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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 fall throughout the winter, and homeless individuals roam the ghetto by the thousands, starving and dying in the street. Occasionally, on Sundays, Jackboots come by with their girlfriends and toss pieces of bread onto snow, laughing as the starving people scramble for it. A man with a silver pipe inexplicably appears and marches around the ghetto, playing merrily and singing, "Come to the candy mountain." An emaciated orphan tries to follow him, but he cannot keep...

(The entire section is 766 words.)