The Silver Sword

The Silver Sword Study Guide

The Silver Sword is a children's novel published in 1956 by British author Ian Serraillier. It is widely considered to be a classic of children’s literature.

Serraillier began the work in 1949, five years after World War II's end, and took five years to complete it. It was published by Jonathan Cape in 1956 and by Puffin Books in 1960.

Although the characters in the book are fictitious, the story is based on fact. The names of the children came from records kept by the Red Cross. Though Serraillier did not fight in the war due to being a conscientious objector, he did a great deal of research into the military side of the story and also drew on his own observations. His description of Russia's Red Army marching into Poland is based on eyewitness accounts from a book entitled East Wind Over Prague, by J. Stransky.

The novel is set in wartime Poland after the invasion by the German army. The Poles put up a strong defense of their country but were overcome by the army of the Reich. Once the army invaded, the Germans demanded from the Poles the same respect and adoration of Adolf Hitler that they required from their own people; it was contravening this demand and turning Hitler's picture to the wall that led to Joseph Balicki’s imprisonment. Within an hour of their mother being taken away by the Germans, the Balicki children—Edek, Ruth, and Bronia—were without their parents and their home, since the Germans burned it to the ground. By sticking together as a family (and taking on an adopted brother, the incorrigible Jan) and focusing on the day when they would reach Switzerland and be reunited with their parents, the children undertake a seemingly impossible journey through three countries.

The book has remained in print since its initial publication. It was titled Escape from Warsaw when published in the United States, but the content of the novel was not changed. It received mostly positive reviews and sold well.

The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature deems the work “one of the most remarkable books since 1945,” and in 2012 it was featured in Once Upon a Wartime, an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.

The novel was adapted into an eight-part television series by the BBC in 1957. In 2011, BBC Radio 4 Extra produced a radio adaptation.