Why is it significant that Bruno and Gretel adapted so well to their new life at Out-With?
The quick adaptation Bruno and Gretel made to their new life is significant because it underscores how impressionable children and young adults can be, both for good and for ill. Despite resisting their family’s sudden departure from Berlin and suffering through weeks of isolation from other children, both Bruno and Gretel ended up adjusting rather well to life at Out-With (Auschwitz). The lessons they took with Herr Liszt in the mornings and early afternoons provided their days with much-needed structure, and in the afternoons, each sibling found new ways to stay entertained. Significantly, the particular activities that Bruno and Gretel undertook led to very different kinds of adaptation. In Bruno’s case, his blossoming friendship with Shmuel provided an additional anchor in his daily life since he went out to meet Shmuel at the fence almost every day. Their friendship helped Bruno feel more at home at Out-With, and it enabled him to grow in important ways, like learning how to be a good friend. In this sense, Bruno’s method for adapting to his new life also helped him develop a more open mind.
Whereas Bruno adapted to Out-With by cultivating a new relationship, Gretel adapted by retreating into herself and taking an interest in the war. This interest came following a difficult period in which she felt frustrated with her isolation at Out-With. Gretel managed her frustration by getting rid of her extensive doll collection and adopting the more adult habit of reading the news every day. From her Father, she got a collection of maps of Europe and push-pins that she used to track the movements of the armies that she learned about in her daily reading. In contrast to Bruno, who grew more open-minded and less aligned with Father’s authoritative perspective, Gretel increasingly adopted Father’s opinions and political biases. The siblings’ diverging perspectives came into focus when Gretel tried to impart these biases to Bruno. She explained the need to keep Jews and Germans separate. But because she herself didn’t fully understand why, Bruno also failed to understand the logic of her explanation. Though both siblings found ways to adapt to life at Out-With, they did so in ways that took them down very different paths.
What did Mother mean in Chapter 2 when she told Bruno, “We don’t have the luxury of thinking”?
When Mother told Bruno that they didn’t have the luxury of thinking, her main goal was to convince Bruno to stop complaining about the family’s move to Out-With (Auschwitz). However, her statement also had a deeper meaning that related to her own feelings of powerlessness. Like Bruno, Mother had reservations about the family’s move. Unlike Bruno, however, she understood the immense power wielded by Father’s employer “the Fury.” Although she had some power to influence her husband regarding family matters, Mother felt completely powerless to resist the forces of politics. She felt keenly aware of the danger involved in speaking out against the ruling ideology of Germany’s Nazi Party. This danger becomes clear in Chapter 5. Bruno recalled how Mother stood in the hallway of the emptied Berlin house and said to herself, “We should never have let the Fury come to dinner.” These words expressed her disapproval of the Fury and the way his politics had affected her family. When she realized that Maria had overheard her comment, Mother immediately grew fearful that the maid would report her for treason.
Based on her own experience of powerlessness and fear, Mother encouraged Bruno not to think too much about their new situation and simply to accept it. In this regard, Mother’s comment about not having “the luxury of thinking” foreshadows similar comments that Maria makes to Bruno in Chapter 6. Despite Bruno’s repeated attempts to get Maria to complain about the family’s move, she refused to do so. Father had shown her kindness and provided much-needed help in times of crisis, and she would not speak against him or any of his decisions. Instead, she planned to keep her head down and wait until their uncomfortable situation came to an end. Maria’s strategy for dealing with life at Out-With bears a strong resemblance to Mother’s, and helps to explain Mother’s comment further. Like Maria, Mother encouraged Bruno to will himself into a state of ignorance rather than fight against a power he could not hope to influence.
Why did Lieutenant Kotler beat up Pavel?
From Bruno’s naïve perspective, Lieutenant Kotler appeared to beat up Pavel because the old man dropped a bottle of wine in his lap. However, Lieutenant Kotler’s violent behavior came in response to a different provocation. Although the dropped wine bottle gave the soldier an excuse to express his rage, his anger actually had its roots in fear. In Chapter 13, Lieutenant Kotler let it slip over dinner that he’d lost touch with his father after the man moved to Switzerland. This detail sparked Father’s interest, and he asked Lieutenant Kotler a series of questions in a way that resembled an interrogation. Father found it disturbing that the lieutenant’s father had left Germany just before the beginning of the war. Father also felt suspicious that the man fled to Switzerland, a European country that remained politically neutral and accepted many Jewish refugees.
Bruno noticed that Lieutenant Kotler grew increasingly anxious as Father asked him more and more questions. Though Bruno didn’t fully comprehend why the interrogation sparked such anxiety, the reader perceives the danger Lieutenant Kotler suddenly found himself in. That is, Father suspected that Lieutenant Kotler’s father had fled Germany because he was a Jew. And if his father was a Jew, then Lieutenant Kotler himself was a Jew. The soldier could guess the thoughts going through Father’s head. Initially, he attempted to calm Father’s suspicions by explaining that his father had merely disagreed with some of the German government’s policies. However, seeing that Father continued to distrust him, fear took hold, and he desperately sought a chance to prove his loyalty to the Nazi Party. When Pavel dropped the wine bottle, it provided just such an opportunity. Lieutenant Kotler therefore beat up a Jewish man in an attempt to convince Father that he himself was not a Jew.