I have a love-hate relationship when it comes to teaching the Holocaust. I love when students internalize what they are learning and become passionate for a cause, which is often the result of Holocaust curriculum. I hate that students are bored with reading traditional resources, such as Anne Frank’s Diary, because it is the go-to novel for most teachers starting in elementary school and up through junior high levels. While their first experience with Anne Frank’s Diary is a defining moment in their school studies, students sometimes complain that, even though the diary is still profound and impacting, it becomes redundant and disengaging when it is covered for the third time.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is a heart-wrenching childhood fable that gives students a new persepective in Holocaust literature because it follows Bruno, a nine-year old German boy. Bruno’s family is relocated from Berlin to Out-With Poland and located 50 feet from Bruno’s home sits a high wire fence which he wanders along in his loneliness, and it is there that Bruno discovers the people in the striped pajamas.
Bruno’s forbidden friendship with Shmuel, the boy in the striped pajamas, is the medium through which students are primarily introduced to life in the concentration camps as well as the German machine of indoctrination. The juxtaposition of Bruno’s innocence and the evil that surrounds him produce a truly poignant and resonating story.
The brilliance of this novel (aside from the storyline) is that it is written to be accessible to a young audience, yet the message and symbolism is poignant for adults as well. Not only is this a brilliant novel to be included in Holocaust curriculum, but it would be an asset to any family’s library for parents who are looking to open discussions with their children about books and the world.