Malka Drucker and Michael Halperin

Jacob’s Rescue

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Jacob’s Rescue Summary

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Based on a true story, Malka Drucker and Michael Halperin’s children’s novel, Jacob’s Rescue (1993), frames the story in the present day as Jacob recounting his World War II experience to his daughter.

The story opens at a Passover dinner where young Marissa is tortured by the delicious smell of the meal while her father, Jacob, leads the seder. She is confused by the presence of two strangers who are not Jewish. The older couple came to stay with her family two days before, and no one has explained why. Jacob asks Marissa to ask the Four Questions. When she is done, she asks a fifth question: Why are these people with us? Jacob begins to tell the story.

Jacob Gutgeld remembers living in a large house in Warsaw; his family had a chauffeur named Stasek who used to give him rides on his shoulders. When the Nazis invaded Poland, they established a ghetto in Warsaw, forcing all the Jews into it. Every day, they arrest Jews and lead them away. Everyone understands that the Germans plan to rid the area of Jews entirely; Jacob’s father and uncles have fled, leaving behind the women and children in the belief that the Germans won’t stoop to murdering them. Jacob lives with his grandmother in a tiny apartment in miserable conditions. Whenever the Nazis arrive, Jacob and his two brothers, David and Shalom, have to hide.

Jacob is sent to the home of the Roslan family to hide. Alex and Mela Roslan, non-Jews, are Polish and have two sons of their own, Yurek and Marishka. They welcome Jacob into their home, though Yurek and Marishka, initially unhappy about this intrusion into their lives, treat Jacob coldly.

Jacob’s uncle Gazmer, a doctor who can pass as a non-Jew and thus is able to move around the city freely, visits, telling the Roslans that Jacob’s younger brother, Shalom, is not doing well; he has been abused and is very frail and sickly. He begs the Roslans to take him in as well; reluctantly, the Roslans agree. Shalom arrives emaciated and sickly. Shortly afterward, the Roslan household is hit by Scarlet Fever. Jacob and Marishka have mild cases, but both Yurek and Shalom are very ill. Yurek is sent to the hospital, but Shalom cannot go because he is Jewish, so Gazmer attempts to treat him at the Roslan’s home. Yurek and the other children recover, but Shalom gets increasingly worse until, one evening, his kidneys shut down. He is taken to the bathroom to drink some water and dies in Alex’s arms.

Jacob is devastated; he had begun to relax in the happy home of the Roslans, but his brother’s death makes him very sad. A short time later, he develops an ear infection, a serious side effect of Scarlet Fever. The Roslans learn that surgery will be required to save his life, however, the surgery is very costly because they must bribe everyone involved not to reveal that Jacob is Jewish. Alex sells their home to the first person he can find in order to raise the money, and Jacob is saved after being smuggled into the hospital.

The Roslans find a place to live, and Gazmer returns to inform Jacob that the rest of the family in Poland is dead. He brings Jacob’s brother, David, to join the Roslan family. Gazmer had been taking care of David himself, but now believes it is only a matter of time before the Nazis realize he is Jewish, so he wishes to situate David in a safer situation.

The war begins to turn badly for the Germans; when news of a successful Russian attack reaches the household, Yurek, in his excitement, rushes from the house to shout and celebrate. He is shot by a sniper and killed. Mourning, the Roslans decide that Warsaw has simply become too dangerous and unstable to remain, so once again, they give up their home and move into the country, where Mela’s family has a farm. There are no Germans in the country, and they pass the next few years in peace.

When the war ends, a Russian army unit marches through the area, officially liberating them from German occupation. A soldier enters their home. Recognizing Jacob as a Jew, they embrace in the sheer joy of having survived the Nazi regime.

The Roslans take David and Jacob, whom they think of as their own children now, to Berlin to see if any of their family has survived the war. They discover that Jacob and David’s father is living in Palestine. The new government insists that David and Jacob must be reunited with their father even though both boys would much rather stay with the Roslans.