The Warsaw Sisters

I mentioned in a previous post my morbid fascination with World War II. I’ve watched documentaries and movies based on true stories, read piles of historical research and anecdotes, and umpteen novels of characters somehow surviving one of the darkest eras in modern history.

When I consider our world today, these stories of depravity and resilience serve as a reminder to avoid treating others with similar ruthlessness.

To quote new-to-me author, Amanda Barratt:

In times of some of the greatest evil and inhumanity our world has ever known, there emerged glimmers of courage, resilience, and sacrifice. The juxtaposition of those fragments of light against the darkness is extraordinarily powerful and inspires me as I write.

I believe this is why my heart cries out to understand this alarming period, while my brain short-circuits. How can I possibly compute how people did such shocking things to other human beings?

I just finished reading Amanda Barratt’s latest novel, The Warsaw Sisters. It’s a remarkable, well-researched World War II tale inspired by true events. A heartbreaking story of two sisters, Antonina and Helena Dąbrowska, and their soul-crushing journey through the war.

When it comes to poignant books and movies, I’m not much of a crier (Mr Wonderful cries more than me!). However, I shed tears while I read this epic story. From the first chapter’s moving farewell between the Dąbrowska sisters and their war-bound father, I knew I would mourn many beloved characters. That’s just how it goes in WWII stories. Those you fall in love with often die… but the loss in Poland, particularly Warsaw, gutted me.

Ms Barratt wielded her words like an accomplished artist. Her distinct imagery captured my attention while obliterating my heart. She painted a bleak yet hope-filled tale of the Polish people. An unputdownable tale of suffering. Grief-filled and distressing. Yet never without hope.

Like a driver decelerating to avoid a nearby car crash, I was glued to this book. Mesmerised and stunned by the apathy of some Warsaw locals when the Germans rounded up the Jews. I couldn’t look away during the horrific Ursus factory scene. Needed to know what happened next to “the daring lads from Błysk” mid-battle.

I did pause reading around the 80% mark and tracked the historical timeline to check if one sister was about to withstand more suffering. I know it’s kind of like cheating to check historical events online, but I had to know if my soul was about to break. Again.

I struggled with the unfiltered portrayal of what happened to the people of Warsaw, but I was grateful for Ms Barratt’s candour. A vivid image of war, a city destroyed, and its people annihilated. While many endured harsh situations, their brave actions sparked “fragments of light against the darkness”. Tiny glimmers in the fathomless blackness.

Intertwining scenes of war and massacre are threads of love. Between comrades, Jewish and gentile Poles, and even a sympathetic German man I wished had been born in a different country. Women risked death to save Jewish children or pass intel to Poland’s secret army through gunfire. Courage, like no other, shone between the gut-punching deaths of millions.

While unrest escalates today, Amanda Barratt’s novel is a timely reminder of why we should never allow a repeat of the heinous actions of past dictators. Living in a relatively peace-filled era, I wonder if we have forgotten the suffering of our ancestors? The wrongs inflicted on others in the name of race and religion?

The time is now to shine Christ’s love and compassion for all humankind, just as Antonina and Helene did in The Warsaw Sisters.

Until next time,

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