Mania dreams of becoming Poland’s Shirley Temple. She is seven when World War II begins and eleven when she witnesses her mother die in Auschwitz. A year later, she is transferred to the work camp, Reichenbach. Johanne, an SS guard, slips her food and looks out for her, giving her hope that she will survive. Johanne even voices her desire to adopt Mania when the war ends. But when at last it does, they are suddenly separated. As the years pass, Mania often thinks about Johanne and wishes that she could thank her. Then, decades later, their lives serendipitously, perhaps miraculously, reconnect. Mania hires a cleaning lady whom she is sure is Johanne, but the woman elusively denies it.
Lisa Birnie interweaves the true stories of these two remarkable women with her own experience of the war, as she attempts to discover the truth. Her book fearlessly traverses gray areas of war, belief and memory. Will Johanne admit to being the one who saved Mania? Is she deliberately keeping the truth a secret? Or is Mania mistaken? As Mania often says, “Life’s full of secrets, and every secret has a purpose.”