Over the course of 11 years of the Annabel & Grace magazine, I have written many book reviews, but this is the first time I have been stuck for words to describe this book, The Light in Hidden Places. The title should read – Story of a TRUE war heroine because that is what Stefania was. My lack of words is because there are not enough powerful superlatives to describe this story.
THE LIGHT IN HIDDEN PLACES begins in 1936 in the small town of Przemyśl, Poland, where 13-year-old Stefania Podgórska is thrilled to leave the family farm and work for the Diamants, a Jewish family who keep a store in town. In a few years, she’s practically family, and indeed she and Izio, one of the sons in medical school, are in love — something they keep to themselves because she’s Catholic and he’s Jewish.
Then the Nazis take over the town, leaving her alone in their house as the Diamant family Is dragged off to the ghetto. She takes in her 6-year-old sister, Helena, who’s been left to a brutal neighbour after the Nazis take her mother and brother to a work camp, leaving the farm to ruin. All the while, she spends her days scrounging food and supplies for the Diamants and figuring out ways to get it all to them. But soon, the killing in the ghetto ratchets up, the death camp trains are running nonstop — and one night Max, the oldest Diamant son, jumps from one of those trains and knocks on Stefania’s door in the middle of the night.Stefania and Helena make the extraordinary decision to hide Max and eventually twelve more Jews. Then they must wait, every day, for the next knock at the door, the one that could destroy everything.
I have read so many stories about this period in history. Stories of families that hid Jews; however, Stefania was a teenager, and her younger sister was a mere child, so her story was even more heartbreaking. No one told her to hide Jews, but she knew it was the right thing to do even if it ultimately cost them their lives. The sheer terror that these two girls lived under cries out from every page.
I was captivated and pulled into this story from page 1. However, nothing could have prepared me for the enormous risks that Stefania took to protect those the Nazis targeted and victimized. Could I have been this brave at 16 years? I doubt it. Stefania was an exceptional young woman, and I am so glad her story is being told. It is also remarkable that Israel has recognised her as one of the ‘Righteous among the nations‘.
Sharon Cameron only met Stefania once when she already had dementia. However, with the help of Stefania’s memoirs and her son, Ed, Sharon was able to retell this incredible story.
Sharon Cameron wrote an exciting novel that weaves together the lightheartedness, sheer terror, and incredible inner strength of this young woman, my mom. This book exceeds all my expectations.
Ed Burzminski (Stefania’s son)
At the end of the book, you can read what happened to Stefania and her sister so I won’t spoil that part.
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