‘Incredible’ doesn’t even begin to describe this nonfiction tale, which deals with the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel. In the opening chapter, we’re introduced to Michael Stolowitzky and his adoptive mother, Gertruda Babilinska, living in Israel in the 1950’s. The narrative then shifts back to the 1930’s, where Gertruda, a Polish Catholic teacher, is hired as a nanny for Michael, a tiny Jewish child of an extraordinarily rich family. As Germany invades Poland, unleashing events that remove him from the care of his parents and the safety of his home, Gertruda comes to be Michael’s lone protecter. It’s a role she will continue to play at great risk through Poland, Lithuania, and other nations.
The book reads like a novel — it’s fastpaced, heavy on violent confrontations, and colored with an array of supporting characters, including a sympathetic SS officer, Karl Rink, who is the husband of a Jewish woman. One could complain about certain elements— the author’s knowledge of World War II history is a little weak (the Soviet Union, for instance, also invaded Poland in 1939) and some of the sentences spoken by the very young sound contrived. Still, there’s no getting around what an astounding story this is. In the spirit of Gone With the Wind, this is a true tale of people caught up in the pulverizing sweep of history, as well as of survival under the most trying circumstances imaginable.