Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 395
Tzili is a simple, quiet Jewish girl who is not well-respected by her family or those around her. When her family has to leave to escape the Nazis, she stays behind until she, too, flees into the forest. Appelfeld writes:
At home Tzili was sometimes forgotten, but at school, among all the gentile children, she was the butt of constant ridicule and scorn. Strange: she never cried or begged for mercy. Every day she went to her torture chamber and swallowed the dose of insults meted out to her.
Her family isn't much of a refuge for her. When they leave, they think so little of her that they don't believe the Nazis will hurt her. But Tzili isn't able to take care of herself very well when she's alone, and ultimately she does have to escape from the Nazis. Appelfeld says:
Tzili would find shelter for the night in deserted barns and stables. From time to time she would approach a a farmhouse and ask for a piece of bread. Her clothes gave off a bad, moldy smell and her face was covered with a rash of little pimples.
With time though, she starts to learn and gets used to being out in the world alone:
The passing days were kind to her, moulding her in secret, at first deadening and then quickening her with new life. The sick blood poured out of her. She learned to walk barefoot, to bathe in the icy water, to tell the edible berries from the poisonous ones, to climb the trees. The sun worked wonders with her.
Tzili has a special relationship with animals and nature. Appelfeld says, "She did not know what one said to cows, but she felt the warmth emanating from their bodies seeping into her." The more time she spends out in the forests and nature, the more she becomes one with them and grows into herself. However, she's still a teenager, and her family is gone, and she ends up pregnant with the child of a 40-year-old man who escaped from a concentration camp.
She gives birth to a stillborn child and undergoes many hardships, but she keeps trying. Eventually, she makes it onto a ship heading for Palestine with a kind woman named Linda. Tzili, unlike the rest of her family, manages to escape the violence and danger that surround them.
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