Jacob can remember a time when his family was rich and happy. Now they’ve been stuffed into a Polish ghetto made especially for Jews. If any of them is caught trying to leave, they will be shot on sight. But, then the rest of them are being slowly sent to ‘farms’ in the country – farms by the names of ‘Auschwitz’ and ‘Treblinka’. The Jews know what these farms really are. So is there such a huge difference between attempting to escape with the risk of being shot and staying behind to be sent to certain death?
Jacob’s Aunt Hannah does not think so. So she arranges a plan of escape. A plan of escape for Jacob, that is. On a certain day, she will escort him past the barriers and into the arms of a sympathetic Pole, who will rustle him to a secret hiding place…
Will the plan succeed? And if it does, will Jacob be safe in his hiding spot?
When Jacob escapes from the ghetto, he is brought into the Roslan family, which consists of Alex and Mela, the parents, and Yurek and Marishka, a boy and a girl. Although the Roslan family does work together at times, they also exhibit an ‘every man for himself’ mentality. Yurek and Marishka get along sometimes and other times they fight. Yurek sometimes listens to his parents, but other times, he slips out in the middle of the night to smoke and drink with other boys or work with the resistance. If he is questioned about these things, he lies. Alex and Mela, the parents sometimes get along and work together, but on other occasions they argue. After one argument, Mela leaves the house and stays out all day. When she returns, her husband says,
“See, just as I said, everything turns out for the best.”
Mela looked up from her broom and shook her head, not bothering to suppress a smile. “Yes, Alex, you’re always right.” Yurek, Marishka, and Jacob looked at one another, startled, until they caught Mela’s wink. [pg. 75]
Towards the end of the story, Jacob’s little brother, David, comes to live with the Roslans as well. Although Jacob is initially gladdened by this turn of events, he quickly becomes jealous of all of the attention his cute little brother is receiving. A mean streak opens, and he often taunts his little brother, calling him ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’. David responds in kind, telling Jacob that he hates him, and sticking his tongue out at him. They do not get along well at all until the war is over.
A man tells a Jewish legend to the effect that
“Jews are buried sitting up,” Zenek said, repeating the tall tale, “because when the Messiah comes, they want to be able to spring out of the grave to meet him.” [pgs. 54-55]
Interesting. I’d never heard of that before.
Alex asks Mela, “What good is your God who allows children to suffer? What kind of God teaches our children lessons about cruelty?” Later, when Mela sees an example of cruelty, she mutters, “God, in heaven, do you see this?” [pg. 48] These questions are never answered.
There are several instances of cruelty in Jacob’s Rescue, mostly shootings. Marishka and David are out on the streets during one of them.
Marishka was about to agree when her eye caught a German army truck turning the corner. Suddenly the street became deserted. Grabbing David, Marishka yanked him behind a concrete wall next to the building. German soldiers stood up in the truck, firing machine guns at anything that moved. One soldier jumped out of the vehicle and plastered a large poster on a wall. He got back in the truck, and it pulled away, leaving behind a sidewalk littered with dead and wounded. Marishka and David slowly crawled away from their hiding place. Directly in front of them, a woman lay facedown in a puddle of blood. Stepping around her, they saw others lying in the street, some wounded, most dead.
Marishka let out a gasp. A man was dragging the lifeless form of Bobo, the little dog she secretly adopted. She had met the skinny charcoal terrier the first week in the new apartment. Bobo had befriended her instantly. His prominent ribs and lack of a collar told her he was looking for a master. She knew better than to ask her mother if she could keep him. Instead she braided a little collar for him, gave him a name, which he easily learned, and saved a little of her food each day for him. He always met her at the back of the apartment at dusk, wagging his tail.
Bobo had been shot when he had stepped into the street to sniff a body. Marishka ran up to the man hauling Bobo by one leg and asked, “Is that your dog?”
The man snorted. “Are you kidding? This is my dinner.” She stood dazed, watching Bobo disappear down the street. Soon it would be her turn to die, too. [pgs. 83-84]
Later *SPOILER* Yurek is shot.
A shot rang out. Alex watched with horror as Yurek crumpled in the middle of the street. Looking up, Alex saw a German sniper duck out of sight from the edge of the roof. He rushed to his son, lifted his limp body, and, as though to give Yurek his strength, hugged him to his chest.
Warm blood soaked Alex’s hands and shirt as he carried his dying son into the apartment, all the time screaming, “How dare you! How dare you! Nazi animals!” Mela wept over her son, cursing the Nazis and the war. Marishka stared with unbelieving eyes at her brother’s still body. “We have to get him to the doctor,” Mela cried.
Yurek opened his eyes, “Mama. Papa. It’s all right,” he gasped. “I’m sorry I gave you so much trouble.” He coughed Pain coursed through his body. “Take good care of Mari. And Genyek. And Tedek.” Yurek had always been full of life, the one to defy orders, and the one who would do anything for a laugh. Now at the end of his life he turned serious.
Alex and Mel took Yurek’s body to an empty lot. Alex dug a hole, sweat stinging his eyes as he flung shovelfuls of soil over his shoulder. With Mela’s help he delicately laid Yurek into the ground.
Looking down at the newly turned earth that held his son, Alex cursed, wiping away his tears. Mela found a large stone and placed it over the grave. “Yurek,” she said. “I’ll be back one day to put a real stone here. This is my death,” she said, sobbing, as Alex gently pulled her away from Yurek. [pgs. 89-90]
Alex tells Genyek that everyone’s nerves are tight, adding, “Sometimes I think I could slit a throat.” [pg. 80]
Right at the beginning of the story, after Jacob’s grandmother refuses to let him eat pork even though it is the only meat available, Jacob thinks “If the Nazis aren’t following their laws anymore, why should we?” [pg. 9]
Several kinds of alcoholic beverages are mentioned and drunk.
Jacob comforts one of his brothers by telling him, “We’re invincible, remember? Nothing can happen to us.” [pg. 51]
Several references are made to the circumcised state and how it will show whether a person is Jewish or not.
Right at the end, Jacob tells Marishka that he will marry her when he grows up.
War related lies are told (to protect Jews).
Conclusion. I’ve read better and worse stories about World War II. Your call.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret