“What exactly was the difference? He wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pyjamas and which one wore the uniforms?”
There are very few books which tug at your heart, enter your heart and stay permanently in it and leaves you at a loss of words. This is one such book. I finished this book in a day and couldn’t stop my tears after reading. This book will forever stay with me.
A beautiful book about friendship and innocence set in the backdrop of one of the worst periods of human history in Nazi Germany.
It narrates the story of Bruno, whose father gets promoted to “Commandant”, which requires his family to leave Berlin and shift to Auschwitz, or “Out-With” as Bruno says.
Initially, Bruno doesn’t like his new home and misses Berlin and his three best friends terribly, and feels lonely at Auschwitz. He has an elder sister, Gretel, but doesn’t get along well with her, who according to Bruno is a “hopeless case” Bruno is very fond of exploring and often sees a house, as he calls it, which is really the concentration camp, and longs to see it. One day, in the afternoon, he sets out to explore the back side of the house and meets a boy, Shmuel, who coincidentally shares his birthday.
When Bruno first approached the boy, he was sitting cross legged on the ground, staring at the dust beneath him. However, after a moment he looked up and Bruno saw his face. It was quite a strange face too. His skin was almost the color of grey, but not quite like any grey that Bruno had seen before. He had very large eyes and they were the color of caramel sweets , and when the boy looked up at him all Bruno could see was an enormous pair of sad eyes staring back.
The boys become friends and Bruno, who doesn’t know why Shmuel is there, wearing pyjamas all day, expresses a desire to come to his side of the fence, thinking that there might be other boys like him to play. Bruno sneaks food for Schmuel and enjoys his afternoons with him, playing and talking.
One afternoon, Shmuel comes late to meet Bruno and looks very sad. Upon asking, he says that he can’t find his Papa. Bruno expresses a desire to help Shmuel to help find his Papa. Bruno asks Schmuel to bring him the striped clothes he wears and Bruno lifts the fence the next day and goes with Shmuel to the concentration camp. Bruno, who recently had a bout of lice, had to have his head shaved, which made it easier for him to remain unrecognized at the camp.
This scene is my favorite in the book, because both boys are so happy to see each other with no fence in between.
Bruno had an urge to give Shmuel a hug, just to let him know how much he liked him and how much he enjoyed talking to him over the last year. Shmuel had an urge to give Bruno a hug too, just to thank him for all his many kindnesses, and his gifts of food, and the fact that he was going to help him find Papa.
The end is something which I had not expected at all and kept crying all the time while reading it and after finishing it.
The author has highlighted the beautiful innocence of children, who really are angels. They know no religion, no hate, no discrimination. Bruno and Shmuel are two innocent souls, whose friendship is pure and pristine.
Actually, he said, looking down at Shmuel, ‘it doesn’t matter whether I do or don’t. They’re not my best friends any more anyway.’ He looked down and did something quite out of character for him: he took hold of Shmuel’s tiny hand in his and squeezed it tightly. “You’re my best friend Shmuel,’ he said. ‘My best friend for life.’
Let’s take a moment for all the souls who died in the concentration camps, who suffered for no fault of theirs.