My Mother's Secret: A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story [NOOK Book]

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

From the Publisher
“A moving and captivating portrait.”
—Amir R. Gissin, Consulate General of Israel

“A reflection of our own era, a reminder of how far wrong we can be led…an important book.”—Joseph Kertes, author of Gratitude, winner of the Canadian Jewish Book Award

“The woman at the heart of this novel will haunt you after you read about her fearless compassion, her defiance of the odds of survival.”—Anna Porter, award-winning author of Kasztner’s Train

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: 9780698151529
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/5/2013
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 17,091
  • File size: 2 MB

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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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

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 one Jewish family of two brothers and their wives in their pigsty out back, another 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 you don't have to be extraordinary to make a difference. You can become extraordinary by making a difference.

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.

ABOUT J.L. WITTERICK

Originally from Taiwan, J.L. Witterick has been living in Canada since her family's arrival in 1968. She attended the University of Western Ontario, graduating from the Richard Ivey School of Business. My Mother's Secret is her debut novel. It is a bestseller in Canada and has been published in several countries around the world. Witterick lives in Toronto with her husband and son.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • At the beginning of My Mother's Secret, there is a quote from Elie Wiesel: "To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all." What do you think is the importance of this quote to the novel as a whole?
  • Does Helena's point of view, as Franciszka's daughter, provide different insights into Franciszka's character and motivations than the other points of view in the book?
  • We see many of the characters in My Mother's Secret display acts of courage and instill hope in others. What part does hope play in the characters' lives, in their actions, especially as a means of survival?
  • A nosy neighbor asks Franciszka why she is getting extra water from the well. Franciszka tells Helena, "We're in the middle of a war and someone has the time to wonder about why I am using so much water!" What do you think is the larger message behind Franciszka's retort? How does it reflect her moral compass?
  • Damian's death is heartbreaking for both Franciszka and Helena, and Helena asks, "Do we really heal stronger where we are broken?" In other words, can we fully heal from drastic hardship? Helena does not think it is possible. What do you think?
  • In many ways, Bronek has to grow up fast, with the death of his father and then starting his own family. What are examples of Bronek's heightened responsibilities, especially his role as protector?
  • In Chapter 20, Bronek says he is not a "peacemaker," like Dawid, and he punches Resnit in the nose. The theme of violence versus peace is ubiquitous throughout My Mother's Secret. Do you think Bronek equates acts of violence for a cause with his role as protector? How does his definition of his role relate to Franciszka's definition of what a protector should be?
  • Franciszka has to act in clever ways to ensure that the people she is hiding are not found. How do you think Franciszka balanced living in constant fear of discovery with keeping up her savvy façade, especially when hiding Vilheim?
  • Mikolaj asks his mother, "Why do people hate us so much, Mama?" What is your take on how this question highlights the vast inequities at the heart of World War II? Is it a question that needs asking today?
  • Vilheim's mother tells him before he is drafted to "Avoid as much as you can. Do not be brave. This is not a war of necessity or principle." Later, Vilheim reflects, "I always thought that courageous people were those who were not afraid. Meeting Franciszka and her daughter, I realize that courageous people are afraid like everyone else. They just act despite the fear." Can it be said that the difference between courageous people and people who cower at the thought of stepping up for what they believe is simply a matter of action versus inaction?
  • Who is your favorite character, or what is your favorite point of view, in My Mother's Secret? Why?
  • My Mother's Secret was inspired by a true story of the Holocaust and, incredibly, a story with a happy ending as well. Does the fact that the book was based on real events alter your opinion of it?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 49 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(25)

4 Star

(11)

3 Star

(8)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 49 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 23 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.

    6 out of 6 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.

    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.

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

    4 out of 4 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
  • 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 5 people found this review helpful.

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

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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

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

    Posted October 25, 2013

    Highly recommend

    amazing story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted October 12, 2013

    ok

    interesting topic but writing was lacking

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted November 21, 2014

    Good Quick Read

    First I think the book was good and I'm glad I read it. However, I had hoped for a deeper story. It was written in a quick 'matter-of-fact' type of way. Still, it helped me understand the heartaches they had. As a mother, I just can't imagine the fear, stress, worry, and despair you endured trying to protect your family.

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

    Posted September 2, 2014

    Amber

    Watches from the shadows. 'Thats impossible. The animal to human potions are always blue not pink. That isnt strong enough, youll turn backinto a mouse in a few hours'

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted September 2, 2014

    sukami                              "Your welcome Drew...&q

    sukami                              "Your welcome Drew..."

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2014

    Drew

    He lapped a little bit up and shoke his fur as it turned to skin then clothes." Thanks."

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2014

    Sukami

    Sukami glared at Amber, "Hah! I knew you'd come! It was a pink BOTTLE...and the potion can turn you back! And plus...I live in your tribe before...or more precisly...a tribe LIKE yours..." she said laughing...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2014

    Asuna to piper and carrie

    Hey sorry i ment my secret life res one and piper you can advertise on the ethics book im locked out of it!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2014

    Raven

    Yeah same here

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted August 27, 2014

    Piper to asuna

    I am locked out of my secret life go to my secret life res 2

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 49 Customer Reviews

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