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Essay Questions For The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

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Friendship is not something that has adapted overtime. The desire to seek out and surround us with other human beings, our friends, is in our nature. Philosophers such as Aristotle infer that friendship is a kind of virtue, or implies virtue, and is necessary for living. Nobody would ever choose to live without friends even if we had all the other good things. The relationship between two very different young boys, Bruno and Shmuel’s in the film The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is an example of the everlasting bond of a perfect friendship based upon the goodness of each other. This film portrays one of humanity’s greatest modern tragedies, through heartache and transgression, reflecting various themes through out the movie. Beyond the minor…show more content…

With little left after Bruno and his family are forced to leave their comfortable life in Brelin and move to the countryside due to the promotion of his soldier-father, the adventurous boy becomes anxious and curious to explore his new surroundings (Herman, 2009). Even after being scolded on multiple occasions for wandering too far, Bruno finds himself meeting another eight-year-old boy. But this was not just any other friend, this boy was trapped in by an electric barbed wired fence, his head shaved completely and was dressed in what looked to be striped pajamas, according to Bruno. Shmuel was a Jewish boy, trapped in a camp specifically ran by Bruno’s father. After multiple trips and days of playing and talking, the two children become friends, and not long after did Bruno begin to understand the severity of Shmuel’s circumstances. Bruno begins to question the righteousness of his Commandant-father, resulting in consequences due to the “forbidden” friendship, not just for the two boys but also for their families.
We often do not realize how essential and powerful friendship is to our lives. Aristotle claims that no individual would chose to live without friends even if the individual had all the other good things in life. He found that friendship is a virtue that is needed and desired by humans in order to reach a peaceful state of mind (Aristotle, 1999). For



SUBJECTS — World/WWII & Germany; ELA (irony);
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Human Rights; Friendship;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect; Responsibility; Caring.
Age: 13+; MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some mature thematic material involving the Holocaust; Drama; 2008, 94 minutes; Color. Available from

Description:     The time is WWII; the place, Germany. Bruno is an 8 year old boy whose father is promoted to be commandant of a death camp. The family lives in a luxurious house isolated in the country. The only person Bruno's age to play with is Shmuel, a boy behind the barbed wire of the camp. Bruno is told by his family that the camp is a farm and refers to the uniforms of the incarcerated Jews as "striped pajamas." Slowly and reluctantly he comes to know part of the truth about the camp and his father. Bruno's attempt to make up for an earlier betrayal of his friend causes Bruno to don the "pajamas" and sneak into the camp to help search for Shmuel's lost father. While Bruno's father frantically searches for his son, the boys are herded with a group of inmates into one of the gas chambers. Holding hands, they die together.

This film is based on a work of historical fiction by Irish novelist John Boyne.

Benefits of the Movie: This film presents a child's point of view of the Holocaust and serves as a valuable supplement for any study of Germany's effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe. The relationship between the two boys demonstrates the absurdity of judgments based on blood line. The innocence of childhood is a concept which dominates the movie and supports a perspective on the Holocaust that is important for a full understanding of German atrocities during the Second World War.
Social Studies Classes: "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" is one of many films designed to make the Holocaust personal for today's students. It is not intended to reflect historical accuracy. Instead, it illuminates the following points about the events of the European theatre in WWII:

  • The disregard for the plight of the Jews by common German people during the Holocaust;

  • The denial process applied to the immorality of what Germany was doing to the Jews;

  • The propaganda used in educating German children, including the propagation of anti-Semitism;

  • The existence and suppression of dissenting points of view; (for more on this, see The White Rose);

  • The callous and casual manner in which the Germans developed more efficient killing methods;

  • The ironies involved in the failure to adhere to well-developed standards of ethics, such as in the treatment of children.

The Discussion Questions provided in this Learning Guide will help explore these areas of focus. Suggested Research Assignments can be given to individuals or to groups of students.

English Language Arts Classes: The film and the discussions suggested below will motivate students to apply themselves to essay and research assignments, encouraging them to practice several skills required by ELA Curriculum standards. When used in a literature class, the movie provides an excellent example of theme and plot based on situational irony. The film also provides cross-curricular benefits for the study of the Second World War and the Holocaust.