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Despite rumors of Hitler’s death, Elli and her mother are tattooed with a serial number; liberation does not seem close. Elli worries as her mother’s strong will begins to crack. The constant toll of starvation and thirst are taking its toll and Elli must convince her mother to continue working, for the alternative is a death sentence. Fortunately, a rainstorm brings life-giving water with a thin thread of hope. Even beaten, shaved, and starved as she is, Elli finds her mother beautiful in the wash of rain.
But this new strength will not last. Elli and her mother are moved to new barracks with wooden beds. Though the army blankets are an improvement, the unwieldy beds accommodate twelve women per square and are packed with rows of people. The bunk above them cracks under the weight of so many and collapses on her Elli’s mother. Despite her pleas, the women on the bunk above do not move off of the bunk, trapping her mother until fellow inmates help dislodge her.
Elli’s mother is taken to the hospital where a doctor tells Elli that her mother is paralyzed and will not regain consciousness.
Elli finds a small hole in the hospital wall right next to her mother’s bed. She is able to whisper words of comfort to her mother in between her work, but she must be careful as it is forbidden for prisoners to dawdle around the hospital.
A guard finds her outside the hospital and Elli is punished. She is forced to kneel for 24 hours without food or drink, and cannot move on pain of death. As she kneels, Elli watches a new batch of prisoners enter the camp. Elli is amazed to see people entering the camp looking well-fed and without the posture of an inmate. As the column marches towards the columns of smoke, Elli fears that the stories about the gas chambers and the crematoriums are true.
As the month’s selection draws near, Elli fears for her mother, who is still in the hospital. Despite the original diagnosis, her mother is not completely paralyzed, but cannot walk unsupported. Those who do not pass the inspection disappear. Knowing that staying in the hospital would doom her, Elli and her old neighbors from her village help smuggle her mother out of the infirmary.
In a twist of fate, Elli’s mother manages to pass inspection, but an old wound on Elli’s leg keeps Elli held back. Knowing that staying would cost her life, Elli sneaks back into the selection line, covering her leg with her dress. The soldiers do not recognize her and Elli rejoins her mother.
Though they have survived the selection, they are far from safe. A minor scuffle over a handkerchief nearly gets Elli beaten to death by an SS woman. However, their harsh treatment lightens when they are moved to a new labor camp at a German factory. They are given soap, towels, and even real clothes and winter coats.
As Elli delights in her newfound clothing, she reads the name of a girl sewn into the label of her coat: Leah Kohn. Elli realizes that all the clothing belonged to other Jews—many of whom may be dead. Feeling that she is now an accomplice to the brutality visited on these people, Elli silently begs the former owners for forgiveness.