In the beginning of the book, Josef's home gets invaded by Nazis. The Nazis destroy his home, and they yell at Josef's father for his transgressions. They take his father away to a concentration camp, leaving the family all alone, mournful for their loss.
Josef and his family are on a train, on their way to meet Aaron after his release from the concentration camp. Josef begins to wonder if people would know he was Jewish if he took off his armband. So, in spite of the rules, Josef goes in to the non-Jew section of the train, but he does not have his armband. It was inevitable that he would get caught, because of how big this violation was.
After Josef disembarked on his voyage to Cuba, his Bar Mitzvah comes around and is celebrated on the ship. The celebration of Josef becoming a man was not listless or stagnant for once. Then, one of the men at the party requested for the portrait of Hitler to be taken down, but this caused an argument between the Jews and Nazis.
After Josef and his family's long, treacherous odyssey over seas, they finally spot land. The captain on the ship tries to let the people off, but they are not allowed into Cuba. The passengers begin to get bristled and frustrated at the Cubans for incoherently reasoning with them.
In this section of the book, Josef is in deep water. His mother took a sleeping pill, and she is now unconscious. His father is oblivious and insensible of what is happening. Josef is now the man of the family and has to take care of everyone. This problem leaves Josef feeling deserted and scared, and he does not know what to do.
After Josef struggles with calming his father and taking care of his younger sister, the unexpected happens. Josef's father, Aaron rushes out of their cabin to the edge of the ship. He jumps of the edge and gets submerged under the ocean water. Josef hears the audible sound of people yelling and calling for help, so Josef jostled through the crowd of people and comes to find his father in the water and begins to panic.