Tadeusz Sobolewicz was only 17 when the story begins. This means that he went from being a na´ve boy scout to becoming an active and on-the-run in a double occupation of his homeland by the Soviet Union and Germany starting in 1939 till 1941. Thereafter, he became a death camp prisoner who survived.
This is because, by 1941, a Polish girl had turned him in, and he was sent off to Auschwitz following months of beatings in a local Polish prison, ran by SS agents. Over the next four years, Sobolewicz lived through hell in 6 death- and work camps in Poland and Germany: These were Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Leipzig, Muelsen, Flossenbuerg, and Regensburg. Meanwhile, his father would die in Auschwitz-almost before the young Sobolewicz's eyes. (His grandfather had been shot to death for helping Jews.) His mother was taken off to Ravensbrueck for the duration of the war. Another cousin had been killed in the infamous Katyn massacre.
In the beginning of his narration, Tadeusz Sobolewicz emphasizes that perhaps "luck and coincidence" is all that had kept him alive throughout his travails. However, this is in a way only partially true as his very narration is full of surprisingly hopeful events and peoples who risk their own security and survival to help others-as he does. In Sobolewicz's narration, often these personages or events pop up just as young Sobolewicz is at his wit's end--and is almost begging to be taken form his misery by the Hand of Death.
Just as in Guenther Grass's novelette, CATS AND MOUSE, set in Gdansk in 1939, Sobolewicz describes a pre-German Occupation world in Poland that was filled with the excitement of a youth growing up. Just months before the September invasion of the Germans, Sobolewicz was training as a boy scout in the same fields where so many Polish soldiers would soon die.