Donna Solecka Urbikas grew up in the Midwest during the golden years of the American century. But her Polish-born mother and half sister had endured dehumanizing conditions during World War II, as slave laborers in Siberia. War and exile created a profound bond between mother and older daughter, one that Donna would struggle to find with either of them.
In 1940, Janina Ślarzynska and her five-year-old daughter Mira were taken by Soviet secret police (NKVD) from their small family farm in eastern Poland and sent to Siberia with hundreds of thousands of others. So began their odyssey of hunger, disease, cunning survival, desperate escape across a continent, and new love amidst terrible circumstances.
But in the 1950s, baby boomer Donna yearns for a “normal” American family while Janina and Mira are haunted by the past. In this unforgettable memoir, Donna recounts her family history and her own survivor’s story, finally understanding the damaged mother who had saved her sister.
“This stunning, heartfelt memoir looks unflinchingly at the scars borne by one Polish immigrant family as their daughter tries to become a normal American girl in Chicago. A gripping study of family dynamics, this is also a must-read for World War II history buffs.”
—Leonard Kniffel, author of A Polish Son in the Motherland
“After the Soviets invaded eastern Poland in September 1939, they deported nearly half a million people into the interior of the USSR. The sufferings of these captives did not end with their release from labor and concentration camps but continued throughout their lives, affecting their families drastically. This poignant and moving memoir is essential reading for all who want to understand the nature of the Soviet Gulag system and the problems faced by its former inmates in adapting to a normal life.”
—Antony Polonsky, chief historian of the Museum of Polish Jews in Warsaw