Fences, Walls & The Boy in Striped Pajamas

He’s making the country great again.

The 2008 film, Boy in Striped Pajamas, is a poignant but difficult movie to watch. When I saw it via Netflix recently, I was struck by how the imagery and message of the film evokes the imagery and message of the current presidential campaign of Donald Trump.*

The film is a fable (the implausible plot on which the film is based has been the subject of much debate) about two eight-year-old boys on opposite sides of a fence that surrounds a Nazi extermination camp (implied to be Auschwitz).

Bruno, the boy on the outside of the fence, is the son of the SS officer in command of the camp. With the innocence of an eight year old, Bruno believes the death camp is a farm where Shmuel, the boy on the inside of the fence, lives.

Building walls, making them pay

In the film, the fence separating Bruno and Schmaul becomes a powerful and important metaphor: an image that comes to symbolize how people can know an evil exists, while at the same time, deny its existence.

I couldn’t help but think of Donald Trump’s “wall” as I watched the final 15 minutes of the film, as the plot is drawn to its inevitable conclusion.

“I’m going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it,” may be nothing more than “frenzy-bait” at a Trump campaign rally, but watching this film reminded me that Hitler actually did build the equivalent of walls — massive fences around death camps — and did, indeed, make the fenced-in innocents pay for them.

They paid for the fence, and the gas chambers inside them, with all their possessions and personal holdings, their dignity, their professions, their talents and ultimately, with their lives.

And what was the justification for these fences around death camps?

Watch the following short clip from the Boy in Striped Pajamas (again, a film released in 2008). It is a scene from near the end of the film in which Bruno’s sister Gretel, age 12, explains to Bruno that Auschwitz is why they should be proud of their father. (Transcript after the clip.)

Bruno | Dad’s not horrible, is he? He’s a good man.
Gretel | Of course, he is.
Bruno | But he’s in charge of a horrible place.
Gretel | It’s only horrible for them (the Jews), Bruno. We should be proud of Dad, now more than ever before. He’s making the country great again.

He’s making the country great again.

I think I’ll stop there.


*Before labeling this post an example Godwin’s Law, refer to this Washington Post Essay by Mike Godwin explaining how a post like this doesn’t fit the definition. I am drawing parallels to the specific imagery and words Trump is using in his campaign.