Joseph Balicki is the father of the three children, Ruth, Edek, and Bronia, and worked as the headmaster of a Polish primary school before his capture by the Nazis. He is fearless, for he breaks out of prison using only a catapult to get past his cell guard. An old Polish couple offers to hide him until it is safe for him to continue his journey to Warsaw, where he hopes to be reunited with his family. It takes him four and a half weeks to walk all the way to Warsaw. While in Warsaw he discovers that his house was blown up and his wife taken by the Nazis, possibly to Germany. He decides to jump a train to Switzerland, where his wife’s family lives. He intends to start the search for his wife in Switzerland. While in Warsaw, looking through the rubble that was once his house, he meets Jan.
Jan is a little boy who spends most of his time on the forlorn streets of Warsaw. He is highly secretive, for he refuses to tell Joseph anything about himself. He only tells Joseph his name towards the end, when he knows that Joseph’s about to leave for Switzerland. Though small, Jan is a real survivor. He steals food from Joseph’s pockets without his knowledge. He even steals, for himself and others, from the shop in the Nazi barracks. He is shrewd, for he knows how to protect himself from the street’s dangers without any help from other people. It is almost like he is the grown up, for he advises Joseph on the best courses of action.
On the night when the Nazis capture Joseph’s wife, it is Edek, Joseph’s son, who shoots at the German soldiers from the roof of the house after escaping from his locked room. Later, he and his sisters run away from the house. He takes on the responsibility of father for his two siblings, even though he is only about eleven years old. They make a house in the cellar of a bombed building. Edek gets his siblings a mattress and sheets to use as bedding. He even makes some furniture for the small household. The text states that the war made Edek “sharp and self-reliant.” He is too busy to notice the sadness that surrounds him. His “cheerfulness” is contagious, for Ruth soon catches it, and she strives to make the best out of their difficult situation. She takes on the role of mother for her siblings and tries to make them as comfortable as possible in their small house. She encourages little Bronia to draw and soon starts a school for all the lost children in Warsaw. When Edek is caught smuggling goods by the German’s and taken away, Ruth is forced to take full responsibility for Bronia and herself.
Bronia is the baby of the Balicki family. She is a nice little girl who grows up under the guardianship of her sister into an artist of sorts. She adapts easily to the difficulties of the war.