Download Milkweed Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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 to the ailing Mrs. Milgrom. Just when everyone has finished eating, the grim silence of the night is shattered by the sounds of gunshots and screaming. The people are driven outside and made to stand at attention in the snow, as Jackboots and ghetto...

(The entire section is 712 words.)