In the spring of 1941, Misha Defonseca was a plucky, Jewish 7-year-old when her parents were arrested in Nazi-occupied Belgium and she was sent to a safe house in Brussels. When she learned her guardian was about to hand her over to the Germans, she fled into the woods, beginning a four-year, 3,000-mile trek across the continent of Europe in the vain hope of finding her family. Along the way she witnessed massacres and rapes, she sneaked in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto, and she relied on the kindness of partisans, nuns and even wild wolves. Her lupine close encounters—being adopted by adults, curling up with them on cold nights, sharing regurgitated meat with the pups—are what distinguish this moving story from the accounts of other survivors of Nazi terror.
Some of the narrative strains credulity. It's an extraordinary young child who would be so resourceful as to chase crows away from a dead hare, skin it and line her shoes with fur. Or be so moral that, despite severe hunger, she would throw away candy from an SS soldier (who mistook her for Aryan). The book's publisher emphasizes that Misha is not testimony, but memoir—a literary form in which fact can be different from truth. It's up to the reader to decide which is which. (Mt. Ivy, $24.95)