Chapters 5-7 Summary

The following morning, Joseph returns to the site of his old house hoping to meet Jan again. Jan is there with his wooden box and his cat. Joseph tells him to not steal anything from him, as he has realized Jan is quite the little pickpocket. Joseph says he has decided to head for Switzerland and asks the boy if he knows the best way to find a train leaving Warsaw. Jan tells him he will either be caught and shot or freeze to death, but Joseph insists and Jan eventually takes him to a bend in the track where the trains slow down. Jan gives Joseph food he has stolen from the Nazi barracks and Joseph is able to board a goods train heading west. Jan walks back into town, thinking of the silver sword in his wooden box.

The story moves backward at this point to tell the reader about the plight of the Balicki children. On the night Margit is arrested by German soldiers, the children are locked in their rooms while their mother is taken. Edek, a member of the Boys’ Rifle Brigade, is able to shoot at the soldiers from his upstairs room, but the van with the soldiers and his mother drives away. Knowing the soldiers will return, Edek breaks down his bedroom door and frees his sisters, Ruth and Bronia. They are able to escape before the Nazis return and blow up their house. The three of them walk through the night until, in the opposite end of town, they find shelter in the bottom of a house ruined during the war.

The Balicki children are able to make a sort of home in the underground cellar. They are told by the Polish Council of Protection that their mother has been taken to Germany and will return after the war, although this seems more and more far fetched as the war continues. Edek finds most of the things they need for their new home by scavenging around town, but food is harder to come by. Edek occasionally finds work, but he cannot register for rations without risking being sent to a forced labor camp. He eventually begins stealing from the Nazi supply camps and becomes part of a group of youths who regularly raid and sell the German supplies. Meanwhile, Ruth decides to start a school for the younger children in the neighborhood, teaching them to read and telling them stories from the Old Testament.

As the weather becomes warmer, the children and many other displaced Warsaw residents make camp in the forests and fields outside of the city. Food is easier to come by and Ruth continues her teaching. Unfortunately, Edek is caught one night while smuggling food out of the city. He is arrested by the Germans, and Ruth and Bronia are forced to provide for themselves.