When you whole world comes crashing down on you and you life changes and takes you in directions you would never expect what can you do but try and survive. Ludwika Gierz lived a life of fear, hate, prejudice, injustice, and racial tension, ostracized for her beauty and taunted by others for who she was. Polish and living on a small farm where she tended to the animals, cared for your young child and hopes to keep her sister and mother save, the onset of WWII, her efforts although admiral would prove futile. Mothers only want to protect their children and Ludwika although she had a child out of wedlock managed to care for Irena and the people of her small Polish village finally learned to accept her. Based on a real story author Christoph Fischer pens a story that many have lived some have survived but not ever lived to tell. Ludwika reminds us that WWII and the Holocaust did happen. Many were taken from their homes, imprisoned, killed and tortured because one man thought his way was better and his race superior. Would you give up your family, rearing your child and never seeing your sister or mother again if it meant keeping them alive and safe?
When their farm that that of others were taken away and German families became their landlords Ludwika came under the eye of a German SS officer named Manfred. Taking to her and wanting more from here than just friendship it appeared that he wanted to take her as his wife. But, appearances and words are often deceiving and although she was loyal to her family and wanted them to keep the few privileges granted to them, she realized that she would have to make a sacrifice that would change her life, the life of her daughter and her family’s too. With Michal as her translator teaching her German and advising her to be more weary, her sister Stasia and her mother Agnieska, would never see her again if she agrees to Manfred’s terms. Just how far would a young mother go to make sure that her child and family were safe? When approaching them and explaining the end result her sister told her if she agreed to go with Manfred she can never come back to her family, her daughter or her village ever again. No communication, no letters she would be no longer a member of their family. While their father is missing and will probably never return, she decides to accept the proposal of this German soldier. Leaving Poland and living in Altona as his wife seemed like the right thing for Ludwika but events would transpire, and tragedy will follow every step of her journey from the moment she leaves her family. One lie would forever alienate her from her daughter, one lie would change it all as Ludwika leaves without saying goodbye, finds her way on a long train ride, befriends a young mother and her fate just might be sealed. With her dark complexion and her accent, which is Polish, causing those in the German Reich to question her background.
When her mother told her the decision was hers it separated the family. Manfred claimed he worked for the German Occupation there and his job could be another country to invade. But, her sister was adamant and thought she was selling out as a traitor. But, Ludwika leaves and then finds herself in a strange place, making sure she follows the rules that are set out for taking care of a man that is rarely there. With the help of the former housekeeper Eva she learns the routine but finds herself lonely and wanting more. Befriending a young mother named Irmingard Danner should have been a blessing but once again Ludwika falls prey to the wiles of another. The German invasion and the departure of so many changed not only Przedborow but other places too. Missing her brother Franz who drowned two years before is a memory that haunts her. But, hoping she now has a great start to a new life with Manfred would not be the answer. Wanting more from him and hoping he would make her his wife, she sadly learns that he is killed. Hoping to find some type of solace allowed to remain and not sent to a camp, she seeks out her friend and finds herself employed as the nanny for her children. The invasion of France, the Germans, Russians and waiting for the allied troops, the dangers of walking outside and getting beaten by German soldiers or worse, Ludwika learns some hard lessons that take a while to sink in. Living in the home of her friend her husband finds her attractive and the bond they form is not only dangerous but someone knows and the end result will bring Ludwika more despair. Not having the same rights as others, having to wear a P on her clothing and not heeding the warning of the teacher that worked with Danner children, she soon finds herself in a work camp in the kitchen working with a woman named Maria. But, Ludwika befalls many more sad times, finds herself needing a place to live when her job with Manfred no longer exists and she is tossed from the home of the Danners but with the help of Erich Danner she is safe but not for long. Fritz Kroplin and his love for Ludwika as a second daughter a special father/daughter bond is formed, she is protected from what the others in the camp endure and yet she is still very much alone. Losing Irena was tragic to her and meeting Luca the coal man was to bring her joy. But, although their courtship was short she finds herself pregnant with a precious girl not knowing that Luca was injured. Hoping to find him and learn more about what happened to him she remembers the music he brought into her life and much more. Ludwika strives to live on and although her daughter succumbs to chickenpox it does not prevent her from trying again and again. As Maria and Fritz take her as family and Maria just might find her own happiness, Luca is taken, another child is born to her and Ludwika finds herself in the camp with two suitors to help mend her heart. But, one stands out and although she does not want to decide transfer to new camps just came without warning, not able to tell Fritz or the people in the flat where she lived where she was going she hoped to find Luca but life is not what you always want or get. Onufry a hard working man wanted to take her child as his own but will she give up on her dream with Luca? How can she trust her heart? Will she when the war is over reach out to her own family and try and connect with her daughter? An ending so powerful it will bring tears to your eyes. A war that ripped out the hearts, minds and lives of so many and caused families to lose sight of what matters at times and one young girl who made a decision what would haunt her for the rest of her life? Will she reach out to Stasia? What about Irena? Heartbreaking, uplifting, mournful and yet one young girl’s will to survive and an epilogue that will bring tears to your eyes and hope in your heart. Author Christoph Fischer takes us back in time to a small Polish town, to Berlin, Altona, the work camps, inside the minds of the Nazi’s, The Third Reich with research that is extensive, characters that are real and some fictional and a story that happened so long ago reminding us that the war tore so many hearts, lives and really did happen. Ludwika: strong minded, smart, naïve at times, hopeful, sad, joyous and a young woman that just wanted to be loved.
I dedicate this review to the memory of my grandmother Katie Goldberg and her sisters Rose, Tillie and Shondina who lived it.
Fran Lewis: Just Reviews/MJ Magazine
Let’s give this book: FIVE GOLDEN HEARTS