Stena Wagner and her son find themselves on a train to Warsaw hours before Germany attacks Poland and World War II begins. The train is bombed and they desperately try to reach Warsaw one-step ahead of the advancing German armies. In Warsaw, the Polish Resistance Movement recruits Stena. Then, in the dangerous streets of Warsaw, in the crowded Ghetto, in the clandestine radio listening post, and in the dark forest of the Tatry Mountains, Stena fights for her and her son’s survival using her wit, courage, and a medallion for luck.
In Budapest, the Gestapo arrests Stena and her son joins up with a gang of orphan boys to hunt for food. As the Russian armies approach Budapest, Stena escapes from prison, and the son finds himself again in a boarding school. Together they weather the bitter winter and the ravages of war. A Russian captain arrests Stena, and the son runs away from his brutal headmaster to look for his mother. Mother and son find each other outside a Polish camp set up by the Russian Authorities. "I took out all the necessary papers that made me Madam Lattermant and you his son," says Stena, as they travel to a camp set up for the French. In Odessa, the Russian authorities refuse to recognize French citizenship acquired during the war. "Mother slipped into a deep-blue funk. Nobody could reach her not even Michel. Mother the once vibrant self-assured woman was melting away. I kept my distance. I didn't want to add to her misery," says the son.