The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 October, 2010, 12:00am

Starring: Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon
Director: Mark Herman
Year of original release: 2008
Genre: War drama

The film

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a moving and tragic film adapted from a popular novel of the same name by Irish writer John Boyne. A story of the Holocaust, the movie explores the terrible things that were happening inside Germany during the second world war (1939-45) from the point of view of an eight year-old German boy.

The boy sees, but does not understand, what is going on around him. He knows his father is a 'soldier', but does not know the true nature of his father's role in the war.

The final scenes are heart-breaking although some critics have said the movie is historically inaccurate because young boys could not have been involved in events depicted in the film. But writer John Boyle's research revealed that in January, 1945, more than 700 boys were in the Auschwitz concentration camp where the movie implies the story takes place.

The plot

Eight-year-old Bruno and his family move from Berlin to an estate in the countryside when his father, an army officer, takes up a job as commandant of a Nazi concentration camp. Bruno knows nothing about what his father's new position involves and his questions get brushed off by his mother every time. He does his best to settle down in his new home. His parents give him strict instructions that he is only to play in certain areas of the estate. But the boy is bored and missing his friends so he starts secretly exploring the forbidden territory behind the villa, where he sees people working on what he thinks is a farm. But why are they wearing striped pyjamas? Bruno sees a young boy his own age sitting behind the fence in an unguarded corner of the farm, and starts talking to him. A secret friendship grows between the two boys. Yet events lead both Bruno and his new friend towards a tragic outcome.

The final solution

The Holocaust was the period during the second world war when Jews were rounded up and killed in the millions by the Nazis. Persecution of the Jews had been a feature of European history for a long time, but it was only the Nazis came to power in Germany in the early-1930s that their murder on a mass scale began. Hitler and his followers regarded Jews as a disease that was contaminating German society. Shops, businesses and property owned by Jews were seized amid bloody anti-Jewish riots.

On 'Kristallnacht' (November 9-10, 1938), 91 Jews were killed and more than 25,000 arrested. Synagogues were destroyed and thousands of Jewish homes were ransacked.'Crystal Night' was the start of Adolf Hitler's 'final solution to the Jewish question.' The Nazi leaders set up concentration camps where Jewish prisoners were sent to be killed in gas chambers. By 1945, 6 million Jews had been systematically murdered in Hitler's death camps and during wide-scale massacres. After the war, several Nazi leaders were tried for murder at the Nuremberg trials. Museums and memorials were created in Europe, America and Israel in memory of the Holocaust victims.

'Work sets you free'

The Nazi regime's largest concentration camp was at the town of Auschwitz in occupied Poland. More than a million Jews were killed in gas chambers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau work and extermination camps. Poles, Roma people and the regime's political enemies were also imprisoned there.

Auschwitz comprised three large main extermination camps and 45 satellite units. Between early 1942 and late 1944, death trains delivered Jewish prisoners to Auschwitz's gas chambers from all over Nazi-occupied Europe. At his trial after the war, the camp's first commandant, Rudolf Hoss, testified that most of those killed perished in gas chambers while the rest died of 'natural causes'. These included starvation, over-work, and beatings and shootings. Many inmates were used in cruel medical experiments.

Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, and two years later the Polish government turned the site into a memorial. Each year 700,000 visitors pass through the camp's iron gates under the infamous legend: 'Arbeit Macht Frei' - 'Work Sets You Free'.

Theft of the sign

Over the main gates of Auschwitz camp, a five-metre-long metal sign told arriving prisoners the lie that work would set them free. When the site was turned into a memorial in 1947, the notorious sign, made by Polish prisoners on Nazi orders, was left in place.

In the early morning of December 18, 2009, thieves climbed the gate posts, unscrewed the heavy iron sign, broke it off its mountings and took off with it. When news of the theft broke, the Polish government declared a state of national emergency and the whole country began searching for this important part of their national heritage. The thieves had stolen a part of history. Two days later, the sign was found in the home of one of the thieves who planned to sell it to an unnamed overseas buyer. Five men were arrested over the theft. The sign was returned to its place, along with new security devices.