The Warsaw Orphan
Graydon House Pub
June 1st, 2021
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.
“Irena Sendler, the real-life Polish nurse the character Sara is loosely based upon. 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.”
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.
“I wrote Roman’s 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. Emilia 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. Sara is heartbroken about what was happening. She is 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.”
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.
“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. I wanted to show there were Poles 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. 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.”
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.