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My Mother's Secret

A Novel Based on a True Holocaust Story

J.L. Witterick - Author

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ISBN 9780698151529 | 208 pages | 05 Sep 2013 | Putnam Adult | 18 - AND UP
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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.


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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