Excerpts from the Book 'The Island on Bird Street" by Uri Orlev
He wasn't just an ordinary mouse…
Once you've been born, you can't deny your roots
"You can be the master of your fate, Alex."
People shouldn't kill each other…
What it would be like to be someone on whom others' lives depended

A. He wasn't just an ordinary mouse…

He wasn't just an ordinary mouse either. He was a very smart one. That's why he stayed alive when all the other mice in the cage got sick and died. Father said that being immune had nothing to do with being smart. But the fact was that he was always a little different from the others. I had noticed it even before he was the last mouse left in the cage.

I don't know how I would have gotten through whole days without him, from early morning until dark, alone by myself in our ceiling hideout or down below in the bunker. When I couldn't read, I'd play with snow. Sometimes I'd hide his food somewhere and let him look for it. I taught him that the game started when I whistled.

When I talked to snow, I knew I wasn't exactly communicating with him. I mean I knew he couldn't understand, if he did listen. But it was better than having to talk to myself all the time as though I were crazy. I'd tell him that the war would be over soon and that then I'd buy him a nice big cage. And that I'd bring him lots of friends, males and females, because I didn't know which he was himself.
B. Once you've been born, you can't deny your roots

One thing she said stuck in my memory, the example of the tree: "It may make no difference whether you were born a Chinese or an African or an Indian, but once you've been born, you can't deny your roots. When you dig up a tree's roots, it dies." She went on. "People don't die when they deny their past, but they can't be themselves. They grow up sad and twisted, and so do their children."

Father disagreed. He said that by the second or third generation you could forget. But he admitted that Jews had deep roots that went way back, even if they became Christians. Did father want to become a Christian too? I don't think so. That would have been a coward's way out, and he certainly wasn't a coward. Anyway, that's why mother wanted to go to Palestine. Polish society denied her roots.

I sided with mother only because she sided with me. I wasn't really sure she was right. Today, though, I know she was.
C. "You can be the master of your fate, Alex."

Sometimes I thought of my luck as an angel or some kind of good spirit, or as some force that wanted to keep me alive. But father didn't believe in blind fate. He used to tell me, "You can be the master of your fate, Alex."

Boruch, on the other hand, liked to say, "It's all in the cards. No one can escape his destiny, for good or for bad."

I wondered whether it was somehow already decided what would happen to everyone. I doubted it. Because if it was, why bother doing anything? Maybe fate was more like a prediction: if you did such-and-such, then such-and-such would happen, and if you didn't, it wouldn't. Maybe that much was in the cards. Who could know?
D. People shouldn't kill each other…

"Well, have you killed anyone with it yet?" he joked.

You couldn't tell it had been shot from looking at it. I had cleaned it well and oiled it with cooking oil. I didn't answer. Suddenly I felt uncomfortable. After all, he was a doctor. It was only when we sat down to rest after having struggled through a particularly hard passage that I told him what had happened.

"People shouldn't kill each other, son," he said, speaking slowly and very seriously. "People should help each other to live. Killing human beings is the most terrible of crimes, although unfortunately it's become a common one lately. But if you're saving the life of a friend or someone in your family, or defending your country, or just trying to keep yourself alive, there's nothing to be ashamed of. It's no disgrace to kill a murderer like the soldier you told me about. On the contrary, I think you were very brave. I want you to know that, just in case no one's told you yet."

All at once he bent down and kissed me. Then we continued on our way.
E. What it would be like to be someone on whom others' lives depended

Sometimes, when I was alone in the hideout, I'd think about what it would be like to be someone on whom others' lives depended. I'd think, for instance, that if it were up to me, I'd decide to save anyone who had a big space between his front teeth, because I had one myself. But father and Boruch didn't have spaces. It would have to be something else then, like blue eyes. Only I'd also have the right to save three people who had brown eyes. One, of course, would be mother. Father and Boruch were no problem. All the rest of the brown-eyed people would have to pass before me. Next I'd pick little Yossi, who was the nicest of the Gryns. But that was ridiculous. How could I pick one child out of a whole family? I'd have to give myself the right to save ten lives. In the end I'd just get depressed, maybe because it was taking father so long to get home.