My Mother's Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story

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Overview

Inspired by a true story, My Mother’s Secret is a captivating and ultimately uplifting tale intertwining the lives of two Jewish families in hiding from the Nazis, a fleeing German soldier, and the mother and daughter who team up to save them all.
 
Franciszka and her daughter, Helena, are simple, ordinary people…until 1939, when the Nazis invade their homeland. Providing shelter to Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland is a death sentence, but ...

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My Mother's Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story

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Overview

Inspired by a true story, My Mother’s Secret is a captivating and ultimately uplifting tale intertwining the lives of two Jewish families in hiding from the Nazis, a fleeing German soldier, and the mother and daughter who team up to save them all.
 
Franciszka and her daughter, Helena, are simple, ordinary people…until 1939, when the Nazis invade their homeland. Providing shelter to Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland is a death sentence, but Franciszka and Helena do exactly that. In their tiny home in Sokal, they hide a Jewish family in a loft above their pigsty, a Jewish doctor with his wife and son in a makeshift cellar under the kitchen, and a defecting German soldier in the attic—each party completely unknown to the others. For everyone to survive, Franciszka will have to outsmart her neighbors and the German commander.
 
Told simply and succinctly from four different perspectives—all under one roof—My Mother’s Secret is a testament to the kindness, courage, and generosity of ordinary people who chose to be extraordinary.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
2013-09-15
A debut novel of Jews and Germans, families and soldiers hidden from the Nazis. Based upon the true story of Franciszka Halamajowa, Witterick's novel is told by four narrators, beginning with Franciszka's daughter, Helena. Raised in Germany with her older brother, Damian, Helena recalls her mother's hard work and generosity. A strict, selfish man, their father sympathizes with the Nazi movement. In contrast, Franciszka judges people by their behavior, and her return to Poland effectively ends their marriage. In Sokol, Damian begins working at an oil refinery, enabling him to support the family and to become a skilled machinist. Helena lands a secretarial job at a garment factory, where she falls in love with the general manager, Casmir Kowalski, a good man. Like Franciszka--who entertains German commanders while harboring Jews--Casmir understands the importance of appearing to befriend officials on different sides of the conflict. Yet Helena is afraid to embroil Casmir in her mother's secrets, so she cannot follow him to Germany when the Nazis invade. The perspective then shifts to those Franciszka sheltered. She rescues Bronek, his wife and child, as well as his brother and sister-in-law, from certain death in a Jewish ghetto, offering them asylum in her pigsty. She rescues Dr. Mikolaj Wolenski and his family, providing them safe haven under the floorboards of her kitchen. She also rescues Vilhelm, a German soldier, giving him refuge in the cramped attic. Franciszka's thoughts remain a secret, revealed only through her own behavior. The Halamajowa family's courage is inspiring. Yet, instead of illuminating the transcendence of their work, the simplicity of Witterick's prose dulls the story. Instead of universalizing the tale, the underdeveloped characters and thin descriptions flatten the effect. Frustratingly sparse.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399168543
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 9/5/2013
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 80,673
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

MY MOTHER’S SECRET, which is based on a true story, is J. L. Witterick’s debut novel.   It is a bestseller in Canada and has been published in a number of countries around the world.

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Read an Excerpt

This book is fictional, but it 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. Her son died while transporting a wagon full of supplies to partisan Jews hiding in the forest.
 
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. 
 
I believe that all of us, like Franciszka, have within us the potential to be great. Sometimes we coast through life without this potential surfacing because life has been easy on us. 
 
When we have much to lose, but still choose to do the right thing, we uncover the nobility that is within all of us. To endure what is unbearable and to do it with grace, that is how we know that we have arrived. 
 
Trip to Israel
 
In 2012, I visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, where there is a tree planted and a plaque to honor Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter, Helena. 
 
People who were not Jewish, but who nevertheless risked their lives to help the Jews escape execution during the Holocaust, are recognized as “the Righteous among the Nations” in Israel. This is how Franciszka and her daughter are remembered. 
 
It was my son, Matthew, who actually found the tree, as bushes had grown in front of the plaque, preventing me from seeing it initially. 
 
Upon seeing their names there in print before me, I was overcome with emotion. 
 
I had written about this woman and her daughter and had imagined their lives, but here was evidence that they indeed did exist. I didn’t realize how deeply I would feel until this moment. 
 
Planting a tree to remember them by feels so right.
 

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 40 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(20)

4 Star

(9)

3 Star

(7)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 40 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 8, 2013

    I've not read this book. Before I purchase a book I like to read

    I've not read this book. Before I purchase a book I like to read the reviews. I don't think readers should be able to "rate" a book on this site without providing a text. If someone gives a book a low rating, I want to know why.

    7 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2013

    Excellent book. Very short but weaves the story together.

    My Mother's Secret is based on a true story that truly touches the heart. If it were merely a fiction story, it might be difficult to believe. The message of caring for others comes through clearly in the story. I read it one evening and didn't want the story to end. It's one I will share with others.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013

    great read for young and old a like.Perfect for book club discussion.

    great book and tribute to these remarkable human beings.Prejudice is not something you are born with,it's learned.Put's ife into prospective.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2013

    What greatnes in a book

    What a great book it grabs ahold the reader and pulls him in .

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 26, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating - A Must Read!

    A wonderful study of courage in a time of fear. Wonderful characters in this fact-based novel. A real page turner.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 25, 2013

    Recommend

    An amazing story of a brave mother and daughter who risked life and welfare to help others during a horrific time in our history. Everyone should read these stories so we never forget what happened.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2013

    Bought by accident

    Some how this book was purchased by accident on my nook. It isn't a book I would normally buy due to the holocaust was one of the worst moments in the worlds history. But since it was there I decided to try it, and was surprised by how the kindness of this one women. A True Hero.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    Poorly written

    I don't understand the rave reviews for this book. First of all, it was way too short, only 150 pages. There was no character development as we were subjected to four POV's, and it is not possible to fully experience these character's live in such a short book. The writing style was childish and mundane. It is too bad since this would have been a great story to tell. I would not recommend paying $11.00 for this book. I have read much better free ones.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2014

    Quick, engaging read

    Book is well written, but too reminiscent of The Book Thief which was highly original.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 17, 2014

    recommend

    although the book was fiction you know that this story was true in so many homes. The strength and courage it took for a woman to hide not only Jewish families but also a German solider. She knew the punishment could mean death not only for her but her entire family. I wish the book was longer but what was written was very good reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2013

    Highly recommend

    amazing story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2013

    ok

    interesting topic but writing was lacking

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Highly Recommended

    Bought this for my step mom who reads constantly and loves WWII books. She loved it!

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  • Posted April 4, 2014

    must read

    Based on a true story of a mother and daughter who hid Several Jews in their tiny 2 bedroom home along with one fleeing German soldier. Truly amazing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2013

    Good story!

    I really likex the holocaust story! I find it funny that the three families didn't figure each other out.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2013

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