The boy in the striped pajamas, a fictional story that is based off the German perspective of the holocaust. Taken place in Europe, a well-established family is moved to the countryside as the father is to proceed with his career as a German ss soldier. As the family is settled into their new home, his 8-year-old son Bruno sets off on an exploration quest to find something to pass the time in his secluded home life. In doing so, Bruno, one of the vital characters in this story, meets a boy his same age named Shmuel, they quickly become friends as the innocence of childhood is vastly demonstrated. Unbeknown, Bruno had stumbled upon a dreadful place, a concentration camp, unaware of the dangers at hand he continues his friendship with Shmuel, setting the tone for the unfortunate outcome soon to be revealed. In doing so we will come to understand the true monster behind the holocaust was the racism and fear it inflicted throughout the nation.

            In the beginning of the movie, the first scene you see is that of children playing in the streets, unaware of their surroundings they blindly run and laugh while all is well in their lives. While in the background a haunting scene has taken place, dozens of people marked as Jews, are being stuffed into the backs of trucks while being removed from their homes. This scene sets the tone for the time in history when the Jews were sent to the ghettos, then followed by concentration camps. Which creates one of the most monstrous scenarios the world will ever see, the holocaust. As the Jews were persecuted because they were viewed as the inferior race, one theory Jeffery Cohen, author of Monster theory states, “any kind of alterity can be inscribed across the monstrous body, but for the most part monstrous difference tends to be cultural, political, racial economic and sexual.” (Cohen, 7). The theory at hand allows for the audience to view the monster that has long been born; racism, discrimination and ignorance, growing in the hearts of the citizens, with little to no resistance to stop such acts. For the German citizens, life continued as normal for the military was doing their job ridding the streets of such vile vermin the Jewish people were stigmatized to be, creating the perfect environment for this monstrosity to rapidly flourish.

            Throughout the movie there is a reference between the two children, Grettle, Bruno’s older sister leans more towards the political preference as she takes company with a German soldier station to guard their home, while Bruno being his true self takes things at face value and learns lessons along his journey through life. with these in mind we can see the battle of the “monster” putting pressure on these children. For example, as the children have settled in and began their homeschooling, Bruno notices in the basement, all of Gretel’s dolls, stripped of clothing and tossed in a deep dark corner. Franticly running up the stairs to tell his sister what had happened, he bursts into the room to speak his truth only to notice the tidy bed and the walls covered in Nazi propaganda. Confused as to why such a change, Gretel states that she is now older and onto more serious topics rather than toys. The reference perceived was the battle between a metamorphic crossroad being met where the innocence of childhood and the desire of acceptance of others, is now on a different path that cannot be led back to one another.

            As Bruno clings to his innocence he sets out on an exploration, he knows there’s people at the “farm” he was able to see in his room and he is curious as to why they get to wear pajamas all day and have fun while he was locked in his house, bored. He then stumbles upon a concentration camp, unknowing of what it was and meets a boy names Shmuel. Soon enough Bruno and Shmuel become good friends with daily visits, Bruno begins asking questions to Shmuel. Discovering that they wear pajamas because the soldiers took their clothes away, and that the barbed wire fence isn’t to keep the animals in, its to keep the Jews in, Jews such as himself. Understanding that Bruno wants to play games, Shmuel explains that playing thru or over the fence can be very dangerous. Although Bruno doesn’t understand the severity he complies, seeking new ways to safely play with his friend. Caught between the difference between the desire for friendship and the reality that his father was in fact in charge of the camp, Bruno unknowingly faces Cohens theory that the monster always escapes, “ we see the damage that the monster wreaks, the material remains, but the monster itself turns immaterial and vanishes, to reappear someplace else.” (Cohen, 4). This meaning that the evidence of what his father is doing is evidently in Bruno’s face, yet he defends his father by saying, his father is a soldier, but not the kind that takes away clothes or locks children behind a gate, his father is a good man trying to make the world a safe place.

            Following Bruno’s discoveries of the truth at the camp, he then begins to question his lesson given in his schooling. With his sister reciting literature “The Jews slandered us and incited our enemies, the Jews corrupted us through bad books, he mocked our literature and our music everywhere his influence was destructive, the end result was our nations collapse. The aim of the Jew is to be the ruler of humanity, their aim is destructive.” (Gretel, pajamas). Rebelling against the lesson given, Bruno asks the instructor about the nice Jews, he responds with “if you ever find a nice Jew, you will be the best explorer the world will ever know.” Unsatisfied you can see Bruno sink into his chair as he ponders his new friends’ character. In hopes of achieving the corruption of his young mind the instructor tried to implement that the “monster is difference made flesh, come to dwell among us” (Cohen,7). By making the Jews into a terror, he will successfully implement the racism needed to keep the movement going long after his life here on earth is over. Following this lesson, the mother begins to realize that the smokestacks are starting to give off a horrid smell, in the midst of seeking an answer, she turns and looks at the soldier stationed at her residence. He gives an evil smirk, then says “they smell even worse when they burn don’t they?” piecing together the things she so desperately tried to avoid she then realizes that her husband is committing mass murders of the Jews and is disposing of their bodies through cremation. Immediately repulsed, she understood why his mother refused to have contact with the monster she birthed. Soon after the father has a party for his accomplishments during the war and brings some prisoners from the camp to help tidy the house up in preparation. In doing so an incident occurs where Shmuel is brought to dry glasses and gets caught eating a piece of cake Bruno gave him, removed from the house and beaten he reappears in the camp days later waiting on Bruno to return so they can make their piece. This scenario connects with the theory that racism is continually linked to forbidden practices in order to normalize and enforce its practices (Cohen, 16). From this moment on Bruno knew he had to help his friend escape that camp, which led to their plan to dig a whole under the fence, get Shmuel’s father and make their escape.

            As the plan is in motion, Bruno packs a sandwich and grabs his shovel as he makes his way hastily for Shmuel, meeting Shmuel at the gate he then changes into the pajamas then realizing he dropped the sandwich, which is later a key factor in his parents setting out to find him, under the fence he goes and he is finally in the camp. Proud that him and his friend look the same in their “pajamas” they move quickly to find Shmuel’s father. Beginning to feel anxiety, Bruno asks Shmuel to take him to the café, the one he had seen in the video being shown to the commanders, Shmuel looks at him confused and said they never had that there. The fear seeping deeper to his core Bruno is ready to turn around and leave the camp for it was not what he had originally thought it was going to be. Shmuel persuading his friend that everything is ok, manages to get Bruno into their bunker that is filled with fragile sick men. the guards come in and rush their prisoners to a gas chamber. Meanwhile this is going on the mother noticed her son was missing and alerted her husband immediately. Upon finding the sandwich at the window used to sneak out of the house they set out with dogs to track down Bruno. Arriving at the camp too late, the gas had already been circulated in the chamber and all the commander could do was stand in silence as his wife wailed at the sight of her sons clothes on the floor next to the hole dug under the fence.   

            According to The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, over six million men, women and children were killed during the holocaust, not only were the Jews a prime target but any person who strayed from the German standard of being. With this being understood the true monster in this clause is racism, ignorance and fear. Jeffery Cohen states in his theory the monster stands at the threshold of becoming, “Monsters are our children. They can be pushed to the farthest margins of geography and discourse, hidden away at the edges of the world and the forbidden recesses of our mind, but they always return. And when they come back, they bring not just a fuller knowledge of our place in history and the history of knowing our place, but they bear self-knowledge, and discourse all the more sacred as it arises from the outside.” (Cohen, 20). By stating this Cohen is saying that our children go and reap what they know whether they are taught to love and be accepting, or to condemn those who dare stray from their false reality. The monsters are those who are taught hatred, ignorance, and refuse to change their stance because of a prejudice that was passed to them from a racist advisor. The story the boy in the striped pajamas allowed for the audience to view two different outcomes, one where the daughter Gretel dove deep into the radical politics and sided with the monstrous acts that had been carried out on innocent people all for the fact that they were different from what Hitler deemed proper. While the other was that of an innocent child who refused to believe that these people were bad because of their heritage, Bruno saw the good in his friend and he undoubtedly followed his instincts to save him from the inevitable outcome. All the while the Nazi soldiers who implemented such cruel acts, turned out to be monsters in the eyes of the family as they carelessly killed their 8-year-old son. The act of the holocaust could have solidified hatred and death in the end but in reality after the holocaust was ended in the end of world war 2 it brought on a sense of pride, those who endured such punishment and survived went on to teach their children strength and kindness. For example in the book, Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memories gives us testimonies of children of survivors stating, “ first of all I think Im left with a lot of strength, because you cant have parents like this who survived some very very ugly experiences and managed to build a life afterwards and still have some hope.” (Langer, x). Being able to view this powerful statement shows us that the monster doesn’t always win, as evident as it may be and although it is never going to truly disappear, you can beat this monster with the ability to love, forgive and move past the persecution, only to come out stronger than before. The Boy in the striped pajamas, I believe has served its purpose to allow those who view things from all perspectives to perceive this atrocious act as it truly was and it does not allow for it to be glamourized or manipulated into something different. The root cause was racism, ignorance and fear and it was well implemented and demonstrated for all to etch into our hearts and minds forever. Although the holocaust has ended, the racism, fear, and ignorance it has endorsed and indented in our lives, it continues to thrive in our current generation, with no end in sight. With this being said, the film The Boy in The Striped Pajamas is a great film that I give an A+ on accurately portraying the holocaust from the onlookers perspective, very much so as The Schindler’s List which was a movie based off a real event in which a Nazi businessman went on to save thousands of Jews in the end of the war selling everything in his possession to save as many souls as possible. With these two films, the directors and cast properly give light to such horrific deeds, never watering down such horrid acts, and glorifying those who stood against Hitler the oppressor to save the innocent lives at stake in a game of politics, racism and ignorance.

Work Cited:

  • The Boy in The Striped Pajamas. Directed by Herman Mark, BBC Films, 2008, film.
  • The Schindlers List. Directed by Steven Spielberg, universal pictures, February 4, 1994, film.  
  • Cohen, Jeffery. Monster Theory. Univ Of Minnesota Press, November 15, 1996.

Halligan Fionnuala, The Boy in The Striped Pajamas. September 12, 2008, Screendaily, accessed April 13, 2020.