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In 1911, in New York, Esther Liebman, a destitute Jewish refugee from Russia, gives birth to a son. She and her husband Joseph had left the hardships of Russia with hopes for a happy future in America, but Joseph fell ill on the boat and died. After three months of suffering, Esther, having no friends or relations, is unable to support the child. She is about to jump into the river with the baby, when Dr. Adolf Reisner sees her from his car and stops her. Reisner deceitfully arranges for wealthy Morris Gross and his wife Alice, who have lost three children, to adopt Esther's child through a crooked orphan home. Frightened at her prospects for taking care of her child, Esther signs a card and thus relinquishes all her rights to the child, without understanding that she will not be able to get her child back later. When she returns to the orphan home and says that she cannot live without her child, she is sent away. Esther vows to search for the child door-to-door, if necessary. Six years later, Estner learns that the doctor now is at the Gross's house for a party to celebrate the entrance of their adopted son Victor into school. Realizing that Victor may be her son, Esther goes to the school and as she watches the boys play football, cries about her lost child. When she hugs Victor, a policeman orders her away. Later, at the Gross home, as Esther peers through a window, a police officer catches her and brings her inside. Reisner denies knowing Esther, but she sees Victor's picture and collapses, and the policeman leaves her in Reisner's care. Reisner promises that she will get her child that day, but instead calls an insane asylum and arranges for the corrupt owner to send an ambulance. Twenty years later, in 1937, Victor cares for the patients in the asylum. He takes a particular interest in Esther, who often rolls up a quilt, holds it like a baby and says to her imaginary child that she is not insane and that he will help her. Fearful of the attendants, after suffering years of afflicted punishments from the staff, Esther barely responds to Victor when he questions her. As the Grosses, Reisner and his daughter Julie, who loves Victor, prepare for Victor's birthday party, Gross, who wants Victor to give up his work at the institution and open a private practice, convinces Reisner to have Julie talk Victor into quitting. Victor and Julie have an argument about it, and when Reisner and Gross join in, Victor tells of the many patients he meets who have been put into the institution by people who have benefited afterwards. Speaking of Esther, he vows to punish the person who put her there and Julie backs him up. Victor then asks Alice if he could bring the woman from the institution home so that he can help her outside of the fearful environment of the asylum. Alice agrees, and when Esther arrives, she is still afraid to talk much. After she sees herself in the mirror and cries at her changed appearance, she sees Reisner and struggles to remember. Despite Reisner's claim that she is insane, she accuses him and asks, "Where is my child?" Alice realizes who she is and tells Victor, who embraces his real mother. He yells at Reisner and threatens to have him prosecuted, and explains to Alice that Esther needs him now. Alice replies that she is satisfied to have reared a son for the true mother, as Victor embraces both Julie and Esther, who in her happiness says, "There is a God."