My Sister’s Mother: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Stalin’s Siberia
A searing tale of war, trauma, and survival
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.
“A gripping study of family dynamics, this also a must-read for World War II history buffs.” James Conroyd Martin, author of best-selling The Poland Trilogy adds, “Shows not only how love, loss, fear, and hope intersect in the lives of refugees, but also how they reverberate—for good and for bad—in the lives that follow. Enlightening.”
-Leonard Kniffel, author of A Polish Son in the Motherland
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.
“My mother never stopped talking about what had happened to her and my sister during World War II. Unlike many of my friends with similar backgrounds whose parents did not dwell on their war experiences, my mother’s intense recollections first frightened me as a young child, then annoyed me as a teenager, until I became engaged with them as a young adult. But, it wasn’t until I became a mother myself did my mother finally agree to let me write about all that. Most people in America knew little about the deportations of civilians by the Soviets from eastern Poland to slave labor camps in Siberia in 1940/41, or even that Russia had attacked Poland right after Germany had in 1939.
“My sister and I had very different experiences of our mother. As a child, my sister knew our mother before all the horror of the war, whereas I knew a woman who was haunted after the war by all that. My mother saved my sister many times from starvation and disease during the war. It was really a miracle that my sister survived at all as most children under the age of five died during those harsh conditions. My sister grew up in what was then eastern Poland, in the labor camps in Siberia and Russia, the resettlement camps in Iran and India, and in England where I was born. I grew up in the comfort of America far from any direct experience with war.”
-Author Donna Urbikas
Attend a Book Launch Party
My Sister’s Mother: A Memoir of War, Exile and Stalin’s Siberia by Donna Solecka Urbikas was just released by the University of Wisconsin Press. A book launch party is planned for May 22, 2016 from 3 to 6 pm at the Polish Museum of America, 984 N. Milwaukee in Chicago, IL. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Donna Solecka Urbikas grew up in the Midwest and had careers as a high school science teacher and environmental engineer. She is now a writer, realtor, and community volunteer, and lives in Chicago, Illinois with her husband. They have three adult children.