Study Guide

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Friendship

By John Boyne


"But they're my three best friends for life!" (1.41)

Typical kid move, bringing out the best friend card. Bruno tries using his three amigos as an excuse for not leaving Berlin, but neither his mother nor his father are sympathetic to his cause. Nice try, kiddo.

Bruno was sure that he had never seen a skinnier or sadder boy in his life but decided that he had better talk to him. (10.537)

We suppose that when you've been forced to move with your family to the middle of nowhere in a different country, and there are no signs of life anywhere, exceptions must be made. When considering the options Bruno has (Gretel or Kotler), the sad, skinny boy seems like a nice alternative to us!

"I don't mean I don't believe you. […]. Because my birthday is April the fifteenth too. And I was born in nineteen thirty-four." (10.568)

When Bruno discovers that the boy (Shmuel) is the same age as him and has the same birthday, he takes it as a sign of fast friendship. The odds of sharing a birthday with someone are pretty slim, and it helps break the ice between two kids who are separated by a wire fence.

"We're like twins." (10.572)

Okay, maybe this is a bit of a stretch coming from Bruno, but the sentiment is cute. Besides the shared birthday, they have little in common, particular by the time they meet. Still, it says a lot that kids will look for similarities rather than differences, unlike many adults.

"Or I could come to you […]. Perhaps I could come and meet your friends." (12.742)

Awkward moment: Before they part ways, Bruno suggests coming over to Shmuel's side of the fence. However, due to history (and, well, the fence), we know this won't be the easiest thing to do.

"No sir. [Bruno] gave it to me […]. He's my friend." (15.1029)

This is definitely an uh-oh moment—not only does Lieutenant Kotler walk into Bruno's kitchen to find the boys talking together, but he also discovers that Shmuel has been eating. Things get really mucked up when Bruno tells Kotler that he's never seen Shmuel before. Friend, schmiend.

"I can't believe I didn't tell him the truth. I've never let a friend down like that before. Shmuel, I'm ashamed of myself." (15.1050)

Well, at least Bruno sucks it up and apologizes properly. We have to admit—it's a pretty deep and honest apology for a youngin', and we're not surprised when Shmuel forgives him and the two continue their chummy relationship.

It was the first time they had ever touched. (15.1052)

Thought the apology wasn't enough? Well, you're in luck, because it's followed by a true moment of poetry—Shmuel lifts up the fence, slips his hand under, and the two boys shake hands. Aw…

"I won't have anyone to talk to any more when you're gone." (18.1204)

Shmuel's reaction here to Bruno leaving Auschwitz is super sad. Bruno's one of the best things Shmuel has going in his life at this point.

"You're my best friend, Shmuel […]. My best friend for life." (19.1310)

These are the last words Bruno says to his friend; in the next moment, the lights go off and we know they're going to be killed in a gas chamber. The words, sweet and full of love and trust, are a stark contrast to the ugly end these two (and so many others) meet.