Title: The Light in Hidden Places
Author: Sharon Cameron
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Published: March 3rd, 2020 (Scholastic Press)
Synopsis: One knock at the door, and Stefania has a choice to make…
It is 1943, and for four years, sixteen-year-old Stefania has been working for the Diamant family in their grocery store in Przemsyl, Poland, singing her way into their lives and hearts. She has even made a promise to one of their sons, Izio — a betrothal they must keep secret since she is Catholic and the Diamants are Jewish.
But everything changes when the German army invades Przemsyl. The Diamants are forced into the ghetto, and Stefania is alone in an occupied city, the only one left to care for Helena, her six-year-old sister. And then comes the knock at the door. Izio’s brother Max has jumped from the train headed to a death camp. 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 will mean death. When the knock finally comes, it is two Nazi officers, requisitioning Stefania’s house for the German army.
With two Nazis below, thirteen hidden Jews above, and a little sister by her side, Stefania has one more excruciating choice to make.
“Przemyśl had given me an education since that train
ride when I was twelve. It had taught me that people
like to divvy one another up with names.
Jew. Catholic. Germans. Poles.
But these were the wrong names.
They were the wrong dividing lines.
Kindness. Cruelty. Love and hate.
These were the borders that mattered.”
Sixteen year old Stefania Podgorska’s life changes when bombs fall on the Polish city of Przemyśl and the Germans invade. The kind Jewish family she worked for, the Diamants, are forced into the ghetto, and she and her younger sister Helena are left alone in a German occupied city that grows more dangerous by the day. Then Max Diamant appears at her door one night, having jumped from the train taking him to a death camp and begs her to hide him and his remaining family and friends. Fusia agrees, though she is risking both her life and her sister’s, and sets out to find a larger house and a job to support and feed them all. She soon finds herself hiding thirteen Jews in her attic, when the Nazis show up to requisition her house for the army.
I didn’t hear about this book until the week before it released, but it was an instant addition to my reading list. Based on a real life story, this moving read is reminiscent of The Diary of Anne Frank and Ruta Sepetys’ works. Despite the heavy subject matter, I found it impressive that it stayed to a level appropriate for YA. There was also quite a lot of information to cover, seeing as this spans a couple of years, and the pacing does vary, slowing down towards the middle and then becoming faster as the plot grew more tense, but at no point did the story ever seem to drag and it kept me engrossed throughout.
The added element that made this story interesting was that it was from Fusia’s perspective, who, not being Jewish, was safe from the Nazis – yet, not safe, since she refused to let the Diamants whom she considered as family die in the ghetto and regularly placed herself at terrible risk to take them food and supplies. This is a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat as things get worse and worse, and it really drives in the immensity of what Fusia and her sister are doing and at what cost. I really admire Fusia for her courage and willingness to do the right thing in very difficult circumstances. And I have to say, it was wonderful to finally read a World War II era story that had a happy ending despite how dark and heavy things get.
Don’t skip the author’s note in this one – it highlights the tremendous amount of research and effort that has gone into this novel and also contains some interesting notes about the characters’ life after the war. There is also a movie based on the events of Stefania Podgorska’s life during WWII called Hidden in Silence that is mentioned here. By the time I finished this book, I just needed to know more about her story and looked for the movie at once – and it’s definitely worth watching.
Overall, this was an emotional read, that truly brings to life not only the horrors of the time and how it affected the people who lived through it, but also how the circumstances led to the rise of some very unlikely heroes who risked their lives to save others. I would highly recommend this book for all readers, not necessarily just historical fiction fans that gives a voice to one of the lesser known heroes of the war.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!