The book opens with a young male, 9 years of age in Berlin during World War II. He walks into his room and sees the family maid Maria packing all his things - even his top secret things. When he asks the maid what she is doing, he is told to speak to his mother who informs him that his father has been promoted and they are all moving to "Out-With". Throughout the book the child refers to Auschwitz as "Out-With" because he cannot understand the word (you know how children are when they are learning new words, they mispronounce them.)
This young man is the only one to notice the people behind the fence, and question why they are there. When he asks his father who those people are his father replies that they aren't people at all. Bruno (the child) doesn't understand what his father means - for they are people - they have 2 legs, 2 arms, a head, walk like humans - how can they not be? One day Bruno decides that he will explore this strange place were people are separated by this huge fence and all wear gray striped pajamas. While exploring Bruno meets another young boy named Shmuel who is the exact same age, and after talking to Shmuel for a bit they both discover that they are in fact born on the same day - April 15, 1934. Soon Bruno and Shmuel form a strong relationship and talk to each other throughout the year. One day Bruno's mother wants to move her kids back to Berlin, telling her husband the Commandant that this is no place for children. Bruno goes to Shmuel with the sad news, and they both decide that for their last meeting Bruno should join Shmuel on the other side of the fence.
There are few of us in the world today who deny the existence of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is a very sensitive subject and like the author said ..."after all, only the victims and survivors can truly comprehend the awfulness of that time and place; the rest of us live on the other side of the fence . . . trying in our own clumsy ways to make sense of it all." John Boyne did a wonderful job of viewing the Holocaust through the eyes of 9 year old. Bruno and his grandmother were the only two to see the horror of war time Germany and questioning it's 'policies'. What matters the most is Bruno got that everyone is the same - age, race, sex, religious and political backgrounds don't matter. We all are the same, individual in our own way - yes, but the same. We are all human.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. New York (c) 2006