Thursday, December 17, 2015

QUICK REVIEW: My Mother's Secret by J. L. Witterick


A novel based on a true story, a mother and daughter risk their lives to provide shelter to two families and a German soldier--all unbeknownst to each other--in a tiny two-room house in Sokal, Poland, during the Nazi invasion.

Based on a true story, MY MOTHER'S SECRET is a profound, captivating, and ultimately uplifting tale intertwining the lives of two Jewish families in hiding from the Nazis, a fleeing German soldier, and the clever and "righteous" mother and daughter who teamed up to save them.

Franciszka and her daughter, Helena, are unlikely heroines. They are simple people who mind their own business and don't stand out from the crowd. Until 1939, when crisis strikes. The Nazis have invaded Poland and they are starting to persecute the Jews. Providing shelter to a Jew has become a death sentence. And yet, Franciszka and Helena decide to do just that. In their tiny, two-bedroom home in Sokal, Poland, they cleverly hide a Jewish family of two brothers and their wives in their pigsty out back, a Jewish doctor with his wife and son in a makeshift cellar under the kitchen floorboards, and a defecting German soldier in the attic--each group completely unbeknownst to the others. For everyone to survive, Franciszka will have to outsmart her neighbors and the German commanders standing guard right outside her yard.

Told simply and succinctly from four different perspectives, MY MOTHER'S SECRET is a reminder that there are, in fact, no profiles of courage and each individual's character is a personal choice.

This book was inspired by the true story of Franciszka Halamajowa, who, with her daughter, saved the lives of fifteen Jews in Poland during the Second World War. She also hid a young German soldier in her attic at the same time. Before the war, there were six thousand Jews in Sokal, Poland. Only thirty survived the war and half of those did so because of Franciszka.

Hardcover, 208 pages
Published September 5th 2013 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published 2013)
ISBN 0399168540 (ISBN13: 9780399168543)

My Thoughts
When you're a child, you think that your parents are the same as everyone else's and that what happens in your home happens in other people's homes too. You have no way of knowing any differently.
This story begins in Germany, where the family lives with their overbearing and at times abusive father who becomes a Nazi sympathizer. Francisizka is a compassionate, resourceful, and strong woman. She puts her children first, which is why she leaves her husband and takes her children Helena and Damian back to Poland.

Helena is a good daughter, she gets a job as a secretary at a garment factory to help out with the family, and falls in love with her boss Casmir.

Damian gets a job at an oil refinery, where he excels. As a valued laborer, the military leaves him alone as it builds an army to purge Poland of those individuals of Jewish heritage.

Being who she is, Franciszka cannot turn away those in need, and she winds up hiding a number of people throughout the war, risking her own life and that of her children. As stated in the books' epilogue by the author:
Before the war, there were six thousand Jews in Sokal, Poland. Only thirty survived the war and half of those because of one Polish woman, Franciszka.
My final word: This was an easy, fast read. It is inspired by true events, and the real Franciszka Halamajowa, "who with her daughter saved the lives of fifteen Jews in Poland and during the Second World War. She also hid a young German soldier in her attic at the same time." The book feels authentic. You can imagine that this is what it was like for these people, and it is a great tribute to both those who survived and those who died during the war and an attempted eradication. For those seeking to learn more of Holocaust experience, this is a fine semi-fictional exploration.

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My Rating:

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ from the final release.  

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