"What happened then was both unexpected and extremely unpleasant. Lieutenant Kotler grew very angry with Pavel and no one - not Bruno, not Gretl, not Mother and not even Father - stepped in to stop him doing what he did next, even though none of them could watch. Even though it made Bruno cry and Gretel grow pale."
This is a description of one of the only acts of violence Bruno witnesses during the story. Lieutenant Kotler, the young soldier whom Bruno has always disliked, attacks Pavel for spilling a bottle of wine into his lap as he tries to refill his glass. Boyne purposefully leaves out the details of the violent act, allowing it to represent the large-scale violence of the Holocaust itself and, by extension, of any genocide. In this interaction, Bruno and his family represent bystanders who are disgusted and disturbed by the violence but nevertheless do nothing to interfere with it or stop it.
"I'm thirteen years old, for heaven's sake! I can't afford to act like a child even if you can."
This is Gretel's response to Bruno when he asks her if she has her own imaginary friend. He has just lied to her about Shmuel, having accidentally let the boy's name slip. Despite Gretel's insistence that she is too mature to act like a child, when she leaves his room, Bruno hears her talking to her dolls. This tension between her perception of herself as a teenager versus her childlike behavior characterizes Gretel as representative of her peer group in Nazi-occupied Germany. If her family had stayed in Berlin, she ostensibly would have been a member of the Hitler Youth.
"Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age."
Boyne issues a veiled call to action to the reader in the last statement of the story, after Father, devastated at having realized that his son has become the victim of his own concentration camp, is taken away from Auschwitz. Boyne means for the reader to consider just the opposite of this ironic comment: of course there are genocides occurring in this day and age, all over the world, and the reader is likely employing various coping strategies to ignore or dismiss them. This idea is a commentary on the perspective of those who allowed the Holocaust to occur while they remained removed from it, since it did not affect them personally. It applies to all witnesses to genocide in any time or place. The reader is meant to question how easy it is to watch "from a distance," as long as one is not victimized.
"Some people make all the decisions for us."
Mother says this aloud as she opens a box to unpack at the family's new home near Auschwitz. Bruno knows that when Mother uses the phrase "some people," she means Father. This quotation is representative of Mother's passive-aggressive discontent at the family's situation, as well as of women's general lack of power.
"A home is not a building or a street or a city or something so artificial as bricks and mortar. A home is where one's family is, isn't that right?"
Father says this to Bruno as part of his explanation of why Bruno ought to stop being upset about the family's move to Auschwitz. It is a reasonable, relatable thing to say, and the reader might agree with Father about what makes a home. In allowing the reader to relate to this otherwise horrible character, Boyne invites us to see our own humanity in the actions of the Nazis.
"Those people... well, they're not people at all, Bruno."
When Bruno asks Father about the Jews he has seen living on the other side of the fence, Father urges him not to worry about them or try to understand them. In this quotation, he offers the explanation for how the Nazis were able to carry out such atrocities against the Jews: they convinced themselves that they were not people, and therefore were not entitled to basic human rights or even to life.
"I think I've always been here."
This is Pavel's answer to Bruno when the young boy asks him how long he has been at Auschwitz. Pavel used to work as a doctor and has been relegated to work as Bruno's family's cook and server. He has been stripped not only of his profession, but of his humanity, and his resignation to his fate is clear in this answer. Prisoners at Auschwitz lost track of time and often lost track of their sense of self.
"The people you have to dinner in this house. Why, it makes me sick. And to see you in that uniform makes me want to tear the eyes from my head!"
This is Grandmother's reaction to the news that her son, Bruno's father, has been promoted by Adolf Hitler. She is referring to the evening in which The Fury and Eva had dinner with Bruno's parents, and isexpressing her disbelief and disapproval. Her character represents those Germans who did not support the rise of the Nazi party, but it also points to the powerlessness of women who might have had strong opinions. Their voices were not heard about the march toward world domination through genocide.
"It's so unfair. I don't see why I have to be stuck over here on this side of the fence where there's no one to talk to and no one to play with and you get to have dozens of friends and are probably playing for hours every day. I'll have to speak to Father about it."
In his first conversation with Shmuel, Bruno reveals how little he understands about the situation at Auschwitz. This quotation represents an instance of dramatic irony, in which the reader understands that Bruno has a backward conception of the way things are: while the situation is unfair, it is Shmuel who is "stuck" on the wrong side of the fence. This quotation represents Bruno's childlike misunderstanding of the Holocaust as well as his innocence at this point in the story.
"I'm very sorry, Shmuel...I can't believe I didn't tell him the truth. I've never let a friend down like that before. Shmuel, I'm ashamed of myself."
This is Bruno's apology to Shmuel after he fails to speak up for his friend to Lieutenant Kotler. It is implied to the reader that his inaction resulted in physical harm to Shmuel, and here is compelled to take responsibility for the pain he has caused. This moment sets him apart from Father and the other Nazis, who are causing pain on a much larger scale but do not take responsibility for it.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
In my opinion, many people are capable of being loving spouses or parents while treating others inhumanely. Nazi ideology targeted specific groups of people. The father most definitely participated in atrocities beyond our comprehension.... but he...