My Mother’s Secret: Based on a True Holocaust Story by J.L. Witterick is a fictionalized account of an actual woman who hid 15 Jews (and a German soldier) in her small house, located in a small Polish town, during the Nazi invasion of World War II. While the lines in the book between fact and fiction are blurred, it is still a fascinating read.
The book is divided into five sections, each told from a different perspective. The first and last sections are told by Helena who finds herself in love with her boss, Casmir. As Casmir returns to Germany he wants Helena to marry him; however, Helena feels she must stay and help her mother.
The second section shifts to Bronek, the father of one of the family being sheltered. Bronek manages to save his wife, adopted son and sister-in-law but cannot save the newborn baby who is crying too much and endangers them all.
Mikolaj, son of a Jewish doctor, is the narrator of the third section. The doctor is an important man, rich and a pillar of the community, thinking that his position will save him. He is wrong.
The fourth section belongs to Vilheim, a German soldier who would rather defect than being sent to the Siberian front. Neither Vilheim or the other families are aware of one another, and all could spell certain death for the family hiding them.
My Mother’s Secret by J.L. Witterick tells the story of Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter Helena, two women with enough guts and street smarts to last several lifetimes. While the subject might sound depressing, this book (which targets towards the lower end of the YA crowd) is an uplifting testament to the acts of one woman and her family.
The book is told in a very sparing manner (and hence a very quick read), the author writes in a matter-of-fact manner using short sentences, paragraphs and chapters. There are no pontifications or speculations, people need help and the Halamajowa family help: the beginning and the end.!
However, in the middle, and in between the lines, the book asks some important questions:
How do you hide the extra food in time of rationing?
Who do you trust?
What is the motivation?
Is doing “the right thing” actually the right thing?
And many more.
The narrative of the book is not graphic and does not delve into the misery of the families being rescued, being 20 months in confined spaces, able to stretch only a few moments a day. As a father of a very (very!) active six-year-old boy I cannot imagine living under such circumstances nor being able to force him to be still for the unimaginable long time of two minutes (we tried this weekend … didn’t work).
In the beginning of World War II the town of Sokal (eastern Poland, now in Ukraine) was home to about 6,000 Jews. At the end of the war 30 survived; half of them were saved by Franciszka Halamajowa. In 1984, Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter, now named Helena Liniewska, were honored by the State of Israel as the few who are “Righteous Among the Nations.”
The author focuses on the quiet courage of Franciszka Halamajowa, her humbleness, street smarts and the way she carried a huge burden on her shoulders without asking for much in return. The book is a very good, and mild, introduction to the horrors of World War II in general and the Holocaust in particular. If one would like to learn more about the brave acts of Franciszka Halamajowa, see the documentary “No. 4 Street of Our Lady”.
- 208 pages
- Publisher: iUniverse
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1475962576