It's sometime during WWII. Naive eight year old Bruno lives a carefree life of privilege in Berlin, he the son of what he only knows as an important "soldier". He, his parents, and his twelve year old sister Gretel move to a grand house in the country when his father gets promoted to a new soldiering job in the area. Beyond missing playing with his friends and seeing his paternal grandparents back in Berlin, Bruno is forbidden to wander to the back of their vast property to do one of his favorite activities of exploring, especially toward the "farm" he could see from his bedroom window before his parents had that window boarded up. He can see that Pavel, the kitchen servant that came with the house, is wearing striped pajamas underneath his street clothes, striped pajamas like all the other people he could see on the farm. Bruno also notices the rancid smell coming from the farm whenever smoke emanates from its pair of tall smokestacks. Further exacerbating Bruno's boredom, his father hires them a tutor whose teaching curriculum is solely history in relation to the current German order. While Gretel laps up their instruction in wanting to impress Lt. Kotler, their young "chauffeur" to who she is attracted, Bruno would still much rather read adventure stories, and have gone to school where he may have met new friends. Eventually, Bruno is able to explore at the back of the property without anyone's knowledge, he making his way to the barbed wire fence of the farm, the fence the barrier between himself and Shmuel, the eight year old boy on the other side he meets and befriends through the wire. Slowly, Bruno's also somewhat naive mother Elsa, Gretel and Bruno come to some realizations about their collective and individual positions within the current German order, Bruno's perspective still with the innocence of a child.