Milkweed by acclaimed author Jerry Spinelli is the endearing tale of a boy with no identity at a time when one's identity meant the difference between life and death. Published in 2003, the novel has quickly become one of the most popular young adult works used by English teachers to facilitate a discussion of the Holocaust. Most impressive is Spinelli's ability to maintain the protagonist's innocence throughout the story: readers truly feel immersed in the experiences of a child who does not fully comprehend what is happening around him in the Warsaw ghetto.
Orphaned at an early age, the protagonist eventually assumes an identity that his friend, Uri, bestows upon him. Unsure whether he is a Jew, a Gypsy, or simply a boy named "Stopthief," the protagonist suddenly becomes Misha Pilsudski. While trying to steal food, Misha befriends a young girl named Janina Milgrom. When her family is forced into the Warsaw ghetto, he happily travels with them, unaware of the grave danger. Misha forges important relationships in the Warsaw ghetto against the backdrop of the Holocaust. Readers cannot help but root for Misha and Janina as they become close friends during one of the world's darkest hours. When Misha realizes that the people in the ghetto are not being "resettled" as promised, he must make important choices that will determine whether he lives or dies.
The novel's title is intriguing when one considers that milkweed is a plant that hosts monarch butterflies: beautiful but transient. Ultimately, the plant's seeds are carried off by the wind and soon forgotten. As the story comes to a close, readers are left to determine Spinelli's intentions and to whom he is referring by titling the novel Milkweed.
The novel's main theme, identity, is a touchstone for young adults who are trying to define an identity as they navigate adolescence. Much of what Misha feels about not knowing who he is will also resonate with readers of all ages.
Chapters 1-4 Summary
Chapter 1: "Memory"
The little boy's very first memory is of running. He is clutching a loaf of bread against his chest, and someone is chasing him, shouting, "Stop! Thief!" Sometimes it is a dream, and other times it is just a memory that comes in the middle of the day. The little boy never stops long enough to eat the bread.
Chapters 2-4: "Summer"
The boy remembers sirens screaming and "thumping noises, like distant thunder." He is being dragged along by a much bigger youth with red hair, who plunges him into a dark shelter. The bigger boy snatches the bread and breaks it in half, taking one part for himself. He says harshly, "You're lucky...soon it won't be ladies chasing you...it will be Jackboots." The little boy asks the bigger one what the thumping sounds in the distance are, and he learns that it is "Jackboot artillery; big guns...shelling the city." The little boy wonders what Jackboots are.
Impressed with his new friend's quickness and skill at stealing, the bigger boy introduces himself as Uri. The little one tells Uri that his name is Stopthief.
Uri takes Stopthief to meet a group of homeless urchins who live in a stable. Stopthief is amazed to see a tall pile of stolen goods in the corner of the room, a pile made up of all varieties of bread, sausages, fruits, and candies, as well as watches, combs, and furs with the thin, flat faces of foxes. The boys, who are eating and smoking, make fun of Stopthief because of his diminutive stature. Uri defends him, pointing out that Stopthief's tininess and agility are great assets in the life that they all live. One of the boys, who is smoking, asks Stopthief how old he is, but the little one does not know. The smoker then asks if he is a Jew, and is astounded when Stopthief replies, "What's a Jew?" A boy with a particularly dour demeanor answers, "A Jew is an animal...a Jew is a bug...a Jew is less than a bug." One youth, regarding Stopthief, observes, "He's a Jew if I ever saw one." Another chimes in, saying, "Yeah, he's in for it all right...we're all in for it...we're in for it good."
A particularly serious boy then comments on the yellow stone that the newcomer wears on a string around his neck. Stopthief has had it as long as he can remember. The serious boy concludes that Stopthief is a Gypsy. Sadly, Gypsies are hated almost as much as Jews. The boys then joke...
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Chapters 5-8 Summary
Chapters 5-8: "Autumn"
During the bombardment, sirens scream every day. Uri and Stopthief go outside only at night to see the city on fire beyond the rooftops. One day, the sirens are finally silent, and Uri takes Stopthief out into the street. Twisted skeletons of streetcars and the shattered remains of buildings dot the landscape. People are everywhere, all heading in the same direction. One person starts running, and Stopthief, thinking delightedly that it must be a race, streaks after him.
Breaking through the mob, Stopthief is struck on the ear and falls to the ground. When he looks up, he is faced with lines and lines of "the tallest, blackest, shiniest boots [he has] ever seen." Knowing instinctively that these are the Jackboots Uri has spoken about, Stopthief watches in awe. One of the soldiers looks down at him and amiably calls him a "tiny little Jew," but Stopthief corrects him, saying, "I'm not a Jew...I'm a Gypsy." Uri finally catches up with Stopthief, and the little boy notices that his friend is not cheering the grand parade. The crowd, too, is somber, and someone throws out a single white flower, which bounces from one of the Jackboot tanks and breaks into petals.
The next morning, the world outside is changed. The Jackboots distribute bread among the people, but also seem to go out of their way to torment men with beards who wear long coats. One of these sad individuals is forced to clean the sidewalk with his beard, while another is crudely shorn of his hair right out on the street. When Stopthief, still impressed with the majesty of the soldiers, declares that he wants to be a Jackboot, Uri smacks him in the face. That night, as he reflects upon what he has seen, it suddenly occurs to Stopthief that the bearded men who are being victimized in the city are Jews.
The days immediately following the coming of the Jackboots are "good times" for the street children. They prowl the city with impunity, stealing whatever they desire. Stopthief develops an addiction to hazelnut buttercream candies, and Uri craves pickles. The older boy never ceases to be amazed at his little friend's agility and skill as a thief.
Stopthief has little understanding of dates and times, but realizes later that these events must have occurred during the fall of 1939. On one of his forays a few days after the coming of the Jackboots, he comes upon a garden and picks a...
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Chapters 9-11 Summary
Chapters 9-11: "Winter"
One night, there is the sound of shouting and glass smashing above the basement room. Uri and Misha barely have time to escape with their coats and shoes. From that day on, the two boys move constantly from one place to another; never again will they know together the security and stability they have found in their barbershop basement refuge.
Uri has taught Misha to steal only as much as he needs, but when a bread lady from whom he is pilfering calls him a "dirty Jew," the little boy reacts with anger. That day, Misha snatches five loaves instead of the required one. Uri tells Misha that he is wasting and takes the extra bread to a local orphanage run by a kind man, Doctor Korczak. Inspired by this example, Misha begins to steal two loaves every day and leaves one on the porch of the little girl, Janina. Misha is pleased to see Janina watching him from an upstairs window when he brings his offerings. He soon begins to find gifts—"a gumdrop...a candy cigarette...a fancy button"—left for him at the place where he puts the bread. On one occasion, he runs into another urchin who is clearly stealing the bread he has left for Janina, and the two boys get into a tussle. Misha takes a beating. Uri tells him that he is "too little to fight," so Misha starts going to Janina's house at night to avoid future confrontations. Sadly, the boy does not know that a curfew has been established, prohibiting all Jews from being on the street after dark. Seeing him racing quickly through the night, Jackboots fire upon Misha, shooting off his earlobe.
Uri and Misha visit the homeless band, and Misha gets to know "smoke-blowing Ferdi and Olek with one arm and grim-faced Enos," as well as Kuba, who is very bold, and acts like a clown. The group meets in the cemetery, and Misha smokes his first cigarette. Among the tombstones, there is a large stone angel. Enos says that angels are not real and that only Jackboots believe in them. Olek responds that he believes in angels, adding that angels help people when they are in trouble. Enos angrily points out that they did not save Olek from the train that cut off his arm, nor do they do anything for their friends Big Henryk, who is mentally challenged, and Jon, who is "thin and gray and...[clearly] dying." Suddenly, a small wagon carrying a coffin approaches. A man shouts at the boys, calling them "Hooligan Jew[s]" and shaking his fist at...
(The entire section is 762 words.)
Chapters 12-14 Summary
Chapters 12-14: "Winter" (continued)
Misha continues to bring the coals he has scavenged to both the orphanage and to Janina's house. After a while, the gifts that Janina is in the habit of leaving for him on her back porch cease to appear. Worried, Misha impetuously knocks on the door on one occasion, hoping to see the little girl, but to his surprise, a Jackboot holding a stein of beer answers. The Jackboot asks Misha if he is a Jew, and Misha asserts that he is not; he is a Gypsy. The Jackboot slaps Misha and pours the contents of his stein over the boy's head. In retaliation, Misha pounds the insolent soldier's foot hard with the sack of coal he has brought and runs for his life.
At the stable where Misha has been sleeping with the homeless band, a man in a long black coat is discovered one morning, curled up in the straw. The man seems very frightened. In answer to Misha's innocent query, the man insists that he is not a Jew, despite appearances to the contrary. Misha goes out to fetch him something to eat, but when he returns, the man is gone.
Uri constantly endeavors to impress upon Misha the necessity of remaining unnoticed in the dangerous society in which they live. Wanting to please, the boy tries to show his mentor that he does indeed know how to avoid calling attention to himself, but he does a terrible job of it, getting bumped by a car and creating quite a commotion as he attempts to demonstrate that he knows how to walk with unremarkable confidence down the street. Contrite, Misha vows not to disappoint Uri again, and does quite well—until he sees the magnificent horses on the merry-go-round.
Misha is enthralled by the carousel in the park near the orphans' home, but Uri warns him that it is not for him to ride. The allure of the colorful, musical contraption is so strong, however, that the first time he is alone, Misha returns to the merry-go-round. When he jumps astride one of the horses, a man comes over and asks for his ticket. When he finds that Misha does not have one, he throws him to the ground. The other children scream at Misha, calling him a "dirty Jew," and Misha runs away as they pelt him with snowballs. Later, Misha visits the orphanage and asks Doctor Korczak if the orphans are allowed to ride the merry-go-round. Doctor Korczak sadly responds, "Maybe someday."
One night, Misha is awakened by the distant sound of music...
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Chapters 15-17 Summary
Chapters 15-17: "Autumn"
The Jews of Warsaw are confined to a ghetto the following autumn. Misha watches as a horde of solemn victims wearing white armbands with blue stars pass by in unearthly silence, while behind them, there is cheering and the sound of breaking glass. As the Jews leave their homes, other citizens rush in greedily to claim their abandoned dwellings. Unaware of the seriousness of the situation, Misha joins the melancholy throng. He tries to strike up a conversation with some of the exiles, but they are afraid of him because he wears no armband, and thus must not be a Jew.
Marching with the crowd, Misha sees the orphans, who are singing under Doctor Korczak's direction as they move along. Suddenly, to his delight, he spots Janina. He joins her and her family. Janina's mother is annoyed by Misha's inopportune questions and innocent lack of gravitas, but Janina's father, recognizing him as the boy who has so kindly been bringing them provisions over the past months, ignores her entreaties to send him away. As the people approach the area designated as the ghetto, there is a sudden sense of urgency. Upon entering the courtyard, individuals rush forward to claim tiny living spaces for themselves and their families. Janina, her parents, and her Uncle Shepsel manage to secure an abode the size of a closet. As Misha is leaving after having helped the family get settled, Janina slips him a treat—a half of a piece of candy, his favorite, buttercream with a hazelnut heart.
When Misha returns to the ghetto, he discovers that a wall is being built around it. He finds a place where it is not completed, and he manages to scamper inside. He is carrying with him a sack of food, pilfered from various places, and brings it directly to the room where Janina and her family are staying. Uncle Shepsel, a sardonic, self-absorbed man, calls Misha a "smelly nimble-footed thief," but helps himself shamelessly to the food Misha has provided. Janina's mother is bitter and ill, and she spends much of her time lying on the mattress in the corner of the room. During Misha's visit, a neighbor comes by, asking for medicine from Janina's father, who is a pharmacist. Although Uncle Shepsel warns him that if he starts dispensing his small stock of drugs in this place, it will be gone in a week, Janina's father ignores his unpleasant relative's counsel and generously gives the neighbor what he...
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Chapters 18-21 Summary
Chapters 18-21: "Winter"
Uri returns to the homeless band on the first morning of their confinement in the ghetto, but from then on, he comes even less frequently than before. When Misha asks if he goes to the other side, Uri tells him brusquely, "Don't ask." It is winter again, and the weather is frigid. One cold day, Misha sees a boy lying out in the middle of the street. He comments to Uri about the boy's stupidity in choosing such an inappropriate sleeping place, but Uri tells him that the boy is dead. The body is covered with newspaper, like a blanket, and the people on the street just walk around it, pretending not to notice. Each day, there are new bodies lying in the street, but by the following day, they are always gone. Misha concludes that it must be angels who are taking them away.
Misha and the boys sleep huddled together like kittens in the rubble to keep themselves warm at night. Sometimes, they talk about mothers and oranges, which few of them remember, and whose existence some of them have begun to doubt. During the day, they go their own ways, so as not to attract the attention of the ghetto police. The children essentially are nonexistent: they have "no armbands, no identification papers, no records, nothing."
For the first time in his life, Misha is constantly hungry. Previously, he had simply stolen whatever he wanted to eat, but now, there is little to steal. As the harsh winter progresses, horses, dogs, squirrels, and birds disappear from the area, and the people of the ghetto resort in desperation to eating rats. One day, Misha snatches two roasted rats from a street vendor; he eats one himself and takes the other to Janina's family. Uncle Shepsel fights with Janina for the carcass, which splits in two. Although the greedy man immediately begins munching on his portion, Janina saves her piece for her parents. The next day, Misha, knowing that there is food on the other side of the wall, inspects the barrier, looking for a way out. He finds a small break in the wall, only two bricks wide. Returning at night, he manages to squeeze through it to the other side.
To his surprise, Misha discovers that food is scarce even in the city proper. The first night he escapes, he manages to find some pickled herring, which he takes straight to the Milgroms' apartment. Uncle Shepsel devours his piece at once, but both Dr. Milgrom and Janina instinctively offer theirs...
(The entire section is 712 words.)
Chapters 22-24 Summary
Chapters 22-24: "Spring"
By defying Uncle Shepsel and accepting Misha into the family, Mr. Milgrom gives the young boy a new identity. Deep down, Misha has always known that the tale of his Gypsy background, as bestowed upon him by Uri, is only a fantasy. Misha Pilsudski is now Misha Milgrom, and the only evidence of his past life is the yellow stone he still wears around his neck. Something deep within him tells Misha that this is the one part of Uri's story that is true: the yellow stone had been given to him by his father.
Although he sleeps at the Milgrom's apartment on occasion, Misha still spends most of his time with the band of homeless boys. Every night, they are all involved in the business of crossing over to the other side of the wall and smuggling food back into the ghetto. One night, Big Henryk, who rarely speaks, announces, "Himmler coming." According to Kuba, Himmler is "the Number Two Jackboot" and in charge of the ghetto and the fate of all the Jews in Warsaw.
When Misha brings this news to the Milgroms, Uncle Shepsel is uninterested and rudely complains because the boy has not brought any food with him that day. Janina declares that she hates Himmler and will kick him if she sees him. Mrs. Milgrom, who is no longer able to work and has become "skinny and gray," shows no reaction at all to the information. Mr. Milgrom gathers both Janina and Misha in his arms, affirming to them that they are "the best children." Voices are heard in the courtyard, and people are calling, "Himmler's coming!"
Mr. Milgrom and Uncle Shepsel restrain a screaming Janina as Misha races down the stairs. In the street, the amazed child sees a parade of "huge cars, magnificent cars," with the tops down, carrying stern and "magnificent men." The crisp hats of the men are adorned with "great silver eagles spread[ing] their wings," like angels' wings, fully unfurled. A few people line the street, their eyes downcast. Only the ghetto police, the Flops, stand at attention and give the "Jackboot salute." With imprudent but undeniable curiosity, Misha runs alongside the cars, but he does not recognize anyone as the legendary Herr Himmler. The orphan boy does momentarily catch the eye of one of the Jackboots, however, a small man with a little black mustache who has an uncanny resemblance to the disagreeable Uncle Shepsel. As he races after the decidedly undistinguished officer, trying to...
(The entire section is 719 words.)
Chapters 25-27 Summary
Chapters 25-27: "Summer"
The long months of deprivation in the ghetto have taken their toll on Janina. She no longer wears bows in her hair or socks on her feet, and her shoes are muddy scraps. Janina cries a lot and is prone to fits of temper. She frequently demands unreasonably that her mother make her favorite food, pickled eggs, but Mrs. Milgrom remains unresponsive on the mattress, facing the wall.
On their nightly forays out of the ghetto to search for food and smuggle it back in from the other side, Misha simply squeezes through the two-brick-wide hole in the wall, but the other boys must find alternate means of escape. Kuba uses thick coats to cover the barbed wire atop the wall, and hauls himself over and back with the help of Big Henryk. Enos, Ferdi, and one-armed Olek make the odious trek through the sewers. One night, when Misha approaches the wall to slip through the hole, Janina is there waiting for him. Although he tries to deter her, Janina insists on going with him. Because she is even smaller than he is and so is able to fit through the opening too, there is nothing he can do to stop her.
An establishment with a blue neon sign in the shape of a camel is Misha's favorite location to forage for food. The place is a "hotel for Jackboots," and Misha is able to get into the food cellar by pushing open one of the small windows and squeezing between the iron bars that protect it. On this particular night, Janina follows him. Though she has not brought a sack like Misha has, she immediately begins to search for pickled eggs. Unable to find any, she looks for Misha, who has filled his sack and is treating himself to some peaches stored in a jar of syrup in the corner of the room. Janina demands some peaches, and when Misha at first refuses, she screams petulantly, "I'm hun-greee!" Her cry is heard by an employee of the hotel, and the two children hide as someone comes down the stairs into the cellar, pauses for a while, then fortunately retreats. Hauling Janina along with him, Misha climbs back out of the window and returns to the ghetto. When he stops at the orphanage to drop off half of the contents of his sack, Janina asks him what he is doing, and Misha replies that he is "feeding the orphans." Janina retorts that he is supposed to be feeding her family, and he snaps back, "I feed whoever I want to feed."
Misha visits the boys the next day and finds Big...
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Chapters 28-30 Summary
Chapters 28-30: "Summer" (continued)
Misha continues to go through the wall every night, pilfering food for both the orphanage and his family. Although he never acknowledges her, Janina accompanies him. She follows him everywhere. The two children continue to raid the Jackboot hotel, as well as some of the finest houses in Warsaw. One night, a little boy who lives in one of these houses accosts them, and the three children spend amiable hours sitting around a table, snacking on pickled herring, sugar cookies, and milk. The boy cries when Misha and Janina leave, and they console him by promising to return, but Misha knows they never will.
Mr. Milgrom does not discover that Janina is smuggling with Misha until the night they return from their foray during a lineup. As before, the Jackboots have come in the dead of night, rousing the ghetto dwellers and forcing them to stand at attention in the courtyard. Misha and Janina manage to sneak in and find their family, but when they squeeze into the line, Mr. Milgrom pinches Janina's ear, hard. A Jackboot with a bullhorn is at the front of the formation, shouting that the people are being fairly warned, and that those who continue will be shot, or hanged. When Misha asks Mr. Milgrom surreptitiously what the officer is talking about, Mr. Milgrom replies, "You. Smugglers. You must stop now."
Misha continues to smuggle, but he does try to get Janina to stop. The next time she follows him, he tells her to go back. She refuses, and he smacks her and pushes her to the ground. Irate, she begins to holler, "Misha's going to the wall...Misha smuggles!" drawing the attention of the authorities. Misha has no choice but to allow her to come along. Knowing that Mr. Milgrom does not want his daughter to be involved with the dangerous activity of smuggling, Misha tries to rationalize his actions by not stealing food when they go into the city proper. Instead, he distracts Janina by taking her to see the merry-go-round and the great stone angel at the cemetery. Misha tells Janina that everyone has an angel hiding inside of them, and that when a person dies, his or her angel comes out to live in heaven. He tells Janina that Enos thinks heaven is right there, on the free side of the wall, while Olek says it is in "Washington America," where there is "no wall and no lice and lots of potatoes."
When the children return to the wall that night, they...
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Chapters 31-34 Summary
Chapters 31-34: "Winter"
On one of his visits to the Jackboot hotel, Misha is surprised to see Uri, dressed in fine clothes and busily emptying ashtrays into a trash can in the lobby. He calls out to his friend, but Uri does not respond. A short time later, Misha is snatched in one of the hallways and hustled into a dark room. Uri angrily tells the boy that he has a job in the hotel laundry and that Misha should never come to see him at the establishment again. Uri then flings Misha unceremoniously out of the room and closes the door.
Outside, as he makes his rounds, Misha is surprised that Janina, for once, is nowhere to be seen. When he slips back into the ghetto, he finally finds her, standing on the street, mesmerized by the sight of something up above. Misha sees a body hanging from the crossbar of a broken street lamp, with a sign hanging on its chest. To his horror, he perceives that the scrawny body has only one arm. It is Olek.
The next morning, Enos tells Misha that the sign around Olek's neck says, "I was a smuggler." Misha cannot decipher the words himself because he does not know how to read. Later, he is surprised to encounter Uncle Shepsel walking along the street. The disagreeable man, who ordinarily never comes out of the room, greets him cheerfully, then becomes confused. Uncle Shepsel regards the boy and, noting that he escapes from the ghetto every night, wonders aloud why he keeps coming back. Misha has no answer.
Mrs. Milgrom dies, lying on the mattress and facing the wall. Her husband, Janina, and Misha sit up with her body all night while Uncle Shepsel sleeps. In the morning, Mr. Milgrom fetches the undertaker, giving him a small bottle of pills he has saved for this day in exchange for his services. As Mrs. Milgrom is being buried, a bombardment begins, and Mr. Milgrom drops the children into the open grave with the body for protection. As the bombs fall, Janina takes a milkweed pod from her pocket and blows into it. Milkweed puffs rise out of the grave, into the sad, gray, tormented sky.
When they return after the bombing, Mr. Milgrom and the children find seven strangers in their apartment. More people are being forced into the ghetto every day, and overcrowding is rampant. Understandingly, Mr. Milgrom moves his family's things over to one side of the room, and kindly offers the newcomers the mattress.
Bombs continue to...
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Chapters 35-39 Summary
Chapters 35-36: "Spring"
In the spring, starving orphans appear in the courtyard, singing for food, but no one has anything to give them. Wagons filled with bodies are lined up at the gate of the cemetery, while the piper continues to march in the street, calling to the children, "Come to the candy mountain." Every chance she gets, Janina plays the dangerous game of harassing Buffo and the other Flops. Misha can do nothing to stop her, and he often goes off by himself, closing his eyes and dreaming of the past, when there was food everywhere for the taking.
One day, Uri comes to Misha with a warning, telling him to get out of the ghetto at all costs. Uri, who is dressed smartly, says that the Jackboots have begun deportations with the goal of being rid of the Jews forever. Before he leaves, he gives Misha a final gift. It is a piece of chocolate, Misha's favorite—buttercream with a hazelnut heart. Misha goes to warn the homeless boys and the Milgroms, but no one will believe him. The general response is one of despair. Everyone feels that the Jackboots have already committed every atrocity against the Jews and that "there is nothing else they can do to [them]."
Chapters 37-39: "Summer"
The first in an endless line of boxcars comes to the Stawki Station just beyond the wall surrounding the ghetto. Janina is enthralled; she is convinced that the trains will take the Jews to the piper's "candy mountain." Soon, the Jackboots storm into the area with "gunshots...whistles...screams...[and] snarling dogs." One street at a time, the ghetto is emptied, and the people are loaded into the boxcars. Word spreads that there is a quota: five thousand Jews must be deported every day. The people cling to the desperate hope that they will be taken to a place far better than the squalid environment to which they have been confined. One by one, the homeless boys disappear, and then it is Doctor Korczak's orphans' turn to be taken away on the train. The good doctor leads the way, as the children march forth with heads held high, singing.
One day an old man appears in the courtyard, claiming to have come back from where the Jews are being taken in the boxcars. He tells a horrific tale of "fences that fry...prison coops...ovens...[and] ashes fall[ing] like snow." Mr. Milgrom, who has known all along that his daughter has been continuing to smuggle, urgently tells...
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Chapters 40-45 Summary
Chapters 40-44: "Then"
When Misha awakens, his head is ringing, and he finds himself lying in a ditch in a puddle of water. There is a gash on his arm where the dog had grabbed him, and his ear is a "crusty lump." As he looks around, he realizes that the trains are gone; the Stawki Station is empty. Plagued by dizziness and slipping in and out of consciousness, Misha makes his way down the tracks, staggering and falling repeatedly. After a while, he encounters a young boy, who gives him some water, and asks where he is going. Misha pulls out his soiled armband with the blue star upon it and replies that he is "going to the ovens...where Janina is."
Misha wanders onward in a daze, eating whatever the earth offers, and sleeping wherever he drops. As he walks, he is haunted by visions: he sees Uri and Buffo, the blue man on the merry-go-round, and Doctor Korczak and the orphans, singing as they march with heads held high into the ovens. Though he looks for her constantly, Janina is never there.
One day when Misha wakes up, there is a man standing over him, who jerks him to his feet, takes him to his farm, and deposits him in a barn. The farmer's wife comes and gives Misha water and something to eat, then tends to his wounded ear and thrusts him in a tub, where she scrubs him until he is clean. Every day, the farmer's wife returns, bringing water and a meager meal. Finally, Misha is well and attempts to resume his journey down the railroad tracks.
The farmer comes after Misha and brings him back to the farm with a rope around his neck. The farmer's wife says that there is a new law requiring all children to work on the farms. Misha is forced to stay and labor for three years. One night, a man comes by and talks to the farmer. After he leaves, the farmer's wife hurries out, gives Misha a loaf of bread, and tells him to run away. The war is over, and thousands of people are trudging along the tracks. Misha joins their desperate ranks, doing whatever is necessary to get by from day to day.
Eventually, Misha finds his way back to Warsaw. The ghetto is deserted and in ruins. Misha learns that after he had left, there had been a revolt in which the Jews had turned on the Jackboots, but they had not been strong enough to prevail. As he surveys the silent wasteland, Misha understands at last what Uri had done. He had played the part of a Nazi for a purpose, but...
(The entire section is 792 words.)