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Welcome to today’s TeaserTuesday blog hop, interview and review!
The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer is inspired by the real-life heroine who saved thousands of Polish Jewish children during WWII. It is a story that intertwines war, family, survival, and love with themes of injustice, revenge, compassion, and sacrifice.
There are four main characters that represent the mindset of those who lived in Warsaw Poland from 1942 to the end of the war. Readers see a teenage boy in the Warsaw Ghetto, Roman, as someone driven to act; his Jewish stepfather Samuel hides from the truth with a sense of hope; Emilia strives to not be an observer, but someone who must get involved; and Sara who decides to serve and rescue those behind the Wall even with great peril to herself. All these characters stood up for what they believe.
Emilia befriends the nurse Sara who lives on her floor, but in doing so sees things she should not. Realizing Sara is saving Jewish children she begs to get involved and becomes Sara’s apprentice. They can travel behind the Warsaw Ghetto Wall to make sure disease is not rampant. But their true motivation is to save Jewish children by placing them into non-Jewish Polish homes and Catholic orphanages. While training Jewish children to recite Christian prayers she meets Roman Gorka, also a teenager. They instantly click and both have the strength and will to fight for a better life for themselves, their family, and their community.
This is a compelling and emotional story. Readers get a glimpse what life was like in the Jewish ghetto compared to life outside the walls under Nazi occupation. Kelly Rimmer has outdone herself with this novel.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the story The Warsaw Orphan?
Kelly Rimmer: I went to Poland in 2017 to research my earlier book, The Things We Cannot Say. I came across the story of Irena Sendler, the real-life Polish nurse the character Sara is loosely based upon.
EC: Irena Sendler?
KR: She was lost to history until a group of Kansas school children in the 1990s came across her name for a research project. She had an incredible story since she saved so many Jewish children. There were a huge number of women on her team, mainly nurses, that were allowed access to the Ghetto. They represented some Polish Catholics who became unsung heroes. Remember, this is a time when anyone caught with a Jewish person would be executed.
EC: It is nice to hear about some non-Jewish Poles who helped?
KR: It was a combination of those who acted, those who gave food and money, those who did nothing, and those who were out-right Anti-Semites and helped the Germans. There were acts of cruelty, but also acts of courage and love.
EC: In the book there are descriptions of how the Jewish children were saved?
KR: If a child or man looked Semitic, the Nazis would pull down their pants on a public street. The Nazis loved to humiliate the Poles. In the story and real-life some of the children had their hair dyed blond or some Jewish boys were put in a dress and given a female name, and sometimes the Jewish children had to be baptized.
EC: Were any of the Jewish children returned to their families?
KR: An effort was made. In fact, I wrote a scene that was taken from Irena’s account. Her team kept meticulous handwritten records. She wrote where the children were taken, the name of their Jewish family, and their date of birth. Once when the Gestapo came to search her house she dropped those records to a colleague, waiting below. Irena always said how important it was for the Jewish children to have a link back to their heritage. But the recovery rate was not great since many of the families did not survive.
EC: You describe the Warsaw Ghetto in detail?
KR: I had some details from the historian Emanuel Ringelblum who collected evidence to show what it was like in the Ghetto. Unfortunately, he was executed. As I said in the book, there was starvation, hopelessness, overcrowding, and disease. He drew from journal entries, propaganda, posters, photos, and real first-hand accounts. This was great reference material for me. I hope I was able to capture the sense of menace and truth.
EC: How would you describe Emilia?
KR: She was just a headstrong teenager trying to figure out her place in the world. Emilia was at the stage of life where she is not thirteen, but almost fourteen. Overall, she is impetuous, courageous, traumatized, a survivor, and an adapter. Emilia is also rebellious, stubborn, and artistic. She is driven by curiosity and wanting to help.
EC: How would you describe Roman?
KR: He had circumstances different than Emilia since she lived outside the Ghetto, and he lived inside. He is driven by regret, rage, and righteous anger. He was a tricky character to write. Overall a good person who is bitter, loved his family deeply, fearful, and a protector.
EC: Uncle Petro-was he good or bad?
KR: Petro was morally complex. He loved Emilia deeply. But he saw the war as a business opportunity. He wanted to point out that anger can lead to places no one wants to go.
EC: How about Sara?
KR: Heartbroken, determined, grief-filled, and uses all of that to take positive action for others. Sara is also nurturing, kind, a rescuer, caring, strong, calm, and focused.
EC: What are the details about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising?
KR: I found research information from the leader of the uprising. It was an inspiring act of courage. This scrappy group of people held off and humiliated the Nazi army for 28 days. As in the book they made bombs out of anything. Roman spoke in the book of never intending to survive, but he wanted to restore some dignity to his family, himself, and his culture. The line about not being considered heroes, because no one will be left to write the story was taken from a real-life account. The fighters felt abandoned and hopeless from the world. Historians have said that the Nazis did not defeat the Jewish uprising, but fire did because the Nazis burned all the buildings. At the end of the day, the world turned their back on them.
EC: At the end of the book, you speak of Russian atrocities.
KR: After the war Poland was occupied by a Communist regime. The war did not end for the Poles but kind of morphed. The violence against women was horrific. Most of the Russian soldiers felt entitled to the Polish women. This was a different kind of terror.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the book?
KR: I hope readers are a little curious to find out about the era and facts to educate themselves. I have been fascinated with WWII because of my grandparents. Once they came to Australia after the war, they refused to speak about what happened. As a historical novelist I consider myself a gateway to people accessing real history. They step into character’s shoes which makes it more real for them. Then they can do their own research.
EC: Your next book?
KR: The working title, out maybe next year, is The German Wife. Part of it is set in Berlin and part in Texas. The woman protagonist is married to a German scientist who worked on the rocket program. In the second half of the book, I explore how American Jewish scientists mingled with some German scientists who were in the SS. They were in Huntsville Alabama working on the space program where there was this collision of worlds as they lived side by side in 1951.
Hello book lovers, welcome back to our Tuesday post. This includes #TeaserTuesday, #BookBeginnings and First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros. Enjoy!
First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros
I’m also taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros
Every Tuesday Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews now hosts “First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros”, where readers share the first paragraph of a book that they are reading, have read, or plan to read soon.
The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer
The human spirit is a miraculous thing. It is the strongest part of us – crushed under pressure, but rarely broken.The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer
Looking forward to visiting your blogs and seeing what your Teaser Tuesday, Book Beginnings and First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros are this week! Luv Sassy x
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