In Chapter 11, the narrative shifts to the past, shortly after Father had received his promotion to commandant. Father came home one evening and announced that “the Fury” would come to dine at the house later that week. Bruno asked who the Fury was. After Father tried and failed to correct Bruno’s pronunciation of the word, Gretel explained that “the Fury” was Germany’s leader. Mother spent the next few days working diligently to prepare the house to receive their guest. In the hour before the man’s arrival, Bruno and Gretel came down dressed in their finest clothes. Father instructed them to talk to their guest only if he addressed them and to speak loudly and clearly like an adult.
The Fury arrived with his companion, Eva, and Bruno noted that the man appeared shorter and weaker than Father. He also had a mustache that seemed oddly shaped, as if he’d missed a part while shaving. Father introduced the guests to Bruno and Gretel. The Fury’s companion took an interest in the children and spoke with them at length. The Fury, however, said little. When Gretel announced that she could speak French, he responded curtly: “Yes, but why would you want to?” He then walked into the dining room, took a seat in Father’s chair, and impatiently called to Eva to come. The guests stayed for two hours, and Mother and Father argued after they left. A couple days later, Bruno came home to find Maria packing his belongings.
Chapter 12 returns to Bruno and Shmuel’s conversation as Shmuel answers Bruno’s question about what the people in the striped pajamas were doing in the camp.
Shmuel explained that he used to live with his parents and his brother Josef in an apartment above the store where his father mended and made watches. One day, he came home to find his mother sewing armbands with stars on them. She explained they would each have to wear an armband whenever they left the house. Bruno interrupted to note that Father wore an armband, but with a different symbol. Bruno said he’d like to wear an armband, but he didn’t know which symbol he preferred.
Shmuel continued with his story, describing how circumstances had changed a few months after he started wearing his armband. He came home one day, and his mother explained they couldn’t live in their apartment anymore. Bruno again interrupted to share his similar experience. Shmuel and his family were forced to move to a heavily guarded section of Cracow where they had to live in a cramped room with another family. They lived there for months. Shmuel’s parents argued a lot, and another boy named Luka constantly picked on him. Bruno said his sister, Gretel, picked on him too.
One day, soldiers arrived with large trucks and told everyone to leave their houses. Some people tried to hide. The trucks took the people to a train where they were crammed in so tightly they could hardly breathe. Bruno recalled the crowded second train he had seen when his family traveled to Out-With. He told Shmuel that he should have gotten on the less crowded train across the platform. Shmuel insisted that he couldn’t have gotten out since the train car had no doors. The train carried them to a cold place, and from there, they walked to Out-With. When they arrived, soldiers took Shmuel’s mother away, and he and his father and brother were forced to live in a hut.