Halina Rudowski is on the run. When the Polish ghetto where she lives is evacuated, she narrowly escapes, but her mother is not as lucky. Along with her friend Batya, Halina makes her way to a secret encampment in the woods where Jews survive by living underground. As the group struggles for food, handles infighting, and attempts to protect themselves from the advancing Germans, Halina must face the reality of life without her mother.
Based on historical events, this gripping tale sheds light on a little-known aspect of the Holocaust: the underground forest encampments that saved several thousand Jews from the Nazis. In telling the story of one girl's survival, Escaping into the Night marks the arrival of a remarkable new voice in fiction.
A Guide for Reading Groups Escaping into the Night By D. Dina Friedman Discussion/Essay Questions
In Chapter 1, Halina says, "I was tired of pretending not to care when the guards hit someone with their rifles, tired of pretending not to notice when I heard gunshots in the streets. Wasn't thirteen the age when you were supposed to stop pretending?" How does Halina grow from "pretending" to accepting her reality? How do other characters in the book pretend in order to escape or deal with their reality?
Discuss Halina's relationships with the various adults in the book: her mother, her father, Georg, and Tante Rosa. What do each of these relationships signify to Halina? How do her feelings towards each of these people change as Halina changes?
The three main characters in the book, Halina, Reuven, and Batya, all have differing notions of faith. Discuss how each of them examines his or her faith (or lack thereof) in relation to the history of the Holocaust and the events in the book.
One of the positive aspects of Halina's experience is her kinship with nature and love of the woods. Yet many people who escape to the forest, like Mrs. Fiozmann, choose to go back to the ghetto because they can't take the harsh living conditions. What would you do? How well do you think you would be able to survive in the forest?
Mr. Moskin says, "There are times to fight and other times where the only thing we can do is to pray?" Do you agree or disagree?
Tante Rosa tells Halina, "We don't talk about the past . . . we must live for the present, for each day. At night sometimes, after the girls are asleep, I think about my husband and the time before the forest. But I can't speak of these things. When I see the sun rise in the morning, I put my hand on the trunk of a tree and think only about what I have to do to stay alive for one more day." Why do you think she says this?
Is there sexism in the forest? How are the girls and women treated differently from the men? Do you believe this is acceptable? Why or why not?
Before the food expedition, Batya raises questions about ethics. Do you believe it is ethical for the group to take food and supplies from the surrounding peasant villages? Why or why not?
Several characters in Escaping into the Night do come back, yet others never do. What do you think of Reuven's insistence on first trying to find his brothers, and later waiting for Halina, after she and Batya don't return from the food expedition?
Just before Halina and Reuven set off to rescue Batya, Reuven says, "My brothers were brave but they were unlucky . . . if I'm not unlucky, then I have to make myself brave enough to help others, even if I'm not brave." Halina responds by saying she isn't sure she can believe in God, but she can believe in luck. How are bravery, faith, and luck related?
Do you think Halina and Reuven should feel remorse about the death of the German soldier? Why or why not?
What is the significance of the possessions that Halina has with her in the forest? At the end of the book she says, "Dayenu. It would have to be enough." Is it enough?
Glossary Baruch Hashem (Hebrew) -- literally, "Blessed be the name," or "Praise God" Brukhim Haboim (Yiddish) -- Welcome. Literally, "Blessed be they who come" Daven (Yiddish) -- to pray; Daven Ma'ariv -- To pray the evening service Dayenu (Hebrew) -- A key word in a chant sung at Passover, which means, "It would have been enough for us" Ich hab moyre (Yiddish) -- An expression meaning "I'm worried," or "I have fear" Kaddish (Hebrew) -- the Jewish prayer for the dead Malbushim (Hebrew) -- People from urban areas who didn't have good forest survival skills Meshugge (Yiddish) -- crazy Meyn takhter (Yiddish) -- my daughter Mir zaynen ale brider (Yiddish) -- "We're all brothers" Mishpokhe (Yiddish) -- family Sheyne medele (Yiddish) -- pretty girl Shechinah (Hebrew) -- the feminine form of God Tallis (Yiddish) -- A shawl worn during prayer T'fillin (Hebrew) -- Boxes with prayers in them that religious Jews attach to their head and arms with leather straps during prayer Treyf (Yiddish) -- Not kosher, that is, not in accordance with Jewish dietary laws Vilde chaya -- A wild woman Was ist das (German) -- "What is this?" Yahrzeit (Hebrew) -- A memorial candle lit for the dead Ziemlanka -- A dugout shelter built in the forest Zwei frauleinen (German) -- "Two young ladies"
D. Dina Friedman teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts. She has published a number of short stories, poems, articles,and plays in literary journals, and has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. This is her first bookfor a younger audience. Ms. Friedman lives in Hadley, Massachusetts.