The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer is not a book about an orphan from Warsaw. It is a book that focuses on two orphans, so I have no idea why the singular orphan was chosen for the title instead of the plural orphans. The cover depicts two young children on a train track, but there isn’t a scene in the book where that happens. The children are too young to be the two main characters, so I have no idea who they are or why they are on the cover. I don’t like it when I can’t judge a book by its title or cover. Now that I have aired these pet peeves, I will review the story.
This World War II novel begins in Warsaw in 1942. It intertwines the stories of two teenagers, one Jewish and one Catholic. Roman Gorka lives in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto with his loving and close-knit family. Their lives revolve around finding enough food to live on. His mother is not able to produce enough milk for her newborn daughter. Roman is an angry young man who wants justice and revenge on the Germans who have forced the Jews into the ghetto. Emilia, who must use the cover name Elzbieta Rabinek, lives with her adoptive family and an uncle near the ghetto wall. Emilia’s family fled to Warsaw after her brother was killed for working for the underground. Emilia is an intelligent 14-year-old who feels trapped inside her apartment with nothing to do all day.
Emilia accidentally learns that her next-door neighbor, Anna, is helping smuggle children from the ghetto into safe homes. The children must first be taught Catholic prayers and to speak Polish instead of Yiddish. Anna, who is a nurse and social worker, hires Emilia as an apprentice social worker. This gives them access to the Jewish ghetto where they make social work calls on families in need of help. It is through this work that Roman and Emilia meet and form a deep friendship.
As the war continues, Roman works first for the Jewish resistance, and then for the Polish resistance group. He has sworn to defend Poland until his death. While she knows she is in love with Roman, his anger and zeal make her keep him at arm’s length. Both of them are courageous, but they fight in different ways. When the war is over, Roman wants to fight the Soviet takeover of Poland. Emilia is ready for peace. Eventually, they must decide if they are right for each other in the long run.
The book moved slowly at times, especially in the beginning. The author’s descriptions of the horrors of the ghetto and also for other Polish citizens are gut-wrenching. There is so much senseless death. But amid all this strife, the novel emphasizes the bravery and resilience of the characters.