The action begins on a morning in September year 1939 in a city in Poland. World War Two has begun and the German forces have invaded Poland and have arrived in the city Birlitz where the Weissmann family lives. Gerda Weissmann is a fifteen-year old girl who lives with her parents and her older brother, Arthur.
Because of the German invasion, Poland is no longer safe for the Jews. Gerda’s father suggested that Gerda and Arthur leave Poland and find refuge in another country but because the father is sick and is unable to travel, they decide to stick together as a family and stay in Poland.
After a few days after the beginning of the war, the Polish army is forced to retreat and the German forces enter Poland. The German citizens in Poland greet the German troops when they enter the city and they rejoice at their sight. The Jews however fear for their safety after a temple has been burned and after they hear that France and England has declared war on Germany. The Weissmann family tries to remain optimistic, hoping that the war will not last long.
Life changes rapidly for the Weissmann family who is forced to turn in the gold they have and every other valuable things they have. Eighteen days after the Germans invaded Poland, the Jews are being taken away.
At the beginning of October, Papa’s sister and her daughter arrive in Birlitz. They tried to escape the Germans but they train they were on was attacked an Anna’s husband was killed while her son David was taken away. Anna managed to escape with Miriam and they found refuge in the Weissmann house. A few days later Anna’s son arrives in Birlitz as well.
Arthur goes into town to search for his girlfriend but he finds her house empty. Soon, the Jewish population is forced to register and the men are sent away. Rumors start to circulate that man are killed or sent to camps. On the 18th of October, Arthur is sent away as well while the family watches sadden by the fact that there is nothing they can do.
The factory run by Papa and Mr. Pipersberg is taken over by the Germans and every valuable thing is confiscated. Mr. Pipersberg tries to get in the factory but he is found out and the Germans beat him when they find that he is a Jew.
Many Jews decide to leave Poland and seek refuge in parts of the country controlled by the Russian Government. The Gestapo begins to gather the Jews they find and Mr. Pipersberg leaves after he finds that the Gestapo is looking for him. The Weissmann family remains in Bielitz despite de dangers it has.
At the end of November, they hear news for the first time about Arthur. The family finds that Arthur and many more men were loaded into truck and were supposed to be sent to the Gouvernement. On the way there, the Germans stopped the truck, let the men free and shoot almost forty men. There are no news about Arthur so the family thinks that he escaped alive and went into hiding.
The Jews are told to leave all their belongings behind and prepare for transportation. The Weissmann manage to sell some of their valuable things but the transportation is postponed so they are allowed to remain in their house but are forced to move into the basement while the woman who lived in the basement is told to live upstairs.
After Christmas, things get worst for the Jews: their food rations are cut and they are forced to wears armbands to distinguish them from non-Jews.
They Weissmann family receive news from Gisa who is in Krakow. Gisa also tells them that Arthur is safe in Russia and that they should not worry. Gerda finds later that Gisa lied about Arthur to make her parents feel better and that she didn’t really had any news about Arthur but her news are proven to be true when the family receives a letter in April from Arthur who tells them that he is safe in Russia.
Arthur continues to send letters back to his family that remained in Bielitz that now survived by making dresses and other garments and selling them with food.
Time passes and Gerda turns sixteen in May. Arthur continues to work in Russia and send money to his family while Germany continues to advance. France soon falls and soon, the parts of Poland controlled by Russia are conquered by Germany as well.
Gerda begins to take English lessons from Ulla but she is caught and she is told that what she does is a crime so she must stop. During that same year, Gerda visits a former factory transformed into a work camp for the Jewish men. It is there where Gerda meets Abek, a man of thirty years old.
Abek tries to get closer to Gerda but she remains indifferent to his advantages. Abek asks Gerda to marry him after a while but she refuses, telling him that she only sees him as a friend but agrees to continue seeing him until after the war.
Towards the beginning of 1942, Gerda receives news from one of her friends living near the Russian border. There, the Germans attacked and killed Jews and even made them dig out their own graves.Things turn for the worst for the Weissmann family as well because they are forced to move out of their homes and into places that will eventually become ghettos.
The second part begins with Gerda now alone, separated from her parents and in Sosnowitz, a place where many Jews have been sent. There, she meets with Abek’s family who try to send her home but she refuses to let them help her, fearing that she will have to marry Abek after the war. Gerda continues to recive letters from Abek while in camp even after she is transported from Sosnowitz to another camp that specialized in weaving.
In August 1943. Gerda and her friend Ilse, are moved once again to another camp in Märzdorf. Things get worst there because one of Gerda’ supervisor’s tries to make her have sexual relationships with him but she refuses so she is punished to work a day and night. Soon after that, Ilse manages to get them transferred to Lamdeshut with Abek following them even though he chooses to be voluntarily transferred into one of the worst camps in Germany.
The girl soon find that they may be sent to be entertainment for the wounded German soldiers and so Gerda gets enough poison for her and Ilsa but they never get the chance to use it because they are sent to another camp when Germany begins to falter. From the group in which Gerda is assign, only 120 girls survive and the rest die of starvation or cold during the long march. The group reaches the Czechoslovakian border and the surviving girls are locked inside a warehouse and left there with a bomb outside. The bomb doesn’t go off and the girls are saved by Czech people telling them that the war is over.
The girls are taken to a hospital and it is there where Gerda meets Kurt Klein who asks her to marry him before he is sent back home.