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‘The secret to surviving is to go unnoticed.’
My mother doesn’t pass judgment on groups of people. She believes in the individual.’

It is rare when an historical fact is written as a novel by an author who writes so well that the story appears to be based on personal experience. J.L.Witterick has brought to life in MY MOTHER’S SECRET, a tale based on a true incident dating from World War II, and by entering into the character of the daughter of an astonishingly brave and selfless woman she has created a immaculately crafted, spellbinding, unforgettable novel that suggests that humanitarian awards may be in the offing.

The manner in which the story is related is unique and matches the flow of the drama well. We encounter a small family – a Ukranian abusive Nazi sympathizing father Halamajowa, a Polish mother named Franciszka who is imaginative, loving and warm, a son named Damien, and a daughter named Helena – who live in Germany. As the shadow of Hitler’s power begins to threaten the world Franciszka moves the 18-year- old Damien and the 16 year old Helena away from the father and the Germany that has become ominous and they settle in a small house in Sokal, Poland. Franciszka supports her family by selling her eggs and vegetables, Damien finds manual labor work to help support, and eventually Helena seeks work as a secretary (she is fluent in German and types ‘like lightening’). Helena’s boss is Casmir Kowalski, a wealthy man whose ailing father still lives in Germany: in time a strong and lasting bond of love develops between them.

We advance to 1941 and the war across Europe is gaining in strength. The Russians have been sharing Poland with Germany but Hitler breaks his pact with Stalin and purges Poland. All Jews are to be destroyed. Franciszka befriends a Jewish family of two brothers and their wives and offers them her loft above the pig barn as a hideout. Bronek and Anelie (and Anelie’s son Walter by her deceased husband) and Dawid and Bryda set up house at Franciszka’s insistence and she feeds them and protects them from the Germans. Franciszka also befriends the wealthy Jewish doctor of the town hospital Dr. Wolenski and his wife Felicia and son Mikolaj when they are stripped of their worldly goods: Franciszka hides then in her cellar. Helena’s Casmir is friends with the German Commandant and Franciszka invites him to dinner – along with his pacifist Nazi soldier Vilhelm (who reminds Franciszka of her son Damien who was killed by the Nazis while sneaking food to the Jews hiding in the forest), who in a moment of horror as he is terrified of the purge of the Jews from Sokal seeks protection and Franciszka agrees to hid him in the one remaining spot in her tiny home – the attic. And so unbeknownst to anyone but Franciszka and Helena the little house in Sokal is a refuge for Jews and for a pacifist German soldier for twenty months. How this incongruous group disperses as the war ends brings the novel to an end.

J.L. Witterick divides her book into five parts, each part named for the narrator of that section which is and introduction to a new family – Helena opens and closes the book and in the middle are sections called Bronek, Mikolaj, and Vilhelm – interestingly each section is told from the young innocent’s point of view. With supreme skill Witterick interconnects each of these people with shared random acts of kindness.

The book abounds in memorable passages: ‘This is a world where to be insignificant, necessary, or connected are the best ways to survive;’ ‘Helena, there are three kinds of people in the world. One that would have seen the suffering cat and not have given it a second thought. Another that would have seen the same cat and said to themselves, ‘Oh, isn’t that a pity,’ before continuing about their business. Finally, there is the kind who sees the suffering, feels the empathy, and then goes one step further by taking action to help. That is you. You didn’t leave the cat there to perish. I am proud that you are my daughter. Think what a wonderful place the world would be, if everyone was like that;’ and ‘our biggest regrets are not what we did, but what we did not do.’

Words such as these bring a glow to the pages of a book about ‘When we have much to lose, but still choose to do the right thing, we uncover the nobility that is within all of us. To endure what is unbearable and to do it with grace, that is how we know that we have arrived.’ MY MOTHER’S SECRET is heroism defined. It is just so much more cherishable because it is a story based on fact. We are indebted to J.L. Witterick for sharing this book with us.

Mary Higgins Clark
A Good Day…It is a good day when you can spend thirty minutes talking books, creative projects, and vacation plans with Mary Higgins Clark and Jenny Witterick. This chance meeting could not have been planned to run any better. Mrs. Clark, the world-renowned author, just finished her new book Daddy’s Gone A Hunting and was looking forward to her vacation. She gladly shared ideas on her new writing as she expressed how relieved she was to finally finish her latest book. Her books have been impossible to put down. She is an outstanding writer. She looked outstanding in the picture above with Jenny Witterick, too. Her new book Daddy’s Gone A Hunting comes out April 9th.

Jenny Witterick is one of Canada’s most successful business-woman. Ms. Witterick’s success story should be followed and emulated by women everywhere. Research both the work she has accomplished heading Sky Investment Counsel Inc. (Sky) since 2004 and the path she forged years earlier in financial circles throughout Canada. It is an inspiring journey.

This vignette, however, is about Jenny’s writing not the money she has helped thousands to wisely invest. My Mother’s Secret is her new book. It is out March 25.

Anita Pyclik in an email to Jenny summed up Ms. Witterick’s work far better than I could ever do. Jenny said I could share it in my column. She let me read it on her iPad. After reading what Anita said, I suggested to Jenny that she use Anita’s comments on her book cover or in her forward. After reading this moving description you will want to buy Jenny’s new book, immediately. I will let you know the publication date in a future column.

Anita said:
Please find my heartfelt and honest thoughts on the novel, ‘My Mother’s Secret’ below:

When J. L. Witterick first handed me a copy of her manuscript, I was excited … but there was a bit of skepticism as well. As J. L.  explained, her first novel ‘My Mother’s Secret’ was a story about the Holocaust of WWII … a truly tough subject for anyone. Having completed a double major in History and Theology, I like to think of WWII novels as something that I have already read thoroughly. In my years of study, I must have covered countless topics, each providing me with vivid details and horrific accounts of the holocaust.

Nevertheless, having been born in Poland and coming from a strong Polish background, I started to read out of nostalgia.  Unexpectedly, I could not stop once I started and continued to read for almost the full day until I finished.  I did not want to leave one word behind. J. L.’s  book has an incredible capability to draw you in.  The story is about compassion and our hope for humanity all in one. I felt emotional and proud to be reading this book on heroism, love and hope during a dark time in history that aimed to destroy all such notions.

Coming from a Christian-Polish background, I do not have any ties to Judaism … so perhaps many will wonder why this book appeals to me? This book is not just a tale about how Jewish families were saved by a Polish woman.  It is the story about a compassionate and brave soul, who in the midst of the horrors around her, still followed her conscience. You do not have to be Jewish, or religious, or a history enthusiast to have this novel appeal to you. It will seep into your heart and stir up powerful and beautiful emotions, no matter who you are or where you come from.

Review by Richard C. Geschke

As a solid student of history and one who has developed an appreciation for what transpired on the Eastern Front of Europe during WWII, I found this book to be not only historically accurate but also a shining light of hope for humankind during the dark days of hell in the abyss of the 20th century. What horrors and human despair which occurred on the German/Russian front will forever serve as the most desperate of human struggles that the world has ever seen.

In J. L. Witterick’s historical fiction novel we see an accurate accounting of true history revolving around a courageous story of two women offering hope and sustenance to people seeking their last hopes.

The story begins with a family living in Germany prior to WWII but eventually ends up on the Eastern frontier of Poland where Franciszka along with her daughter Helena decide to help local Jews and an AWOL Wehrmacht soldier escaping his soldiery duties on the Eastern Front. Franciszka is known as the local egg lady of Sokal. In doing these duties she makes contact with Jews seeking shelter from the local Wehrmacht along with a deserting Wehrmacht soldier who finds the antics of the Nazis both unethical and immoral.

At this time of the story it is 1941, and Franciszka along with her daughter find the operations of the Nazis as being repulsive and inhumane. During this time period Franciszka in her empathy assists two families of Jews in her pig sty and another Jewish family in her cellar. To make things even more interesting Franciszka takes pity on a deserting Nazi soldier trying to escape the madness of the Eastern Front. Both she and her daughter continued through the war to feed and hide these souls from harm even on the cruel penalty of death.

The author not only expertly intertwines historically correct background of what transpired in Poland during the War, she divides the book in five parts which introduces us to the people protected and how Franciszka and Helena aided them during the duration of their self-imposed incarceration. The complete story of Franciszka’s chutzpa in her dealings with the command of the officer in charge in Sokal in where she invites the high command for a home cooked German meal. While doing this, she was hiding guests in full attendance but was well hidden. In doing this, it shows to us how Franciszka may have tempted fate but in the end completely used these authorities as if she were fooling Colonel Klink at Stalag 13.

The writing is concise, accurate and above all inspiring for all to read. Ms. Witterick is the master of few words. Never have I read so few words to explain so many things in such a short book.

In the light of the darkness that was the Eastern Front of WWII in which the author has flashed a shining light of good and human warmth, I must commend her on a historically accurate piece of historical fiction which was indeed based on fact. Good job!!!

Review by Ionia Martin

A Review of J.L. Witterick’s “My Mother’s Secret.”

“My Mother’s Secret” is the first book from author J.L. Witterick, and I have to say, after reading this; I am pretty surprised that it is a debut novel. Witterick writes from a place in the heart that many authors spend their lifetime trying to seek out and perfect. This book, in a word, is incredible. For me personally, what made this such a profoundly toughing and poignant read was the simplicity with which it was written. Although the characters in this book tie in together at the end and the different story lines merge flawlessly, the writing always remains easy to read, has a perfect pace and flow and never strays from the mission of telling a story that will touch you on the deepest levels.

This is very much a tale of compassion, courage and the spirit that makes humans such a varied and complex species. While reading this, you forget that the characters are fictional, but based on real events and people and feel like you are reading the journal of a family member or friend from long ago. There were a lot of passages in this book that touched me and brought tears to my eyes, but there is one in particular that will stay with me: “I think it simply came down to not being able to turn away people who would have otherwise faced a certain death. Does that make us exceptional? Or is it only exceptional because so many others chose not to do the same thing?”

This may well be the best debut novel that I have ever read, and I strongly encourage others to give this book a try. You won’t be sorry that you did.


Text of introduction by Joseph Planta:

I am Planta: On the Line, in Vancouver at

There’s a book out now, My Mother’s Secret. It’s a novel from the first time author J.L. Witterick. She joins me now to talk about this new book that talks about a mother and daughter who hide Jewish families and a German soldier in their home during the Second World War. It’s based on a true story, and I’ll get Ms. Witterick to tell us about the mother and daughter, Franciszka and Helena, and the ingenious way she tells this story. This book has already gotten good notices, and will be included in some school curricula. It’s an ideal book to teach readers of all ages about the lessons of the Holocaust. I’ll ask Ms. Witterick about how she came to write this book, and why, as this is her first book. She remains a successful financial analyst and investor, as she’s president of the firm Sky Investment Counsel. The book is published by iUniverse. Visit for more information. Incidentally, proceeds of this book will go to various charities. In the month of April, Girls Helping Girls in Africa will benefit from sales of this book; in May, proceeds will go towards ALS research. If you buy the book from Indigo/Chapters, proceeds will go to their Love of Reading Foundation. Please welcome to the Planta: On the Line program in Toronto today, Jenny Witterick; Ms. Witterick, good morning.
Click to listen

Review by C. A. Webb “Conversations Book Club”

MY MOTHER’S SECRET by J. L. Witterick is a lesson in showing humanity

Sometimes we can learn some of the most profound lessons from individuals who seemingly have nothing in common with us or the world we live in. Through the book MY MOTHER’S SECRET by J. L. Witterick we are taken through the uncertainty and danger of the holocaust and reminded of how easily we can lose our humanity along the way.

In the book we are able to see how the abuse of power puts an entire group of people in danger, and the lengths that others will go to save them shows what it means to truly have compassion in the face of trouble. The characters come to life for us in a way that is not just realistic but haunting as we are able to see their world as they see it. At times they seem alone in their quest to do what is right. Other times they are able to take comfort in the simple pleasures that life has to offer. Through it all, though, we are given a real-life picture of the difference in just being a live and truly living.

There are also some poignant questions for the reader as you go along: What are you willing to risk in order to help others? Are you willing to put your own life on the line for your fellow man? How far is too far when it comes to obeying man? The answers to these questions can’t help but stay with you as you journey from chapter to chapter.

Filled with lessons that are sure to stick with you long after you finish the book, MY MOTHER’S SECRET reveals that if we are to truly say we are living life to the fullest we have to make sure we are taking care of our brothers and sisters around the world in the process.

Review by J. Kimmel-Freeman

Having grown up listening to stories of the Holocaust and the things that people had to do to escape the brutality of the Nazis, when I was approached to review this book I knew I had to. There’s something that is amazingly powerful and beautiful about the stories that come out of this moment in history.

I must say that this book follows suits of all the other stories I’ve heard or read. It is written in a way that seems to flow through the mind as you read the words. It is beautifully crafted.

I love how you get more than one perspective- allowing you to see the different stories and ways things are looked at differently. This is a great book to get older children and YAs introduced into the nit and grit that was part of the Holocaust. But that doesn’t mean that is should be limited to youths. I’m 28 and I enjoyed it.

This is a powerful, amazing story that everyone that has any interest in the Holocaust should read. It’s beautiful!

Review By S. Warfield

J.L. Witterick’s “My Mother’s Secret” isn’t a long book, but it tells a huge story from the time of the Holocaust. The author’s spare but poetic writing style tells the story of Franciszka Halamajowa and her daughter, Helena, who lived in Poland during the time that the country was occupied by Nazis during WWII. The women lived in a small house with an outbuilding that was near the home. Franciszka has moved with her daughter back to Poland from Germany because her husband is a Nazi sympathizer, and she is anything but, totally against Hitler and the Nazis.

Franciszka, although known as a friendly and nice woman living in Sokal, Poland, frequently invites a German commander to her home for dinner, and they have interesting conversations and the best meals that she can prepare, given the situation. Little does the German commander know that Franciszka and Helena are harboring and hiding Jews in their attic and in addition to those people, they are hiding a German soldier who was desperate to avoid his next orders. Her plan of keeping her enemy close while hiding the very people he hated was extremely clever.

Before the war there were 6000 Jews in Sokal, and after the war there were 30 left, and Franciszka was responsible for saving half of them. In the book, she doesn’t hide as many as 15, but the ones she does hide are in such cramped quarters that it is hard to bear. This is such a heartwarming story that you cheer all the way through the book for Franciszka and her hidden friends, but at the same time know that at any minute something could happen when the German commander is there to give her secret away. Besides her daughter, Helena, Franciszka has a son who is fighting in the war. J.L. Witterick wrote this as a Young Adult book in hopes that children born after the Second World War would learn about the war and the Holocaust and the good things that people like Franszika did. The book is divided into individual sections which are then divided into chapters, and each section is narrated by a character.

I loved the book and it is very suitable for adults to read, too. It’s a wonderful teaching aid and both a heartwarming and at times a heartbreaking story to take in. I highly recommend it.

“When we have much to lose, but still choose to do the right thing, we uncover the nobility that is within all of us. To endure what is unbearable and to do it with grace, that is how we know that we have arrived.” J.L. Witterick.

Reviewed by John J. Kelly

Emotionally moving, suspenseful and incredibly uplifting, “My Mother’s Secret,” is a lovingly written and incredibly deep and insightful story about how each of us, as human beings, make decisions every day that define both who we are and what course our lives will take. Author J.L. Witterick, inspired by the story of the limitless and undaunted heroism of an extraordinary Polish woman and her daughter, who simply refused to be a part of the evil that took place during the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews, has written nothing short of a masterpiece. Set in Poland during the German invasion and occupation of that country during World War II, the heroine of “My Mother’s Secret,” Franciszka Halamajowa uses the few tiny spaces in and around her home to hide, not just one, but two different Jewish families from the horrors of the death camps. And also finds space in her attic for a young man who refuses to serve in the German army. The exquisite love and affection that this heroic woman displayed during such a dark time in our history is like a bright shining, eternal flame that will provide a glow to your soul long after you turn the final page.

The details of Franciszka’s courageous actions are narrated in diary-like passages by five different key characters and the story is told with such suspense and skill that you’ll often feel your heart pounding with anxiety as these hunted individuals barely elude capture. It is not until the final pages with Witterick reveals that she has imagined for us many of the details surrounding this true story. The author should be applauded for making this story so compelling and believable. For example, there are moments when the reader will actually feel the same claustrophobia that the characters must have during the long days and nights that go on for several years.

For such a briefly told tale, it is packed with wisdom and insight on the part of the narrators. Early on in the novel, Francizka’s daughter Helena speaks of how she longs to be able to forget so much of what she witnesses:

“I wish I could wipe out the images of children crying as they are pulled from their fathers’ arms, of old men struggling as they are made to dance with shots fired at their feet, of soldiers laughing as they take what they want from stores without paying.”

As we meet the other characters, the author writes with such tenderness and compassion of how, despite their terrifying existence, they still act with love and respect toward each other, and there are so many of these moments that one begins to feel that you are right there in hiding along with them. But the author is also descriptive in recalling the many betrayals and cowardly actions by those who think only of themselves. So what is created is a feeling of constant vigilance against being turned in or shot for some minor offense. It’s a brutal existence for these persecuted individuals who have no idea how long this ordeal could last. Yet throughout the entire experience there is always such wonderful hope and wisdom expressed by the narrators. For example, at one point a pivotal character, Bronek, states “How do you move when you feel like you can’t go on.You think of someone who needs you more”
That sentiment is what motivates so many of these characters to set their own fate aside to ensure the safety of those whom they love. As time passes and things get increasingly dangerous, each of the character’s in this novel find themselves doing whatever is necessary to keep themselves, or more importantly, each other alive. They seem to intuitively understand that whatever happens, they must rely upon their own wit and creativity to continue this deception.

Vilheim is a German soldier who does not believe in the war and is hiding in a tiny space in the attic. He must lie straight on his back for hours on end in order not to be noticed. Late at night, he is allowed to venture downstairs to stretch for a short time. The rest of the time he teaches himself to do small stretching exercises and mini-pushups. It seems like an unbearable burden, but in the end, this terrible sacrifice allows Vilheim to avoid being killed.

There have been so many books written about the Holocaust, from every possible perspective, but “My Mother’s Secret,” is definitely among the most heart-wrenching and emotionally moving. As you read it, you’ll find yourself in awe over so many of the profound and meaningful observations. This is a novel jammed with wisdom about a period in history when there seemed to be only insanity, hatred and death. It is ultimately triumphant in highlighting how sometimes small victories are some of the most important in life. “My Mother’s Secret” is a beautiful and powerful lesson about the need for all human beings, regardless of the circumstances or possible consequences, to stand up for what they believe in and fight against injustice and hatred. I highly recommend it for readers of all ages.