“My Mother’s Secret” is an intense look at four families and their struggles, fears and courage in the face of the Holocaust.
Told from the perspectives of Helena, Bronek, Mikolaj and Vilheim, each with a story of their own, this novel tells the tale of Franciszka Halamajowa, a poor Polish woman, who, with the help of her daughter, Helena, protects two Jewish families and a rogue Nazi solider.
Helena expresses the fear and uncertainty she feels as the Germans invade Poland and the love she finds amid chaos. Bronek describes the fear and violence of life in the ghetto. He speaks of creating hand gestures that he and his son can use to communicate; they make shadow puppets to help the time pass while in hiding. Mikolaj provides details about his mother and father and their love. He describes how every night he and his mother imagine their old life while hidden in a small cellar. Vilheim tells of his life with his grandmother and the sharp contrast that comes with being drafted into the army and the way in which he was brought up. He describes having to lie flat in a cramped space and thinking of his grandmother in order to remain hopeful.
Witterick’s fictionalized account of Franciszka and Helena and the people they aided, capture the breadth of the human condition, demonstrating that it is possible to transcend the fear that often prevents good people from doing what is right.