Main Themes In The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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2008, the year The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was released to theaters and it automatically became a huge hit, and still is today. A movie directed through a 9 year old’s perspective which with it came a message so big that it touched the hearts of people worldwide. Addressing the Holocaust, the movie touched subjects of boundaries, family and friendship, and innocence/ignorance in which speak into issues still relevant today.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a fictional fable of the holocaust which mainly projects Bruno’s, a nine-year-old boy who is the son of a German Commandant during World War II, experience of the historical situation. The movie starts off when his father is promoted to a higher position in the Nazi army in which him and his family have to be relocated to Auschwitz, where the father will be a commander of the concentration camp. When Bruno asks repeatedly why the family must leave Berlin and all his friends, his Mother tells him that Hitler has “big plans” for his father, but never enlightens him as to what exactly those plans are. When arriving at his new house, Bruno takes it on himself to adventure around his property where he comes across a concentration camp. Curious of his discovery, Bruno is trying his best to ask his parents as well as people around him what exactly goes on in the camps but nobody really seems to want to answer. In his new home he has many servants to help with house chores and within them is a little boy named Shmuel whom he had seen at the camp when he went on his house adventures. He starts visiting Shmuel through the camp’s fence but didn’t think anything bad about the place for he thought it was just a secluded land and that Shmuel and his family live there voluntarily. Bruno’s innocence, and his sense that there are some questions best left unasked is a prevailing theme throughout the movie. Presumably, Bruno is left in the dark about so much of what his family does and why they do it in order to save his innocence, but this innocence ultimately leads to his death. Bruno’s innocence and his family’s ignorance of what is happening in Germany during the 1940s represents the German soldiers and citizens who complied with and did not interfere with the Nazi Party’s actions. But not only does the innocence that Bruno’s family force on him become a reflection of the ignorance that so many Germans enforced on themselves throughout that horrific event, it also ties in with things we see today. Everyday people act as if they don’t know about the families being separated at the border. Even the modern Holocaust going on in China where muslims have been held in detention centers for years now is something that has just recently been brought to light. As the Mexican saying goes, “Ojos que no ven, corazon que no siente”, which translates to “eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t hurt” and projects exactly what people nowadays are living by. They pretend to not know or see the cruelty in today’s world just so they don’t feel guilty for their actions like the Germans when complying with something they knew was not okay.

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Another prevailing theme in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is one of boundaries. From day one Bruno is told where he can’t go and what he can’t do and the reasons for these boundaries are rarely explained to him. He is never allowed into his Father’s office and he is often shooed away from dinner parties and important conversations. These boundaries, whether they are social or physical ones, such as a closed door or a fence all have major consequences. Because Bruno does not feel that he can ask his family who the people in the on the other side of the fence are and his family never cared to enlighten him on the current world situation, it leads him to break the boundaries for once and crawl under the fence as an act of bravery and curiosity, which ultimately leads to his and Shmuel’s deaths. Despite the fact that decades now separate the terror of camps such as Auschwitz from our world today, we are not that far off. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas shows how easy it can be to get caught up in such inhuman acts when people are forcibly divided and unable to discuss the consequences of current affairs. Human rights violations aren’t that far away, just on the other side of a fence, and at this day and age they are just getting closer.

Bruno, as a nine-year-old boy, hated these boundaries and loved nothing more than to explore. Which is how he came to meet Shmuel and despite the boundaries and barriers between them, the boys develop a relationship based on conversation. Family and friendship are both important for Bruno but because he has not been raised with a hatred for Jews, despite the fact that his dad is a high-ranking Nazi officer, Bruno is then torn between his friendship with Shmuel and his family’s wants. He knows that he shouldn’t be going near the fence because of what his parents have told him but he feels drawn to it because of the bond he feels with Shmuel. And ultimately although Bruno knows very little about why Shmuel is in the camp or why they shouldn’t be talking, Bruno ultimately allows his friendship with Shmuel to override his parents rules. While Bruno feels respect for his Mother and Father, he understands that all is not okay at home. Mother is very unhappy with the move from Berlin and with the new job Father becomes even more secretive and commanding. Bruno is torn between his positive experiences with other people in the camp, such as Pavel who had worked in their house and even bandaged his knee when he fell off a swing, and the descriptions he hears from his parents about these “opposite” people. This tension ultimately serves to depict the spread of the idea claiming the Germans to be greater than all other nationalities by the Nazi Party during World War II, particularly in respect to the Jews. At the end of the story, with his head shaven, Bruno can find very few differences between himself and Shmuel and dies the same death as all the Jews his father puts in the concentration camps. Ultimately despite differences of race, nationality, gender and religion, at the end of the day we all desire companionship and deserve the basic human rights.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was a movie over its time, still being very popular today. It was a heartbreaking narrative of a boy who was destined to help a friend a prove that the people in the pajamas, the Jews, weren’t bad people but doing that led to his demise. It was revolved around the holocaust and gave us an insight on the camp’s general’s perspective, (mainly) a general’s child, and a holocaust victim himself. This movie was chosen for it connects to all three aspects of friends and family, innocence and ignorance, and boundaries.

Works Cited

  1. “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.”, 14 Nov. 2008,
  2. Buckley, Chris, and Austin Ramzy. “Facing Criticism Over Muslim Camps, China Says: What’s the Problem?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Dec. 2019,
  3. “Culture and Context.” Lsccenglish,
  4. Gray, Michael. “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: A Blessing or Curse for Holocaust Education?” Holocaust Studies, 2014,


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