Lieutenant Sergei Kostrov in the autumn of 1941 falls into captivity. Having detained the prisoners for several days in the cellars of the destroyed Klin glass factory, they, built on five people in a row, are escorted along the Volokolamsk highway. From time to time shots are heard – it’s the Germans who shoot the straggly wounded. Sergei is walking beside a bearded elderly captive – Nikiforich, whom he met last night. Nikiforych also has rusks in the warbler, one of which he offers to Sergei, and an ointment that helps with beatings-he smeared her with the broken temple of Sergei. When the column passes through the village, the old woman throws captive cabbage leaves, which hungry captives greedily grab. Suddenly a machine-gun fire is heard, the old woman is falling, the prisoners are falling, and Nikiforich, mortally wounded, says to Sergei: “Take a bag… my son looks like you… run…”
Sergei with a column of prisoners reaches the Rzhev camp and only on the seventh day receives a tiny piece of bread: twelve people a day issued a loaf of bread weighing eight hundred grams. Sometimes prisoners receive a bald consisting of slightly warmed water, whitened with waste of oatmeal. Every morning from the barrack the dead are carried for the night.
Sergei begins typhus, and his patient, with a temperature of forty, barrack dwellers drop from the upper bunks to take a good place: “still die.” However, after two days, Sergei crawls out from underneath the lower bunks, dragging his right leg, which is retreating, and asks in a helpless whisper to free his place. At that moment a man in a white robe enters the hut – this is Dr. Vladimir Ivanovich Lukin. He translates Sergei into another hut where there are about twenty commanders, sick with typhus, behind the fence; brings him a bottle of alcohol and tells him to rub his unconscious foot. A few weeks later, Sergei can already step on his foot. The doctor, working in the camp outpatient clinic, gingerly searches for his people among the prisoners in order to arrange for the escape of a large armed group by summer. But it turns out differently: the captive commanders, including Sergei,
Sergei and his new friend Nikolayev are constantly looking for an opportunity to flee, but the case does not seem to be. Prisoners are again being taken somewhere, and this time, apparently, is far away: each is given a whole loaf of bread from sawdust, which is a four-day norm. They are loaded into hermetically closed, windowless cars, and by the evening of the fourth day the train arrives in Kaunas. A column of prisoners at the entrance to the camp is greeted by SS men armed with iron blades, who, with a bellowing, attack the exhausted prisoners and begin to cut them with shovels. In front of Sergei, Nikolaev perishes.
A few days later, the escorts take a hundred prisoners to work outside the camp; Sergei and another prisoner, still a boy named Vanyushka, are trying to escape, but they are overtaken by escorts and brutally beaten. After fourteen days of punishment cell, Sergei and Vanyushka are sent to the penalty camp, located near Riga – Salaspils camp “Valley of Death”. Sergei and... Vanyushka are here and leave no hope of escape. But in a few days they are sent to Germany. And then, knocking the lattice off the car window, Sergei and Vanyushka are jumping out of the car at full speed. Both miraculously survive, and their wanderings through the forests of Lithuania begin. They go at night, keeping their way to the east. From time to time the fugitives come into the house – ask for food. In case, if suddenly it turns out that there are policemen in the house, they always have large round stones in their pockets.
One day, on the day when Vanyushka turned seventeen, they decide to arrange a “holiday” for themselves: ask for potatoes in a small house standing at the edge of the forest, cook it with mushrooms and rest for two hours, as usual, but three. Vanyushka goes for potatoes, and Sergei collects mushrooms. After some time, Sergei, worried about Vanyushka’s absence, plods on the house, looks in through the window, sees that Vanyushka is not there, and realizes that he is in the house tied up! Sergei decides to set fire to the house in order to rid Vanyushka of inevitable torture in the Gestapo.
Two weeks Sergei goes alone. While getting food, he uses a ploy that has saved his life more than once: entering the house, he asks for bread on the eight: “Seven of my comrades are behind the house.” But here comes autumn, the leg hurts more and more, it less and less manages to go through the night. And one day Sergei does not have time to hide for a day, he is detained by policemen and delivered to the subachay prison, and then transferred to Panevezhyskaya prison. Here in the same cell with Sergei are Russians who, judging by his appearance, suggest that he is about forty years old, whereas he is not yet twenty-three. Several times Sergei is taken to interrogation in the Gestapo, he is beaten, he loses consciousness, he is again interrogated and again beaten; he wants to know where he came from, with whom, who from the peasants gave him food. Sergei comes up with a new name – Peter Rusinovsky – and answers,
Sergei and his new friends Motyakin and Ustinov, who were partisans in the Lithuanian forests before the prison, are planning an escape. The prisoners are working in the sugar factory on the unloading of wagons; Sergei throws Beetle hiding in the boot Motyakin and Ustinov, and he hides under the car, settling there on the brake cables. Discovering at the end of the working day the disappearance of three prisoners, the escorts, rushing to look for them, find Sergey: he is given out by the unwrapped unwrapped and hanging out from under the coach car. On the question of the escorts about the unseen comrades, Sergei replies that they left under the carriages. In fact, according to the developed plan, they should try to climb over the fence at night and go into the forest.
After the failed escape, Sergei was transferred to the Siauliai prison, and then to the Siauliai prisoner of war camp. It is already spring 1943 Sergei begins to think about a plan for a new escape.