In The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke, Sophie Kumiega is a Brit living in her husband’s city of Warsaw, Poland, in 1939. He’s a fighter pilot, in the air during the German attack on Warsaw. He can’t get back into the country after Germany’s occupation. Sophie first tries to work, until the library where she is employed is bombed and taken over. Then she helps the underground in various ways, still unsure whether her husband lives.
In the same city, Rosa and Itzhak Dunovich are a Jewish couple dealing with the increasing encroachment of German occupation. They welcome their first child into the Jewish ghetto. Itzhak worries about his family in another town. He devises a way to go to them to see if they’re safe or bring them back to Warsaw if they’re not.
But Itzhak doesn’t return. Food becomes even more scarce, atrocities increase. Rosa makes a heart-wrenching decision. The only way to protect her daughter is to send her with an underground nurse who finds places to hide Jewish children. Rosa cuts in half the tree of life medallion Itzhak gave her on her wedding day and places it on a chain around her daughter’s neck. When the war is over, hopefully she will be able to match her half of the medallion to her child’s and reclaim her.
I can’t imagine living through what either Sophie or Rosa did. Both saw loved ones die and conditions grow worse. Sophie had to constantly be aware of who was around and who might see and report her. Rosa dealt with the effects of deprivation and starvation.
I had an idea how the plot might end, but it took quite a different route there than I had guessed.
In the afterword. Cathy told how she became intrigued with two different true stories—one of a woman who posed as a nurse and hid Jewish children in convent schools or with Gentile helpers, and another involving searching for a child with half a medallion given up during the war. She wove them together in this story.
Somehow I happened to have both the Kindle and Audible versions of this book. It was nice to be able to pick up either one where I left off from the other. Normally the audiobook narration enhances the story, but this one felt a little overdone to me.
But all in all, an excellent, touching book.