Saturday, April 27, 2013

Book Review: My Mother's Secret by J.L. Witterick

My Mother's Secret: Based on a true Holocaust story

Author: J.L. Witterick

Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: iUniverse (March 25, 2013)
Amazon Link

Kindle Edition
File Size: 561 KB
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: iUniverse (February 4, 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Amazon Link

Note: I received a review copy of this book free from Westwind Communications. The review posted below is based on my personal thoughts while reading the book.

Ratings: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

My thoughts:

My Mother's Secret tells the story of Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter Helena. While Franciszka and Helena were real Holocaust heroines, most of the characters and events depicted in the story are fictional. During Hitler's invasion in Poland, Franciszka and Helena hid two Jewish families and a young German soldier all in their home for more than a year. Franciszka's son also helped the Jews during this difficult time but later met his death while transporting a wagon full of supplies to the Jews hiding in the forest.

Franciszka Halamajowa
I hate seeing/reading depressing movies/books. I actually stopped reading/watching Jodi Picoult's and Nicholas Sparks' because of the tragic storylines. However, there is one that I cannot resist reading/watching. Hitler's Holocaust stories. After having seen Schindler's list and Life is Beautiful (Italian) films, I took special interest in reading Holocaust stories. 

In reading My Mother’s Secret, I was given (again!) a chance to reflect the life I’m living. Would I be able to help other people knowing that helping them could lead to the death of my own family? Francisza risked her life and her daughter’s to save other people. She knew if the Germans found out about the Jews hiding in their house, they would kill them. But it didn't matter. They were so brave to provide help to people who asked for it. It was really inspiring yet terrifying. 

When Helena's long time German boyfriend proposed to marry her, Helena had to choose between her happiness and the lives of the Jewish families living with them. This is the part  where Helena almost chose happiness:

Franciszka to Helena:
“Helena, there are three kinds of people in the world. One that would have seen the suffering cat and not have given it a second thought. Another that would have seen the same cat and said to themselves, ‘Oh, isn’t that a pity,’ before continuing about their business. Finally, there is the kind who sees the suffering, feels the empathy, and then goes one step further by taking action to help. That is you. You didn’t leave the cat there to perish. I am proud that you are my daughter. Think what a wonderful place the world would be, if everyone was like that.” 
Heart breaking. . . . choosing between what you want and what is right. . .  

Considering this is a debut novel of the author, I thought it was well- written. If I didn’t read the part in the book where the author told the readers how the book was published, I would have never guessed this was her first. I highly recommend this book, like any other Holocaust stories, My Mother's Secret is totally life-changing. The story will definitely remain with me for a long long time.

About the book:
Franciszka and her daughter are unlikely heroines. They are simple people who don't stand out… that is, until there is a crisis. In 1939, the Nazis come to Poland and start to persecute the Jews. These are unreasonable times when providing shelter to a Jew has become a death sentence. Despite this, both Franciszka and her daughter hide Jewish families and a German soldier in their small home. For all of them to survive, she will have to outsmart the German commander and her neighbors.

When you look at a piece of steel, can you tell whether it is the ordinary kind used to make forks and knives or whether it is the superstrength type used to construct bridges and high-rises? The honest answer is no. You cannot tell until you apply extreme pressure. People are like that.

This story is a reminder that there are no profiles for courage and character, and that who we become is always a personal choice.

This is my first book, but it feels like something that has been waiting for me for a while.

I just had to be still enough to hear it. As the words flowed and formed, shaping ideas in their dance, it felt divine.

Writing was a process far more intimate than I could have predicted. To be authentic and honest, it is your own life that you draw upon and so, telling a story reveals the truths that reside in your own heart.

I loved creating this story. To be able to say that anything is possible if we connect with each other through kindness, understanding, and courage—and to do it with reference to true events—well, that was exhilarating.

If this story somehow manages to touch you, if it somehow manages to remind you of your own humanity, then I will be incredibly happy.

Living with gratitude,
J. L. Witterick

About the author:
J.L. Witterick always wanted to write a book that would make a difference. She found inspiration to do so based on a true story of courage that occurred during the Holocaust. A child of poor immigrants, she learned empathy, compassion and kindness first hand and wrote it into this story. Now an accomplished investment professional, she has decided to donate proceeds of the book sold at Indigo/Chapters to the Love of Reading Foundation, which buys books for children who cannot afford them. She remembers buying used books from the Salvation Army for 5 and 10 cents when she was a child. J.L. Witterick lives in Canada.


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