This memoir of a Polish girl’s experience in a forced-labor camp introduces us to a little-known theater of World War II.
Krysia: a Polish Girl’s Stolen Childhood during World War II by Krystyna Mihulka. Chicago Review Press, 2017, 166 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 8-10
Recommended for: ages 8-12
“Everybody calls me Krysia, which is the usual Polish nickname for Krystyna. I love my name, not because of how it sound, but because it held such happy memory for my parents.” Her parents met at a party, where her father asked her mother to dance to a popular tune: “Pretty Krysia, go the words, cease your weeping/Let us dance the mazur! Years after that fateful night, 10-year-old Krysia and her little brother Antek were growing up happily in Lwow Poland, when war crashed in and tore up their lives. First it forced their father into hiding. Then it disrupted their home as Soviet tanks tolled into the city and Russian soldiers seized houses for their quarters. Finally, Krysia and her family were deported into the far reaches of the Soviet Empire (Kazakhstan) to serve as farm labor, often on starvation rations. For the next two years they lived in exile until Hitler invaded Russia and the Nazi-Soviet alliance shattered. Only then could the family begin making their long way back home, but not without permanent loss.
This memoir tells a side of the war seldom covered—we forget that Stalin and Hitler began as allies and Poland was unfortunate enough to be located between them. Krysia’s true story takes us to a war theater seldom visited. Her early memories of Lwow are vivid and especially poignant given what would soon happen. The subsequent narrative, as in many memoirs, leaves some gaps we would like to know more about. But we can be grateful for this much, including the author’s honesty about her childish self-centeredness and her struggles with faith:
My mother knelt down and prayed . . . I didn’t pray. Where was God, anyway? I had been taught that God loved little children, and yet He was letting these wicked men throw us out of our home . . . I blamed Him for what was happening to us. Or could I be wrong? Did my mother know something about God that I didn’t know?
Later she witnesses small miracles and touches of grace. There’s no ringing endorsement of faith at the end, but her story is worth knowing.
Cautions: Intense situations
Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4.5
- Artistic value: 3.5