57 pages 1 hour read

Morris Gleitzman


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2011

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Summary and Study Guide


Morris Gleitzman is an Australian author best known for writing children’s books that focus on adventure and are filled with humor. His seven-volume Once series details the life of a Jewish boy named Felix Salinger as he struggles to survive the Nazi occupation of Poland before, during, and after World War II. As the fourth installment in the series, After specifically concerns the events in Felix’s life in the winter and spring of 1945 as the war winds down and the Nazis are forced to retreat back to Germany and surrender. Felix, who has just turned 13, emerges from his hiding place of two years due to his concern for Gabriek Borowski, the Polish farmer who has been hiding him under the stable. Once beyond the protection of his hiding place, Felix cannot return and must navigate a series of encounters with Polish partisans, Hitler Youth, and full-fledged Nazis. Finally, he must confront the rumor that his long-lost parents might not have died in a concentration camp, contrary to his belief. After years of living in a hole, Felix must face a dramatic series of circumstances and survive rapid and overwhelming changes.

This guide refers to the 2012 Puffin Books version.

Content Warning: The subject matter of this text concerns the Holocaust and other events of World War II. Throughout the narrative, there are multiple references to torture, executions, concentration camp conditions, and war crimes.

Plot Summary

The story opens on Felix Salinger’s 13th birthday. As a Jewish boy in Nazi-occupied Poland, he has spent the last two years hiding in a hole beneath a barn owned by a Polish farmer named Gabriek. As the evening approaches, Felix realizes that Gabriek is standing above him in the barn, arguing with unknown men. Fearing that Nazis have come to arrest him at last, Felix peeks out of his hiding place and sees that although the men are not Nazis, they are soldiers with guns. Felix worries that they might be the Polish Secret Police and fears that they plan to take Gabriek into the woods and assassinate him. He decides to rescue his protector and follows the men through the forest. When he comes upon them gathered by a railroad track and reveals himself, Felix discovers that the fighters are actually Polish partisans in the process of blowing up a German train. After the attack on the train, Gabriek takes Felix back to the farm, where they discover that Nazis have already set the house and barn on fire. Felix saves Dom, a large farm horse, while Gabriek rushes into the house to save precious keepsakes. Suddenly, the burning house collapses on Gabriek, inflicting a serious head wound. Felix manages to get Gabriek onto the horse and heads back toward the partisans. When he arrives at their camp, some of the partisans want to shoot him because he is a Jew, and they believe he will attract the attention of Nazis. Others decide to recruit him as a fellow partisan, so to evaluate his worthiness to join, they send Felix to town to find a gun. In the town, Felix witnesses several Nazi atrocities, including the abuse of a column of Jewish prisoners who are marching to a concentration camp. Felix secretly follows a Hitler Youth boy who has two bazookas attached to his bicycle; stealing the bicycle, he returns to the partisans in triumph.

When Felix assists a physician who operates on Gabriek, the partisans decide that he should be the new medical assistant. Because Gabriek’s injuries become infected, he must relocate to another partisan camp that has a supply of penicillin. Felix desperately wants to go with him and attempts to run away, but he is prevented from leaving by a young partisan woman named Yuli who soon becomes his surrogate mother. Felix agrees to wait one month for Gabriek to return to the partisans’ forest camp, and in that time, he becomes a very effective medical assistant.

When Gabriel does not return at the end of the month, Felix becomes despondent, deciding that Gabriek must not want to be around him anymore. Yuli suffers a gunshot wound in a Nazi ambush, and Felix assists the doctor in operating on her. As she recovers, she asks Felix if he would like to go with her on a special mission. They ride Gabriek’s horse, Dom, to the town in which Felix stole the bazookas, intending to buy food using jewelry that they acquired from Nazis; the Nazis originally stole the jewelry from Jewish prisoners at the concentration camps. Soon after they arrive, the town is bombed. As he searches for food, Felix discovers three Jewish sisters who have been orphaned and are hungry. Next door, Felix encounters two boys in Hitler Youth uniforms, along with a little girl. He teaches the boys how to open cans of food using diamond rings and takes some food for the Jewish sisters. Soon, Yuli finds him and tells him that the Nazis are planning an attack on the partisans’ forest camp.

They take a cart back to the woods. Yuli orders Felix to take Dom and the cart into the swamp while she goes back to the camp. The next morning, after all sounds of the battle have ended, Felix takes Dom to the partisan camp and discovers that almost all the partisans he knew have been killed. He does not find Yuli’s body but assumes that her body was burned along with the supply bunker. He takes the time to bury the bodies of the partisans with whom he lived. Felix then returns to the town to get more food and to check on the welfare of the Jewish sisters. He gathers them into the cart and saves the Hitler Youth and the little girl from beneath a pile of rubble. He takes all six of them back to the swamp where he has found an island. For two weeks, Felix works with them, teaching them how to care for themselves and how to get along together. The Hitler Youth boys reveal that they did not actually like Hitler. They joined the Hitler Youth for the sake of their families’ safety but still ended up being orphans. The group of young people decides to derail a train so that they can steal food and disrupt the Nazi war effort. When they are about to execute their plan, however, they see Nazis blowing up a train trestle over which their own trains run daily. Felix realizes that this means the war is almost over and that the Nazis are losing.

When they return to the swamp, Felix encounters Yuli, who explains that she was injured by a grenade in the attack on the partisan camp and woke up in a completely different camp. She tells him that the war is almost over and that Russian soldiers have taken over the town that the children are from. She also tells him that there is a possibility that his parents may have survived the Nazi concentration camp to which they were sent; prisoners from that camp have now been marched into another camp in Germany. Felix demands that she take him to that camp, but Yuli refuses. However, she takes the children back to the town and convinces Russian soldiers to take Felix to the concentration camp in Germany. Along the way, he witnesses Russian soldiers committing atrocities.

When he gets to the massive concentration camp, he sees a great many bodies of camp prisoners piled around it and begins to search systematically for his parents. During his search, he encounters Mr. Rosenfeld, a man from his hometown, who tells him that his father has died but that his mother may still be alive. Mr. Rosenfeld takes Felix to his mother, whom Felix finds to be quite feeble and near death. A camp doctor tells him that his mother has been too ill for too long and will not survive. Felix holds a vigil over his mother during the last few hours of her life. After her death, he carries her body to the camp’s mass grave and gently buries her himself. After this, he gets permission to become a medical assistant and nurses the other camp survivors who are near death.

To Felix’s surprise, Gabriek comes to the camp and finds him. They return together to the partisan camp in the woods, where they previously hid valuable keepsakes. One of the hostile partisans, Szulk, who always wanted to kill Felix, suddenly appears with a rifle and threatens to kill both Gabriek and Felix. As Gabriek fights with the partisan, Felix takes out a scalpel that he used when helping in the camp and slashes Szulk across the chest, incapacitating him. Felix decides that he will heal the man rather than kill him, and with Gabriek’s help, he stitches Szulk’s wounds. Felix and Gabriek leave the wounded partisan in the forest and walk away.