Sharon Cameron’s The Light in Hidden Places is based on the true story of Holocaust heroine Stefania Podgórska, a 16-year-old Catholic girl in Poland who not only took care of her younger sister but also hid 13 Jewish people in the attic of her tiny apartment.
In order to tell Stefania’s story, Cameron (The Dark Unwinding, The Knowing) did extensive research, which included interviewing several of the attic’s survivors, gaining access to Stefania’s unpublished memoir and traveling with Stefania’s son to Poland. There, they visited the places in which this incredible tale unfolded. Cameron saw for herself the minuscule, cramped space where 13 people cowered for more than two years with no electricity, water or toilet, and which Stefania and her sister could only access via a ladder to bring them food and water and carry out their waste in buckets.
What’s more, an SS officer lived in an adjacent apartment for months, and by the end of the war, two German nurses had moved into Stefania’s apartment. The nurses often brought their SS boyfriends home for the night, making Stefania feel like she was not only secretly and illegally hiding Jewish people but also “running a Nazi boarding house.”
Cameron’s wide-ranging research and deft storytelling abilities combine to create an astoundingly authentic first-person narration. Her exquisite prose conveys in riveting detail exactly what it was like for Stefania to live through the horrors she witnessed, as well as the difficult decisions that had to be made by both survivors and those who did not, ultimately, survive.
Though it at times reads like a memoir, The Light in Hidden Places is a tense and gripping novel, full of urgency, in which death seems to wait around every corner. Although it’s still early in the year, it seems destined for my list of the best books of 2020.