The Silver Sword
The Silver Sword

The Silver Sword

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  • Pages: 2 (828 words)
  • Published: October 7, 2017
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‘The Silver Sword’ is about a Polish family separated during the Second World War and trying to find each other again when the war is over. a simple enough story,. This is a fictionalised but apparently based on fact story suitable for upper primary students. The story opens with Joseph Balicki, the father, escaping from a prison camp in the Polish mountains.

He was the headmaster of a primary school in Warsaw until the Nazis arrested him in 1940 for turning a picture of Hitler to the wall.He makes his way to Warsaw only to find his home in ruins. A neighbour tells him that one night in 1941 his wife was taken away by Nazi Storm Troopers; and that that same night the Nazis came back and blew the house up. His three children, Ruth, Edek and Bronia, have not been seen since and are presumed dead.

Joseph cannot believe it. He returns to the rubble of his home and finds there the silver sword of the title, a paper-knife he had given his wife as a present.There, too, he finds Jan, owner of a scrawny cat and a small wooden “treasure” box, who expertly picks his pocket. Jan asks Joseph for the silver sword; and Joseph gives it to him on condition that, if he ever meets the children, he will tell them to head for their grandparents’ home in Switzerland. That is the background. The main body of the story takes off from there.

Ruth is 14 when we first meet her, Edek is 12 and Bronia is four. They are alone, fending for themselves,

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with bombs exploding around them. Ruth takes on the responsibilities of mother. Children fending for themselves in hostile and potentially dangerous situations were a common theme in children’s literature when this book was written in thelast 50s. Refer Ivan Southall’s ‘Hills End’. ) They set up home in a bombed cellar; Edek scrounges for food, stealing when necessary.

Ruth protects Bronia from terrors, tells her stories, is careful not to transmit her own fears, and starts a school for other lost and orphaned children. Life gets harder for her when one day Edek fails to return. He has been caught and arrested for smuggling food.Not long afterwards Jan turns up outside their cellar, fainting and half-starved.

Ruth takes care of him, earns his confidence and he elects to stay. The war is changing, the tide turns, the Russians are liberating Poland. (It was liberated slowly allowing the Nazis to kill as many members of the ‘old order’ as possible so as to strengthen their grip on the country post war. ) Ruth gets word that Edek has been traced and is alive; and so they set out on their trek across 900 miles of Europe, first to find Edek and then to find their parents.The story is simply told with a minimum of description — it is shown, rather than told, through what the characters say and do. Well-chosen detail and vivid dialogue bring the characters and the story to life.

Ruth is defined by the calm, unselfish way she deals wit

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the setbacks, which befall them, her good humour in appalling circumstances, and her sure sense of right and wrong. Jan is a thieving urchin who loves animals and hates Germans. The relationship between the two gives the book much of its tension and humour. I’ve found that grade 5 and 6 children readily identify with these two characters.

I this is the secret to the books enuring popularity with children. ) It is a story of war, but not graphic depictions of fighting and battles. Instead it is war from the viewpoint of children — hunger, suffering, and homelessness, with no apparent sense or meaning. Little things light up their lives and move the story forward — a loaf of bread, a new pair of boots from the friendly Russian sentry, a lift in the back of a truck.

Their lives are at once ordinary and extraordinary. The suffering is suggested rather than explicit. (If it was written today I feel it would be far more graphic. ) Ruth creates their luck through perseverance and holding firm to her goals and hopes. Steady and steadfast, she is the only one who can make Jan behave.

The silver sword is a sort of mascot, turning up at various key points and threading the story together. The book is notable for its avoidance of stereotypes, its emphasis on individuality.The goodies are not all good, the baddies not all bad. Thoughtful readers will wonder what happens to the normal rules of civilization during war — Are they suspended? Is stealing food justifiable? The answers to such questions prompt others. An underlying theme is compassion for ordinary people at the mercy of events beyond their understanding or control.

The last chapter tells what eventually became of the main characters and describes the International Houses set up in Switzerland after the war for orphaned, damaged children from all over Europe.

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