see one of the worst atrocities in human history through the eyes of a nine year old boy, demonstrating powerfully that children have to be taught to hate. As much as I enjoyed reading this book, it was one of the most painful books I’ve ever read, and not one I have the stomach to open often. Still, I think it’s one that everyone should read at one point or another. As George Santayana states so eloquently, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

“Well, don’t be long,” said Gretel rudely—because unlike Bruno she never stopped to think about the fact that Maria was a person with feelings just like hers.

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