This story relates the dangerous, arduous journey of brave Polish refugees during WWII. A Polish family fears the Nazis will separate them. Their fears come true as their father is taken away. Luckily he escapes from the Nazi prison camp and takes refuge in Switzerland, awaiting the rest of his family. However, after the children's mother is seized, the three children, Ruth, Edek, and Bronia, focus only on surviving and avoiding the Nazis. But even they are separated when the Nazis arrest and deport Edek.
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Jan, an orphan kid, enters the children's life, randomly appearing one day starved and half-dead. Ruth nurses him back to health and is the only one who can control his moody, and volatile disposition. For all his problems, Jan procures food for the girls and is allowed to accompany them.
More than 2 years after Edek's disappearance, WWII ends. Ruth and Bronia are reunited with Edek, who is suffering from TB. The children resume their trek towards Switzerland, traveling through Yugoslavia and Germany. Eventually they leave the Russian zone and enter the American zone.
They encounter setbacks on the way. The exhausting journey through city and country takes its toll on sickly Edek, but he clings to life determinedly. Jan suffers from behavioral problems and frequently relies on Ruth to rescue him from messy situations. Even after he is caught and punished for petty theft, he continues his thieving ways.
Once they reach Bavaria, the children lodge with a kind farmer but are constantly on the lookout; a law has been passed which decrees that all Polish refugees are being rounded up and shipped back to Poland. Now the children must not only survive the elements but run from the law as well. One day a German official shows up, but the children escape onto the river in a canoe. They run aground but are rescued by a kind American who takes them on the last leg of their journey to the border of Switzerland.
They are so close; only a lake separates them from the camp where their father resides. However, they are refused entrance. In a foolish, desperate move, the children cross the stormy lake and after nearly drowning, arrive safely in Switzerland. They are admitted the camp and enjoy a happy reunion with their parents.
Best part of story, including ending:
The children's journey is long and somewhat drawn out. Although this is an accurate summary of a real event, the book drags sometimes, because some of the scenes, though believable, do not have much significance to the main plot.
Best scene in story:
A German official comes to the farmhouse to find Polish refugees. The children trick him, pretending to be farmhands. Eden speaks in German, not giving away his Polish heritage. On the other hand, Jan pretends to be deaf and dumb and the officer is convinced.
Opinion about the main character:
Ruth is resourceful and motherly. She takes care of her siblings and Jan in the place of her parents.