Fleeing an abusive home, Katerina, a teenage peasant in Ukraine in the 1880s, is taken in by a Jewish family and becomes their housekeeper. Feeling the warmth of family life for the first time and incorporating the family's customs and rituals into her own Christian observances, Katerina is traumatized when the parents are murdered in separate pogroms and the children are taken away by relatives. She finds work with other Jewish families, all of whom are subjected to relentless persecution by their neighbors. When the beloved child she had with her Jewish lover is murdered, Katerina kills the murderer and is sent to prison. Released from prison years later, in the chaos following the end of World War II, a now elderly Katerina is devastated to find a world that has been emptied of its Jews and that is not at all sorry to see them gone. Ever the outsider, Katerina realizes that she has survived only to bear witness to the fact that these people had ever existed at all.
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