Fiction Book Review #2 – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (YA fiction on the Holocaust)

One of my deepest wishes as a parent was to some day share with my boys about the Holocaust.

2022 looks set to be the year I get to do just that!

You see, recently I had declared that one of my secret loves for a new year were new textbooks.

But since I’d left my school-going days far far behind me, the only way I can access new textbooks now is through my sons.

This year, my eldest is getting his first taste of studying Literature, which got me really stoked! Having harboured for eons a secret wish to be a Literature teacher, what better way now for me to live that dream vicariously than dive into his assigned literature textbook, right?!

What I didn’t expect was to finish that book in one sitting and have it conjure up a memory of…

…the day I met a Holocaust survivor!

Source: My Israel Photo Album 2018

Four years ago I met a Holocaust survivor.

Actually I met a room full of them! There must have been at least 50 elderly Jews in the hotel ballroom that fateful morning in Jerusalem. They were easily over 80 years old on average. Many of them were mere toddlers during those stomach-churning Hitler years of World War II. And all of them represented the last group of people on earth who were first-hand witnesses of those wicked times.

I was coming towards the tail-end of a ten day Holy Land tour (excluding travel time) that brought so much of the stories in the Bible to life for me, my wife and 40 other fellow church members that Nov-Dec 2018.

Now this was some six months before I launched my blog. Before I decided to devote myself to weekly writings. So right away I must issue here an apology if my memory of that day is sketchy at best. I hadn’t yet picked up the journalistic-wherewithal to jot down copious notes about each experience I had on that trip (there were many!).

But I digress.

Back to that morning in the ballroom.

Now I don’t remember the man’s name anymore, though we took that memorable selfie you see above. However, I never forgot how he (and his fellow Holocaust octogenarians) made me feel that day.

Growing up and reading / hearing about those horrid years and sufferings by the Jews during Holocaust is one thing. As well watching Holocaust films like Schindler’s List or The Pianist, and coming away feeling both unbridled rage and utter disgust for the extent of evil men like Hitler in power were capable of.

But to come face-to-face with folks who grew up in concentration camps and survived?

Remembering the Holocaust

closed gate
Photo by Julia Sakelli on

There was an indescribable yet totally palpable air of solemnity in that room as these wonderful Holocaust survivors entered.

I still remember the feeling of awe and humility I had that morning. It was so surreal being in the same room as these folks who had seen up close the horrors of genocide and lived to tell the tale.

Which was what several of them did, each taking to the stage to share their testimony, courtesy of a couple of translators. Even the translators were often moved to tears despite the fact that it wasn’t their first time hearing the stories and interpreting them for tourists like us.

It was as though history parted the veil of time and allowed us to have a sneak peek into the past. Through stories and even songs these survivors gallantly shared with us, we witnessed and sensed the irreparable destruction of their otherwise innocent childhood all those years ago

It was hard not to want to hug them even though we were strangers both by time and culture.

And needless to say, there was barely a dry eye in that room when the encounter drew to a close.

Ever since then, I knew that at some point in time when my kids were old enough, I would most definitely want to share this with them in hopes to honour that encounter; to propagate the central message that never again must the world go to war, nor allow another genocide like the Holocaust.

Guess that point in time’s finally arrived in the form of my son’s literature textbook for 2022!

The literature book my son will be studying this year…

Source: Wikiwand

Here’s a quick synopsis of the book:

A nine-year old German boy Bruno lived with his parents and a 12-year old sister in Berlin in 1942, during World War II.

After a visit by Hitler (known also as the “Fuhrer” or leader, but which Bruno misheard as the ‘Fury’), his father was promoted to the role of Commandant and the family dispatched to oversee the Jewish concentration camp in Auschwitz (which Bruno mispronounced as “Out-With”).

Initially upset by the move that removed him from friends and familiarity, Bruno gradually recovered and began to explore his surroundings. Unaware of what’s really going on, he meets a young Jewish boy in the concentration camp, Shmuel. Separated by the barbed wire fence that enclosed the camp, the two formed a close relationship over time, and towards the novel’s end, Bruno even slipped under the fence to ‘tour’ the camp.

Throughout the book, author John Boyne paints for readers the picture of a very naive Bruno who remained completely oblivious as to what was happening on the other side of the fence. So it was no surprise he willingly slipped into prisoner garb (hence the “striped pyjamas” in the book’s title) to join Shmuel on the ‘tour’. All he knew was that his friend’s father had “gone missing” and he wanted to help him in the search.

At this point you can probably guess how the story ends so I shan’t say more (especially if my son reads this post!).

“Nothing like that could ever happen again!”

black metal train rails
Photo by Pixabay on

Despite historical inaccuracies in the book, it must be mentioned in his defence that the author completed the book in a record three days, and had meant for it to be purely fiction.

And as a tale written for the YA (Young Adult) fiction market, it is definitely an excellent springboard for parents like me to introduce the horrors of the Holocaust to my sons. Which was also the main message that morning for the 40-odd of us who encountered those wonderful Holocaust survivors, with their tales of endurance and hopes for a world in perpetual peace.

The book even ends with the phrase; “Of course, all of this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age.” With so ironical a parting shot, the author is clearly admonishing readers not to lose the fight for freedom, harmony and peace.

No surprise that millions of copies of this book was sold, and a movie of it quickly made, in 2008.

So if like me you wish to introduce your kids to the Holocaust, I can’t think of a better way than to have them read this book.

And to pass on to future generations this piece of torrid history, and the mantle to pursue peace on earth at any cost!

5 thoughts on “Fiction Book Review #2 – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (YA fiction on the Holocaust)

  1. Will you watch the movie too? Another book to consider reading. Quick read. Night by Elie Wiesel. A memoir.

  2. Wow, you really do have a wealth of great experiences in your life, and book review aside, I now wonder how much more you haven’t shared with us. It’s so interesting that you met a room full of Holocaust survivors. I do read the occasional book on it like Viktor Frankl’s, and am planning to read Anne Frank’s diary, and it’s real saddening just how cruel we can be to one another. Thanks for this post, Kelvin!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I’m grateful for such encounters and hope someday my sons too will learn, understand and advocate for world peace no matter where they go.

Leave a Reply