The main character in this story is a Jewish girl named Alicia. When the book starts she is ten years old, she lives in the Polish town of Buczacz with her four brothers, Moshe, Zachary, Bunio, and Herzl, and her mother and father . The holocaust experience began subtly at first when the Russians began to occupy Buczacz. When her brother Moshe was killed at a ” Boys School” in Russia and her father was gathered up by German authorities, the reality of the whole situation quickly became very real.
Her father was taken away shortly after the Russians had moved out and the Germans began to occupy Buczacz.
Once the Germans occupied, they moved the Jewish population of Buczacz into mass ghettos. Alicia and the rest of her family had to share a house with several other families which had also been driven out of there homes. The only source of income in this situation was to sell things at the marketplace, and even there, Jews were forbidden.
Alicia went anyway and sold what she could for food and money. One day her brother Bunio disappeared from the ghetto. Alicia and her family found out later that he had been taken to a work camp, but that they could send food packages to him.
Shortly after this, Alicia was taken into custody by German officials and put on a train to another work camp. Alicia managed to escape from this train by jumping through a small window. She found her way to a river which led her back to the ghetto. By this time several people in the ghetto had been feeling the effects of the impoverished conditions. Starvation, Typhoid, and other diseases, were beginning to take its toll on the people who lived in the ghetto. Then one day, Alicia found out that her brother Bunio had been killed in the work camp. A boy had escaped so they lined up all the boys and shot every fourth one.
As time progressed, Alicia began assuming more responsibility for the daily tasks of the family such as going out and trading for more food in places other than the marketplace. While this was going on, Zachary and a few other boys from the ghetto had been forming a sort of resistance. One day Alicia was informed that her brother had been hanged. After Zachary’s death, Alicia was befriended by a woman named Bella. She met many good friends in the ghetto including a future friend as well as savior, Milek . Months later, Alicia and several other people were rounded up and sent to a prison in Chortkov.
Here the conditions were very poor. Every day more and more people were taken out and shot. On the inside of the cells it was a cesspool of germs and diseases. Every morning the jailkeepers would go around the cell and kick people to see if they were still alive. One of these times Alicia was taken for dead and put onto a wagon with other bodies. The driver of the wagon found her, nursed her back to better health and then brought her back to the ghetto. During this time, before, and after she returned to the ghetto attempts to rid the ghettos of Jews were called “actions”.
To escape being caught by the German police who took part in the actions, they built large bunkers to hide from their captors. After several of these actions, the Buczacz ghetto had been emptied by more than half. At this point the time came to move to a new ghetto. Alicia had been in this new ghetto only a short time when another action occurred. This time Alicia was captured and brought to a mass grave with a multitude of other Jews. Just when Alicia was about to be shot Milek took a gun from one of the shooters and began shooting other officers. Alicia took advantage of this opportunity, as she had many others, and ran for her life.
She ran fast and far until she found herself coming into a town which was surrounded with tilled fields. She discovered she could work in exchange for a small amount of food. She worked hard in these fields and was able to let her mother in Buczacz know that she was safe. Alicia was reunited with her mother and they returned to this community where they lived for about a year. She also found out that her youngest brother Herzl had been taken away and killed Alicia would work at these fields and get food, she would bring some back to her mother who, because of poor health, was resting in seclusion most of the day..
One day they met a nice old man that was sort of an outcast from the rest of the community. He let them stay with him and another Jewish family that he was taking care of in his shack. They stayed here during the winter while Alicia still searched for food, in the process, making many friends. News came one day that the Germans were beginning to fall back from the Russian fronts and Germany’s grip on the Jews in Poland was weakening. This news made Alicia and her mother move away from the old man who helped them. Alicia and her mother had formed a very close friendship with the kindly man.
When Alicia and her mother arrived in Buczacz they moved into a regular apartment and began to live a semi-normal life. It was not long after Alicia had moved back into Buczacz that the Germans took over the town again. In this raid on the Jews, Alicia’s mother was killed by the Germans. Alicia was taken to another prison where she would later be transported to another mass grave. While she was waiting, she devised a plan to escape the mass grave by running down a hillside and into a river. When they were lined up to be shot she ran to the river.
She hid there all night and once again she had escaped the Germans. As she made her way back, she became friends with a group Russian Jews who were fighting with the Russians. She even earned a medal from them because she had helped a number of them escape from a prison cell. Her bravery was not overlooked. Returning to Buczacz she found that there wasn’t much left for her there, so she moved away with a person to a nearby town. She was in this town less than a few hours when her and her friend were taken into custody by the Russian police.
What had happened was that her friend was suspected of selling things in the black market ( which she was ) and the police wanted to find out who was buying things from her. Over a span of 8 months they were kept but finally they were released. They received a lot of money from people that had been saved by their withholding of evidence. Alicia and her friend took this money and bought a train ticket to Lodz. They were stopped in Lvov because they went to get some tea while stopped at a station, but the train took off without them and they left all of their belongings on the train. Next they boarded a train to Krakow, and parted ways there.
In Krakow, Alicia was staying at a rather large house with another family. She built a sort of orphanage by gathering up homeless children from the neighborhood. She lived with this family for a long time, and during this time she learned about a way that she could go to Eretz Island, Israel where she could be safe. She left her orphanage and went on a long journey where she met many people that were like her, in that she didn’t like to see people suffer. Alicia made it to Israel but was taken by British border patrol officers to a jail on Cypress for coming into the country illegally. She was then released from Cyprus.