The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a children's novel in which Bruno, the 9 year old son of a high ranking Nazi Commandant, must move to Auschwitz when his father is posted there. Bruno does not understand why there is a fence between his new house and the camp; he does not understand who lives in the camp and why they must all wear the same striped pyjamas. One day, Bruno meets Schmuel, a 9 year old boy on the other side of the fence. The two strike up a friendship and meet whenever they can on their respective sides of the fence, to chat. Bruno continues to be ignorant about the conditions on Schmuel's side of the fence. After a year, Bruno's unhappy mother convinces her husband to let her and the children move back to Berlin. Bruno breaks the news of his imminent departure to Schmuel. They make a plan for Schmuel to bring a set of "pyjamas" to their next meeting, so that Bruno can put them on and slip under the fence, to help Schmuel look for Schmuel's missing father, as an adventure to mark their last day together. While Bruno is in the camp with Schmuel, many of the prisoners are rounded up, including Bruno and Schmuel, and are herded into a long, air tight room. Presumably, they are gassed to death. Bruno and Schmuel hold hands in the gas chamber, to the last. Bruno's father figures out what happened and becomes a broken man. When the Nazis are defeated, he goes willingly as a POW.
The story is shocking in its ending, all the more so because of the innocence of Bruno as he narrates his experience. The author does not pretty up the story, despite the fact that this is a children's book. Bruno's father is presented as a complex man, one who was a patient father, and who was kind to the maid, Maria, in paying for her mother's hospital and funeral expenses, and then taking her in as a maid when she had nowhere else to turn. Yet, he has ambitions to rise in the Nazi party. The mother, similarly, is loving towards her children, but she drinks heavily and has an affair with a young soldier.
Verdict: Horrifying depiction of Auschwitz told from the standpoint of the innocent 9 year old son of a high ranking Nazi officer. 4.5 stars out of 5.