SS officer Ralf (David Thewlis) and his wife Elsa (Vera Farmiga) have a twelve-year-old daughter, Gretel (Amber Beattie), and an eight-year-old son, Bruno (Asa Butterfield). The well-to-do family must move to the "countryside" when the father is promoted (to Obersturmbannführer). Unknown to Bruno, the new house is near a Nazi concentration camp, and Ralf is the new commandant. Bruno initially dislikes the new house as he always has to stay in the house or the garden; also there are no other children to play with, apart from his sister. From his bedroom window, Bruno spots a barbed wire fence with people in "striped pyjamas" behind it. Though he thinks it is a farm, it is the camp with Jewish people in their camp clothing. Bruno is forbidden to go there, because according to Ralf, "they're not really people"; it is agreed that at least they are a bit weird, as demonstrated by their clothing.
Bruno goes there anyway, secretly, and becomes friends with a Jewish boy, named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), whom he meets at the fence, and who is the same age. Shmuel tells Bruno that he is a Jew and that the Jewish people have been imprisoned here by soldiers, who also took their clothes and gave them the striped camp clothing, and that he is hungry. Bruno is confused and starts having doubts about his father being a good person. Later, he is relieved after seeing a propaganda film about the camp (that is a parody of Theresienstadt). Bruno often returns to the fence. He brings Shmuel food and plays draughts (checkers) with him through the fence.
An elderly Jewish man named Pavel (David Hayman) is a servant in the family home; he is treated rudely by Ralf's adjutant, Obersturmführer Kotler (Rupert Friend). Formerly a doctor, Pavel mends Bruno's cuts when he falls off his homemade tire swing.
Ralf hires Herr Liszt (Jim Norton) to tutor Gretel and Bruno, although in reality he is brainwashing them with anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda. Gretel is very responsive to this and...
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