The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Characters

Bruno

The main character in the story. Born on April 15, 1934, Bruno is a nine-year-old boy and a son of a Nazi commandant. Bruno and his family move to Auschwitz concentration camp, where Father's job is. Bruno was initially unhappy at Auschwitz (which his sister Gretel mistakenly picks up as 'Out-With'), because he misses his life in Berlin (Germany). Bruno frequently says that he is unhappy in 'Out-With', as there were no boys his age to play with and that his new house there made him feel cold and unsafe.

Bruno decides to explore the camp, which he can see from his bedroom window. His exploring brings him to a wire fence, and he sees a boy his age sitting down on the other side of the fence and wearing 'striped pyjamas'. Bruno finds out the boy is called Shmuel. Over time, Bruno and Shmuel become close friends. Bruno does not tell anyone about his friend, Shmuel.

The story is told in the third person but from Bruno's point of view, which shows how his innocence and naïvete was preserved even after being brought to live near a death camp. He and Shmuel die at the end of the story in a gas chamber holding hands.

Mother

She was the wife of a Nazi commandant. Mother was opposed from moving to Auschwitz concentration camp from the start, as she thought it was not a suitable place for her children, Bruno and Gretel, to grow up in.

Mother was also prejudiced against the Jews, much like many other Germans at the time of the story. Thus, Mother was shocked to find that Pavel, a Jewish inmate at the camp, had cleaned Bruno's wound after he fell from a swing. After that, Mother's opinion of Jews had changed and she found that the stories spread about Jews weren't true at all. Knowing that Pavel would get in trouble if the commandant found out that Pavel had cleaned Bruno's wound, Mother protected Pavel by saying that if anyone asked, it was Mother who cleaned Bruno's wound, a move that Bruno mistakenly thought as a selfish one.

Mother convinces her husband to let her and the children move back to Berlin, but is delayed as Bruno mysteriously disappears shortly beforehand.

Father (Ralf)

He is Bruno's father and was one day visited by The Führer (which Bruno mistakenly pronounces as 'The Fury') and promoted to the job of being Commandant of 'Out-With' concentration camp. He was the only one in his family who was happy of moving there, as he thought he was accepting the job and doing good for Germany. Father is respected and feared by the soldiers in 'Out-With'. However, while Father is successful in his work, he did not spend as much time with his family (Note in the story that Father rarely speaks with Bruno. In the few times that he did, it was to discuss matters of discipline with Bruno.)

Despite this and the fact that work seems more important to him, Father is a kind man who cares for his family, shown when Maria tells Bruno how Father had helped her by giving her a job as a maid when times were tough. Father was also deeply affected when Bruno disappeared and his wife and daughter move back to Berlin shortly afterwards, leaving him alone in his job. He treats other soldiers mercilessly and became very disliked. He was taken away from the camp afterwards by soldiers.

Maria

Maria is the family maid. Her mother used to be Bruno's Grandmother's dresser in the early days. It was a hard time for Maria when her mother dies. Father was kind enough to pay for Maria's mother's funeral and hospital fees out of his own pocket, even when he wasn't obliged to, as Maria's mother was an old family friend. Father also gave Maria a job as well as a home with Bruno's family. For this, Maria is very grateful to Bruno's father and defends him when Bruno calls Father stupid. However, when Father was promoted to commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, Maria started to doubt her image of Father's kind personality and wondered how he could do such a ruthless thing as mass murdering of Jews.

Maria is a kind woman and one of the few people that Bruno could really talk to, shown when Bruno tried to get Maria to agree with him that Out-With is a horrible place.

Lieutenant Kotler (Kurt Kotler)

Lieutenant Kotler is a 19-year-old soldier at Auschwitz concentration camp who works for Father. Kotler has blond hair, the ideal of the Nazis. He is disliked by Bruno for many reasons, one of them being the fact that Kotler calls Bruno 'little man' and ruffles his hair. Kotler also makes Bruno feel very cold and unsafe. Another reason why he is disliked by Bruno is that Shmuel was implied to have been beaten up (because of his bruises) after Kotler caught Shmuel eating the chicken Bruno had offered him.

At a point in the story, Kotler has dinner with Bruno's family. When Father asks about Kotler's family, Kotler reveals that he has not been in touch with his father, who went to Switzerland. At the time of World War II, Switzerland was famous for being a neutral area which supported neither the Allies nor Axis in the war. Any German who went to Switzerland at the time was considered a traitor who disagreed with Germany's motives.

Lieutenant Kotler admits to Father that he didn't report his own father, and when Pavel accidentally spills wine on him, Kotler over-reacts to show he is not a traitor by an angry (unspecified) treatment of Pavel that greatly upsets Bruno and Gretel.

It is hinted several times that Kotler is having an affair with Mother - they are often talking privately, she calls him "Kurt, precious" when she doesn't realise Bruno is listening, and any time Father is away, Bruno notes that Kotler is there when he (Bruno) goes to bed and when he gets up. Kotler is suddenly given a transfer after an angry altercation between Father and Mother late one night.

Shmuel

He is the same age as Bruno, down to the exact date of birth, who he became close friends with while being imprisoned at Auschwitz concentration camp, where he is a Jewish inmate. Shmuel is Polish. His mother used to teach language while his father made watches. Shmuel used to live with his parents and older brother, Josef, and sister Sophia above their family's watch shop, when one day some soldiers took his family away from their home. They stripped Shmuel of his valuables and possessions, including and especially his golden watch that his father made for him. His mother was separated from the family and Shmuel, his father and grandfather were sent to live in Auschwitz.

Before Bruno leaves Auschwitz, he and Shmuel go together on Shmuel's side of the fence to help Shmuel look for his father, who went missing. They got caught up in a group of men and were forced to march with them. They died in a gas chamber holding hands.

Gretel

Gretel is Bruno's older sister. Bruno refers to her as a "hopeless case" more than once. Bruno is annoyed by her friends (among others "the monster") because they mock him due to his height. Gretel is "considered the brightest girl of her class" therefore when Bruno shows her the concentration camp for the first time, through the window, she is determined to think carefully what it is that she is seeing. During their time at 'Out-With' Gretel develops a crush on Lieutenant Kotler. "Gretel was three years older than Bruno and she had made it clear to him from as far back as he could remember that [...] she was in charge." In the end of the novel Gretel moves back to Berlin with her mother. She spends a lot of time alone in her room crying because she misses Bruno so much.

Herr Liszt

Herr Liszt is a tutor who was assigned to teach Bruno and Gretel privately in Out-With, when Father decided that his children's education must go on. Herr Liszt disapproves of Bruno reading story books, and thinks that books that about real events are the only things that matter. Herr Liszt believes that Germany was robbed in World War I, and basically agrees with everything the German government are doing.

Pavel

Pavel is a Jewish inmate at Auschwitz concentration camp. He used to practice as a doctor but now peels vegetables for Bruno's family. He is a good man though he is treated badly because he is a Jew, one example being when Lieutenant Kotler treats him harshly after Pavel accidentally spills wine on him. He is a kind man who cleaned Bruno's wound after he fell from a swing.

Grandfather (Matthias)

He is retired and owns a restaurant in Berlin. On one time he had mentioned to Bruno how "he had managed to persuade Grandmother to marry him, despite his many faults". Grandfather is proud at the news his son, Father, has been promoted to commandant. This is because grandfather thinks that Father is serving his country for the better, contrary to Grandmother's beliefs.

Grandmother (Nathalie)

Grandmother used to be an actress and a singer. Every Christmas, she makes costumes for Bruno and Gretel and performs a play for the family with them. She is upset at the news of Father being promoted to commandant. She somehow wonders if it was her fault that Father thinks that having a smart uniform means he is doing something for the greater good, because she let him dress in costumes as well when he was a boy. She dies later in the story (chapter 16), her conflicts with Father left unresolved, something that Father regrets very much.

The Fury

'The Fury' is actually The Führer (which is to say Adolf Hitler) . He promotes Father to the job of being commandant at 'Out-With' concentration camp. He invites himself to dinner at Bruno's household and is seen by Bruno as 'quite the rudest guest he had ever witnessed'.

Eva

Eva comes along with The Führer to have dinner at Bruno's household. She is seen by Bruno as a beautiful and kind woman. Eva is actually based on a real-life figure who was close to Adolf Hitler. (see Eva Braun)


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