In September 1939 in Warsaw, English librarian Sophia Kumiega waits for news from her husband, a Polish Air Force pilot. A Jewish couple, Rosa and Itzhak Dunovich, are excited, for Rosa is expecting their first child. Suddenly, the Luftwaffe starts dropping bombs. Sophia miraculously escapes from the burning library but miscarries. Soon German troops occupy the city, and wall off a part of Warsaw, forcing the Jewish residents to move there. The Nazis subject the Jewish population to untold atrocities and hardships. Grieving for her loss, Sophia helps the Żegota (an underground Catholic organization) to assist Jewish children, smuggling them out of the Ghetto. Rosa gives birth to a miracle baby girl, Ania. But when the Germans start transporting Jewish families to death camps, Rosa gives up Ania to the Żegota. Rosa, expecting to find Ania later, hangs half a piece of a medallion around Ania’s neck. Sophia looks after Ania as her own but wonders if she could ever part with her.
This is a thought-provoking novel of courage, survival, and unselfish assistance during the Holocaust. The unspeakable adversities faced by the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto are narrated powerfully. Cathy Gohlke notes that she has based the plot on some real characters, such as Irena Sendler of the Żegota who rescued nearly 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto. Also featured in the story is the discovery of an escape tunnel and mass grave in Lithuania’s Ponary Forest, and Itzhak Dugin’s account, who in the process of digging up the bodies identified his wife’s decayed body by the medallion around her neck. While this is a fictional account, it’s understandable that contrivances and coincidences used in the narrative are needed to piece together the events. However, the bringing up of a foster child with a new name and religion might make us wonder about its appropriateness. Recommended.