Some instinct prompted me, on a recent trip to the library, to pick up the movie, "Boy in the Striped Pajamas". And I'm very glad I did. I also now wish to read the book--but judging by the stack currently sitting to my right, I'm going to have to wait a bit before that happens. (No, I do not have eight books sitting in a stack next to me, calling my name in the most alluring tones, begging me to pick all of them up at once and finish reading them to delve into their many secrets and discover how the Constitution was ratified by the Federal Reserve, put into effect by Queen Eleanor, and determined by the people of Westeros...wait. I've gotten that muddled up, haven't I?)
Anyway. In my searching through the internet (because I do random things like Google things I've watched or read), I've discovered that there's a lot of debate about this film, and the book that it's based on. Apparently, the argument goes that it gives excuses to the Germans, or doesn't portray the Holocaust in all its horror, or turns something awful into a quaint little fable. I would disagree on most points.
Yes, the story is told from the viewpoint of an eight year old little boy. Throughout, he never quite grasps just what is going on literally in his backyard. He is pulled between the love and respect he holds for his father, just like any little boy, and the horror he knows, deep within himself, to be happening to Shmuel and his people. He is naive and innocent--perhaps unduly so, but he is. I remember myself at eight. Would I have understood questions of genocide? Would I have been able to see past the "pajamas" and the propaganda that was being thrown at my head every day by my elders? Would I have even been able to understand the fact that some people are wicked enough to want to exterminate my best friend?
So yes, you see the Holocaust through a sort of rose-colored glass. You see a little boy who simply knows one thing: there is another little boy across a fence, and that little boy is his friend. He does not know why his friend must stay on the other side of a fence. Even when he discovers just what his friend is, and why he is supposed to hate him, he cannot. Because Shmuel is his friend. Shmuel is a nice person. And he, Bruno, is the best explorer in the world, because he has found a nice Jew.
To me, the message of the story is not so much "there is redemption for people who do horrible things", it is "there is no point to horrible things". Even in the end (which was heartbreaking, it must be said), Bruno cannot comprehend why his father would lie, why this man he's looked up to would do this to people. He cannot comprehend, even as it's clear to everyone else what's going on, why he's being shoved in among all these people, or what's about to happen to them. Because he is innocent, and innocence can never understand depravity.
Does the story show all of the historical details? No, of course not. It's downright wrong in many instances. But that doesn't really matter. If you want historical fact, go read a biography. What The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas shows us is that humanity is capable of knowing what is right and is wrong, without coming down to the level of depraved. It shows that redemption is possible. It shows the way propaganda can influence a person--and how that person can rise above the influence of it. It shows the horror of the Holocaust through the eyes of a child...which is, perhaps, the most chilling way to see it.
- Kyla Denae