Ruth is a courageous character who grows up quickly when she and her sister are separated from their parents and older brother. She has a fierce mother-instinct, and overcomes her fears to care for her siblings, start a school for lost children in the city, and stand up to Russian soldiers to secure necessary food and supplies.
Bronia has a happy disposition and, partly because she is young, adjusts amazingly well to the abrupt changes in her life during the war years. She is artistic, depicting at first frightening scenes of war, and later the peace and beauty of her new life in Switzerland.
Edek is intelligent and self-reliant, taking charge of the children when they are first separated from their parents and executing a daring escape from a Nazi work camp under a train. Although his survival is in question when he contracts tuberculosis, Edek has a strong will to live and eventually pursues his dream of becoming an engineer.
Jan, left on his own at an early age, is at first rebellious and full of hate, stealing with impunity and petulant when corrected. He loves animals but distrusts people, but after finding the love and consistency with the Balickis, he learns to channel his energy and live productively in society.
Joseph is strong and determined, resourcefully getting away from a prison camp from which few have escaped. He is a loving father, searching tirelessly for his family throughout the war.