Milkweed

Jerry Spinelli

General Summary~ Amber Patterson

"Misha Pilsudski" was a young boy, living in what seemed to be a fantasy to him. He had no notion of who or where his parents were, nor did he even know his birth-given name, and he knew the bare minimum about the world, if that, to make it through everyday life. Living in the ghetto, he used his tiny size to squeeze through a two brick hole each night to find food in what he called "Heaven." He fed the orphans, his new-found "family", and then himself. With his young sister, Janina, by his side, they squeezed to "Heaven" one final time, to escape being taken to the "ovens" by the trains during deportation. Misha ended up on his own, once again lost in the world. He found his way to America, told his story, and married and had a child whom he never met, until he met his granddaughter. Through all the triumph endured, Misha received the best name he could be given; "Poppynoodle."


What this story taught me about the Holocaust.

While reading Milkweed, I became so into the character of Misha, that I nearly forgot the era in which he was living. Reflecting back, I realized that there were things to be learned about the Holocaust from this story, such as, you must be fearless, you must believe, and most importantly, you must protect yourself before all else.
Misha was a great example of what it is to be fearless. Each and every night, he escaped to the other side of the wall to smuggle food in order to survive. Though he knew this was an extremely dangerous thing to attempt, he never backed down, even after seeing one of his closest friends, Olek, hung from a light post, with a sign around his neck saying "I was a smuggler." Misha knew that if he were not to go to the other side to smuggle food, no food would be given, and he would starve. Although it was difficult for many Jews to be fearless, Misha proved that you must've been fearless in order to survive.
Another thing in which Milkweed taught me about the Holocaust is that you must've believed. Many times when Misha would ask his friends about something, they always responded with a negative response. Misha once asked what a mother is. His friends replied that there are no such things as mothers. This was the same response when it came to Misha asking about angels. Misha constantly trusted what his friends would say to him, but confidence struck him when it came to believing. Misha learned to believe that there are angels which live inside of you and protect you. This belief was one of the main reasons Misha stayed so strong through the Holocaust.
Lastly, this story proved to me that during the time of the Holocaust, one must've protected himself before all else. Many times Janina, Misha's younger "sister", would follow him to the other side of the wall. Though in his heart Misha always wanted to protect Janina, he knew that he must do what is best for himself first, and then he could accompany Janina. For example, while on the "Heaven" side of the wall, it was much more likely for two Jewish smugglers to be spotted by Jackboots than it was one. Misha would run from shadow to shadow, leaving Janina behind, in order to survive the spotting by a Jackboot.
Overall, the three main things I learned about the Holocaust from Milkweed are, that in order to have survived, you must have been fearless, you must have believed, and you must have protected yourself before all else.



Defining Misha

Chapter 10; "Back on the street, I heard a shout. I turned. Someone stood up in the street, in shadow. He stepped into the light. I heard a pop, saw a flash, felt a tug on my ear. I reached up. I couldn't feel my earlobe. Someone was shooting at me! I ducked into the nearest air shaft and made my way home along the alleyways."
Explanation; I chose this quote out of the story because I feel that it gives the reader a good feeling of how fearless Misha truly was. This scene was early on in the story, meaning this scene occurred at the beginning of Misha's journey. If Misha would have been fearful, he might possibly have been killed right there in his tracks. Instead, Misha proved endlessly that he was a fearless boy, trying to survive this horrific time.
Chapter 34; ""No," he said. He tapped my chest. "Happy is here." He tapped his own chest. "Here."
I looked down past my chin. "Inside?"
"Inside."
It was getting crowded in there. First angel. Now happy. It seemed there was more to me than cabbage and turnips."
Explanation; Believing, in my opinion, seemed to be the biggest factor in surviving the Holocaust. Misha was a very big believer. Though many of his friends told him there were no such thing as angels, Misha still pursued to believe. And although everything around him could have nearly drowned one in misery, Misha decided to believe that there was happiness behind all the sadness. Focusing and believing in the positive sides of life made Misha that much stronger of a person, enabling him to survive the Holocaust.
Chapter 30; "I pulled Janina away. "See?" I said. I squeezed her arm. I shook her. "See what happens when you steal food! Do you want that to happen to you?"
She yelled into my face, "I hate you!" She broke loose and ran off.
Good, I thought. She finally learned her lesson. And for the rest of that day I thought, The pest is gone."
Explanation; Although, after reading that quote it may seem as if Misha is protecting Janina, behind what was written on paper, I truly believe Misha was protecting himself. If Misha had not shown Janina the terrible side of being a smuggler, Janina could have seriously threatened Misha while smuggling. Misha needed to get his point across to Janina that there could be no messing up while smuggling. Though Janina insisted on still smuggling, she listened to Misha in the sense that she smuggled on her own, thus, leaving Misha to himself, the way he wanted.


Reflecting on my experience of reading Milkweed.

The thought of trying to put myself into character of living during the Holocaust seemed quite daunting. How can someone of my generation do such a task? Well, to me, Milkweed made that task quite simple. Although Milkweed was written in the prospective of a young boy, it was a story of a survivor, which made it all that more real. The story was very easy to read, which made it that much more enjoyable.
Also, I strongly dislike books in which you can predict the ending..."happily ever after." But, this was not so much the case in Milkweed. Though I thought I was going to predict the ending of Misha's story, I was wrong. I really enjoyed how the story kept it's real-life sense. Life is not perfect, and things are not always going to end up perfect, but making the best of each obstacle you encounter is what will get you through this adventure we call life. Milkweed was the perfect example of this.


Recommendation

Milkweed was a very good first hand look at the Holocaust. To get the best out of this story, I would recommend this book to readers that have somewhat of a sense of the horrifying events of the Holocaust. Though this book is not as gruesome as many things that could be read about the Holocaust, it is still a true story of one's journey. To experience the struggle of getting a meal each night, believing, and having companions to get you through the day, I would recommend reading Milkweed.