It is Joseph, the children's father, who first becomes acquainted with Jan.
In the story, Joseph finds a silver sword among the rubble of his old home. The sword is small. It's about five inches long and sports a brass hilt engraved with a fire-breathing dragon. The tiny sword is actually a paper-knife Joseph had gifted his wife for her birthday.
While he's cleaning the blade on his jersey, he notices the presence of a small boy. The boy holds a box under one of his arms and a grey kitten in the other.
At first glance, Joseph thinks the boy is his 13-year-old son, Edek. However, the boy is too small in stature. During their conversation, Joseph tells the boy about his children: Ruth, Edek, and Bronia.
He gives the boy the sword and asks him for a favor in return. If the boy sees either of Joseph's children, he must tell them that Joseph has gone to Switzerland to their grandparents' home.
Ruth and Bronia are the first of the children to meet Jan, the boy. They first discover him lying on the street outside their shelter. Ruth and Yankel (one of the other children) carry him down to the cellar. Eventually, Jan wakes up and asks for his pet rooster, Jimpy. The children discover that Jan also has a box, which he won't open.
Ruth and the others nurse Jan back to health, and he decides to stay on at the shelter.
Meanwhile, Ruth's Russian friend, Ivan, who is a sentry at a nearby army post, brings news of Edek, who is at a transit camp in Posen.
Ruth, Bronia, and Jan soon make their way to Posen to look for Edek. There, however, they discover that Edek has run away. They continue on their journey and eventually find Edek at a refugee feeding station in Kolina, a village to the north of Posen.