Ruth, Bronia, and Jan, along with Jan’s chicken Jimpy, set out from Warsaw to try to find Edek at the transit camp in Posen. They fall in with a number of refugees who are all leaving Warsaw, traveling through ruins and abandoned fields and villages. Near the end of the first day, the children are able to get a ride in the back of a truck that takes them much farther than they would have been able to walk.
For the next few days they are unable to find any rides, but at the end of the fourth day they reach Posen. When they reach the camp, the secretary tells them there is no record of an Edek Balicki. Ruth is unsure of what to do until a man overhears her asking about Edek and tells her that he has just sent him to a nearby camp in Warthe which is set aside for people suffering from tuberculosis. When the children reach the camp in Warthe, they find out that Edek refused to stay and has run off somewhere.
Ruth decides that they should go to Kolina, a village a few miles north of Posen where other refuges tell them that a relief organization has set up a large field kitchen and is providing free food. When they reach Kolina, they wait in line and eventually are given bowls of soup and bits of bread to eat. As Jan tries to find a place to sit, he trips, spilling his soup and bread all over the ground. The crowd, which had remained orderly and peaceful until then, suddenly turns into a mob and everyone begins rushing the food tables. After the chaos is over, Jan sees that Jimpy’s neck has been broken in the struggle. Ruth, however, is ecstatic. During the struggle she inadvertently linked hands with a stranger; as the fighting ends, she realizes that she is holding hands with her brother Edek.
Although the trains in Posen do not run on a regular schedule, the Balicki children and Jan, along with many other refugees, are able to find a train to Berlin. As they travel, the refugees tell stories to pass the time. Eventually Edek begins to tell his story about what happened to him after he was arrested for stealing food from the Nazis. After working in a German labor camp for a couple of years, he was able to escape by hiding underneath an eastbound train and holding onto the underside.
Although Jan does not believe him, Edek convinces the other refugees by describing his experience in vivid detail. He tells them that at one point the train ran through a huge puddle and he ended up being frozen to the train. After the train crossed into Poland and stopped at a station, he was able to yell and get the attention of some rail workers who chopped through the ice with an ax and freed him. The other refugees observe that he still does not look completely thawed and Ruth thinks his hands still feel cold even though they are sitting next to the stove.