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Chapters 40-45 Summary

Chapters 40-44: "Then"

When Misha awakens, his head is ringing, and he finds himself lying in a ditch in a puddle of water. There is a gash on his arm where the dog had grabbed him, and his ear is a "crusty lump." As he looks around, he realizes that the trains are gone; the Stawki Station is empty. Plagued by dizziness and slipping in and out of consciousness, Misha makes his way down the tracks, staggering and falling repeatedly. After a while, he encounters a young boy, who gives him some water, and asks where he is going. Misha pulls out his soiled armband with the blue star upon it and replies that he is "going to the ovens...where Janina is."

Misha wanders onward in a daze, eating whatever the earth offers, and sleeping wherever he drops. As he walks, he is haunted by visions: he sees Uri and Buffo, the blue man on the merry-go-round, and Doctor Korczak and the orphans, singing as they march with heads held high into the ovens. Though he looks for her constantly, Janina is never there.

One day when Misha wakes up, there is a man standing over him, who jerks him to his feet, takes him to his farm, and deposits him in a barn. The farmer's wife comes and gives Misha water and something to eat, then tends to his wounded ear and thrusts him in a tub, where she scrubs him until he is clean. Every day, the farmer's wife returns, bringing water and a meager meal. Finally, Misha is well and attempts to resume his journey down the railroad tracks.

The farmer comes after Misha and brings him back to the farm with a rope around his neck. The farmer's wife says that there is a new law requiring all children to work on the farms. Misha is forced to stay and labor for three years. One night, a man comes by and talks to the farmer. After he leaves, the farmer's wife hurries out, gives Misha a loaf of bread, and tells him to run away. The war is over, and thousands of people are trudging along the tracks. Misha joins their desperate ranks, doing whatever is necessary to get by from day to day.

Eventually, Misha finds his way back to Warsaw. The ghetto is deserted and in ruins. Misha learns that after he had left, there had been a revolt in which the Jews had turned on the Jackboots, but they had not been strong enough to prevail. As he surveys the silent wasteland, Misha understands at last what Uri had done. He had played the part of a Nazi for a purpose, but on his last day, he had stood strong and defiant against them. Uri had known what was to come and had saved Misha's life.

As the world returns to normal, Misha has a difficult time adjusting, as he has never known what normal is. He becomes a huckster, stealing and selling enough to buy a steamship ticket to America. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, he is hired to hawk a miracle vegetable chopper. Although he sells nothing, he discovers his voice and finds a sense of fulfillment...

(The entire section is 792 words.)