Study Guide

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Race

By John Boyne


Even though the subject is hardly talked about in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, race is everywhere in this book since it was a major player in the Holocaust—though there were many others, Jewish people were a primary target for the Nazis. In our story, the defining difference between Bruno and Shmuel is that Shmuel is Jewish.

Although Bruno doesn't realize that the people on the other side of the fence are Jews until close to the end of the novel, he's grown-up hearing propaganda about Germany being the best. How could he not with a Nazi commandant as a father and slews of soldiers always hanging around? This is a kid who's literally had Hitler in his house.

Questions About Race

  1. Is it believable that Bruno does not know if he is Jewish or not? Use the text to support your answer.
  2. Do you think Gretel can be considered anti-semitic? Why or why not? Again, turn to the book for evidence.
  3. Why do you think Shmuel never talks about being Jewish?
  4. What is the main difference between Jews and Germans in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

Chew on This

Bruno disguising himself as a Jewish prisoner and getting killed shows how arbitrary prejudice is.

That Bruno and Shmuel don't talk about race shows that its value is learned instead of innate.