This book is a biographical novel of Josef, a teenage Christian Polish slave laborer, forced to work in Nazi Germany.
At the outset of the story, he awakens after his left leg was amputated due to an accident in the factory where he worked in Southern Germany. A talented mechanic, even at his young age, Josef has a natural ability to understand, repair and fabricate machinery. Because of his usefulness, his life is spared, although slave laborers are normally considered expendable, and when injured, are summarily executed. German citizens are prohibited from helping slave laborers. Yet, Willie, a German ambulance driver only a few years older than Josef, saves Josef’s life by taking him to the hospital and allowing him to recuperate in his own home. Willie lives with his mother, Sonya, a loyal German.
Through the course of his recuperation, Josef fights his hatred of the Germans; Sonya roils with emotion as she comes to see the injured boy as a human being, rather than “the enemy”, while Willie questions his own motivations for helping the young Pole. Ella, a young German girl who is a cook and maid in a nearby house, befriends Josef. She struggles with her own mother’s decision to remove her from school, forcing her to work as a servant. Josef and Ella fall in love and keep their love a secret through the war. When the war ends, they remain in French-occupied Germany, marry, and start a family. As a mixed Polish-German couple they face the ire of the Germans, and, when their eldest son develops tuberculosis, they fear losing him. Through the years, Josef and Willie deepen their friendship, but Ella and Josef decide to emigrate to the US.
This story offers a window into the ways some Germans broke the rules to help their declared enemies, and depicts the lives of ordinary people through the last two years of the World War II, Allied occupation, near-starvation, the agonizing decision to leave Europe, and their early years in a new land.