My Moth­er’s Secret: A Nov­el Based on a True Holo­caust Story

J. L. Witterick
  • Review
By – November 14, 2013

J. L. Wit­t­er­ick, a Chi­nese Cana­di­an whose only ties to Judaism are her close friends, has writ­ten a pow­er­ful nov­el, My Mother’s Secret, set in the dark years of the Holo­caust and based on actu­al his­tor­i­cal events. Wit­t­er­ick felt con­nect­ed to the Jew­ish plight because her own peo­ple suf­fered under the Japan­ese atroc­i­ties dur­ing World War II.. The book describes the deci­sion of Fran­cisz­ka and her daugh­ter Hele­na to hide and shel­ter nine peo­ple in their small house, despite the threat of death. It is based on the 2009 doc­u­men­tary The No. 4 Street of Our Lady” in which the moth­er and daugh­ter actu­al­ly saved half of the Jew­ish sur­vivors of Sokal, Poland, whose orig­i­nal Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion was 6,000.

Four dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives are pre­sent­ed in the book: the res­cuers, Hele­na and her moth­er Fran­cisz­ka; Bronek, the leader of his fam­i­ly and his sis­ter-in-law, hid­den in the pigsty; Miko­lai, who with his par­ents are hid­den in a makeshift cel­lar; and Vil­heim, a Ger­man sol­dier defec­tor, hid­den in the attic. The secret to their sur­vival, as one char­ac­ter says, is that “[t]his is a world where to be insignif­i­cant, nec­es­sary, or con­nect­ed are the best ways to survive.”

The nov­el makes pow­er­ful state­ments about love, sac­ri­fice, and courage through the char­ac­ters. What res­onates with the read­er is how ordi­nary peo­ple like Fran­cisz­ka and Hele­na, une­d­u­cat­ed peas­ants, can choose to become extra­or­di­nary. The author express­es the des­per­a­tion of those in hid­ing when Bronek says, It feels like some­one has torn the limbs from my body. I can hard­ly breathe. The cry­ing and hys­te­ria all around me seem like back­ground noise.” Hele­na under­stands everyone’s predica­ment. It is exhaust­ing to live with con­stant fear, tem­pered by noth­ing but hope,” she says.

My Mother’s Secret is a pro­found and cap­ti­vat­ing sto­ry of two self­less hero­ines who put oth­er peo­ples’ lives and safe­ty before their own. With­in the hor­rif­ic events of the Holo­caust there was still hope, and peo­ple who rose to great­ness with their resilience, courage, and strength.


Elise Coop­er had the plea­sure of inter­view­ing J. L. Wit­t­er­ick about her abil­i­ty to turn a true sto­ry into a novel.

Elise Coop­er: Why did you decide to write this book? 

J. L. Wit­t­er­ick: After I saw this doc­u­men­tary in the base­ment of a Cana­di­an syn­a­gogue I knew this sto­ry had to be told. I thought about my own back­ground since my fam­i­ly immi­grat­ed to Cana­da from Tai­wan with basi­cal­ly noth­ing. I grew up with very lit­tle and for awhile felt like an out­sider, not under­stand­ing or speak­ing the lan­guage. I was able to relate to being an outcast.

Elise Coop­er: Was the quote It feels like some­one has torn the limbs from my body. I can hard­ly breathe. The cry­ing and hys­te­ria all around me seem like back­ground noise,” from an actu­al Holo­caust survivor?

JLW: No. The inspi­ra­tion I got for this quote was from Bibi Netanyahu. His broth­er, Jonathan, was killed in action while res­cu­ing those hijacked in Ugan­da. This is what Bibi had said.

EC: Why did you reduce the amount of char­ac­ters from the actu­al num­ber saved, fif­teen, to nine?

JLW: I want­ed the read­er to be able to iden­ti­fy with every­one. I want­ed the read­ers to real­ly feel for the char­ac­ters so I had to reduce the num­ber saved. With that said, the expe­ri­ences and the inci­dents of the char­ac­ters are true. The major events all hap­pened. I am hop­ing that this will like­ly allow them to live on forever.


EC: Why did you change the lives of some of the char­ac­ters and what were the changes?

JLW: I am some­one who likes hap­py end­ings and became immersed in my char­ac­ters. The shoot­ing at the fac­to­ry and the choice of giv­ing up a child is true. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Ger­man sol­dier did not sur­vive and was shot by the Rus­sians. I changed his end­ing because I want­ed the sol­dier to expe­ri­ence free­dom after being cooped up in the attic. So I made it hap­pen. Regard­ing Fran­cisz­ka and Hele­na, they did escape. They actu­al­ly had to, since the Rus­sians would have pun­ished them for sav­ing a Ger­man sol­dier and they would have had to endure the wrath of some of the Pol­ish peo­ple who were still anti-Semit­ic. I want the book to stand the test of time so I tried to make it his­tor­i­cal­ly accurate.

Elise Coop­er lives in Los Ange­les and has writ­ten numer­ous nation­al secu­ri­ty arti­cles sup­port­ing Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A’s for many dif­fer­ent out­lets includ­ing the Mil­i­tary Press. She has had the plea­sure to inter­view best­selling authors from many dif­fer­ent genres.

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