This is a movie review with no direct spoilers, but some pretty well inferred ones.
Some stories are so large that they are nearly impossible to tell and do them justice. There have been many holocaust films, but while many have been excellent, they have been too big of a story to make it as impactful as it could have been.
The Boy in the Striped Pajama’s is a powerful film precisely because the story is small, focussing largely on two little boys. It is also soul destroying because rarely has a film so completely focussed on the holocaust through the eyes of a child. The film take place in World War II Germany where we meet a military family who’s Father has just been promoted to Commandant of a Labour Camp for Jews. As we discover the Father and the rest of the soldiers serving him are the only one’s who know the true nature of the camp; that it is really an extermination camp. His wife and two children, a 12 year old girl, and an 8 year old boy named Bruno, have no idea what’s going on. The 8 year old boy is the most oblivious of all of them, believing the Jews to be farmers who wear funny pajama’s.
Disobeying his mother’s orders not to stray too far from the compound where they live, Bruno wanders off in search of adventure (he fancies himself an explorer). One day he meets Schmule, an 8 year old boy, sitting just inside the fence, out of sight of the guards and the forced labour conditions. The two boys strike up a friendship which is at once sweat and heart wrenching. The sweetness is seen in the total innocence of Bruno who doesn’t understand anything of the reasons that Schmule is in the camp or what horror likely awaits him in the end.
As the film progresses we see Bruno’s sister Gretel become more and more indoctrinated against the Jews, thanks to her tutor; we see his mother finally discover the real purpose of the camp, and the father’s adjutant brutalize many of the Jews who serve in the household.
As if the image of the obviously malnourished child behind the electrified fence isn’t enough to tear your heart out as you suddenly remember “Yes, there were children placed there and murdered there”, you are touched by the friendship that grows between these two boys as Bruno sneaks food to the boy and even plays checkers with him through the fence line.
Here in these children we see the future hope, the hope where racial hatred is not just vanquished, but that it does not even occur has an option. To even think of that lonely child, sitting apart from everyone else, day in and day out, with no hope of escape, torn out of the environment he knew for the first few, short years of his life and now his friend is a German, who is told he should be his enemy, but doesn’t understand why. To think that we are capable of abusing a child in such a fashion is too terrible to imagine.
And yet, every time we spare an angry thought that dehumanizes another person we do the very same thing. We pick something about that person to hate… and well, we know what Jesus says about hating others.
Near the end of the movie Schmule tell’s Bruno that he can’t find his Father (the implication is that he’s been murdered). Bruno discovers he can dig under the fence and says he will return tomorrow to help him look. When he shows up, Schmule brings him a pair the striped pajama’s. They both go around the camp looking for Schmule’s Father. With 10 minutes remaining in the film I knew exactly how this tragic film would end and it tore my heart out, as it would Bruno’s family.
The movie is fast paced and well worth watching. As much as I’d love to read the book on which it is based, I’m not sure I’ve got the stomach for it at the moment.
As they say in the featurette on the DVD, we have a responsibility to keep this story alive so that no generation will ever forget what humanity if capable of it we do not safeguard against it. And it all begins with us, in our everyday interactions with others. It is our responsibility to value them, even if we are in conflict with them. The Shoah must never be allowed to reoccur (even though Rwanda and Darfur, don’t currently give me much hope for a political solution. There really is only one solution and His name is Jesus Christ.