Bruno and Shmuel’s friendship in “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne

John Boyne compellingly portrays the theme of friendship and how important it is in Bruno and Shmuel’s lives in his 2006 book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Boyne developed this theme and made it a central part of the story, with it eventually leading to tragedy. Bruno and Shmuel’s unique friendship crosses barriers, both physical (the fence) and metaphorical (Bruno is the son of a Nazi and Shmuel is Jewish). They are able to have a friendship though there is a cultural and physical barrier between them. Their bond helped them get through the challenges that they faced because of the Holocaust.

Bruno and Shmuel met when Bruno went exploring and walked along the fence around Out-With camp. Bruno met Shmuel when he saw him walking toward him; they started talking because both of them were lonely and they looked around the same age. “Bruno slowed down when he saw the dot that became a speck that became a blob that became a figure that became a boy. Although there was a fence separating them, he knew that you could never be too careful with strangers and it was always best to approach them with caution. So he continued to walk, and before long they were facing each other. ‘Hello,’ said Bruno. ‘Hello,’ said the boy (page 106).” They soon found out that they were born on the same day: April 15, 1934. They started talking about why they were both at Out-With, though on different sides of the fence. The fence represents the divide between the Germans and the Jews at that time.

Bruno then started coming to the fence every day to talk to Shmuel. Their friendship gradually became deeper until talking to each other was what Bruno and Shmuel looked forward to every day. Bruno’s and Shmuel’s bond soon grew so strong that Bruno actually forgot the names of the three boys that he considered his “three best friends for life” in Berlin. He considered Shmuel much more important than them. “After all, when they’d first arrived he had hated it, due to the fact that it was nothing like home and lacked such things as three best friends for life. But that had changed for him over time, mostly due to Shmuel, who had become more important to him than Karl or Daniel or Martin had ever been (page 186).” He brought Shmuel food all the time

and they talked about everything.

Despite Bruno being a German and the son of a high ranking Nazi official and Shmuel being a Jew in the time of the Nazi regime, their friendship persisted. They weren’t able to play together, only to talk because of the fence around Out-With, but it seems that this actually strengthened their friendship. Talking and spending time together helped to alleviate their loneliness and distract Shmuel from the terrible things that he witnessed in the camp.

As time went on, Bruno and Shmuel’s friendship grew more complex but still helped them get through the challenges that they faced. Bruno walked into the kitchen on the afternoon before his father’s birthday party and, to his surprise, saw Shmuel in there polishing glasses. He decided to give Shmuel some chicken from the fridge. However, Lieutenant Kotler came in and noticed Shmuel eating. He asked Bruno if Shmuel was his friend and Bruno said no, though he felt terrible about betraying Shmuel’s trust and giving in to his fear. Shmuel then disappeared for a few days and when he came back, he had a black eye. Bruno asked Shmuel if he would forgive him, and Shmuel did. This shows just how strong their friendship is. Later, Bruno found out that he had to leave Out-With and go back to Berlin, and Shmuel also told him that his father was missing. Bruno and Shmuel decided to sneak Bruno into Out-With to look for Shmuel’s father. They got into Out-With, but they were swept up into a “march”. They went into a long and airtight chamber and Bruno apologized for not finding Shmuel’s father.

Then Bruno said that Shmuel was more important than his friends in Berlin ever were: “‘And I’m sorry we didn’t really get to play, but when you come to Berlin, that’s what we’ll do. And I’ll introduce you to … Oh, what were their names again?’ he asked himself, frustrated because they were supposed to be his three best friends for life but they had all vanished from his memory now. He couldn’t remember any of their names and he couldn’t picture any of their faces. ‘Actually,’ he said, looking down at Shmuel, ‘it doesn’t matter whether I do or don’t. They’re not my best friends anymore 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 (page 212-213).’” This shows just how strong their friendship is, that they would follow each other anywhere, even Out-With.

Bruno and Shmuel’s friendship started simply because they were both lonely for different reasons and wanted someone their age to talk to. As it progressed though, they found many similarities in each other and their friendship deepened. They started talking about more and more subjects, such as what they were doing in Out-With and how they had gotten there. Shmuel became more important to Bruno and Bruno to Shmuel than any of their other friends in their previous lives. When Bruno betrayed Shmuel by saying that he hadn’t given him food to Lieutenant Kotler, he felt terrible about it and was very worried when Shmuel didn’t show up for three days afterward. Their friendship was renewed when Bruno apologized to Shmuel. The last thing that Bruno said before he and Shmuel died was that Shmuel was his “best friend for life”. That just shows how strong their bond was and how their friendship surpassed cultural and physical barriers.