Wednesday, October 30, 2013

My Mother's Secret by J.L. Witterick

This book is regrettably far more simplistic than the reviews let on.  I think it would be a great introductory read for a young teenager to learn something about the Holocaust, and particular those who risked their lives to help others.  But, as an adult I found both the story and the character development lacking.

The book is written from four perspectives:  Helena, who together with her mother Franciszka, hid two Jewish families and a defecting German soldier in their small home in Poland following the German invasion in World War II; Bronek, a Jewish labourer whose family is hidden by Helena and Franciszka in the rafters of their pig sty; Mikolaj, a prominent Jewish doctor whose hidden along with his wife and son under the floor of Helena's kitchen and Vilheim, a German soldier who cannot bear the role and is hidden in a small crawl space in Helena's attic.

We learn a little about everyone's very normal life before the war, then a bit more about the atrocities they are faced with during the war.  Even Helena is not spared as her brother is killed taking food to Jewish partisans.  And then we see how the simple Polish women juggle the three groups who are hiding, each unaware of the other, and manage to provide them with food and shelter until liberation.

This is based on a true story, and does illustrate how goodness can prevail in the face of unspeakable evil.  And how help is found in the least likely places - each of the Jewish families was turned down by people they new far better than Franciszka but who were afraid to help.  I just wish it could have delved a little deeper into everyone's story.

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