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Hello, dear readers! It’s release day for Catherine A. Hamilton’s Victoria’s War, and I’m delighted to be sharing an excerpt with you. I’ve long been drawn to stories set in Europe during World War II, and after reading this excerpt, Victoria’s War is on my to-read list. I hope you all find it as intriguing as I did!

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Lagodny, Poland—September 1, 1939

RADIO changed Victoria Darski’s world. It brought swing jazz and blues into her living room. And on the first of September, when she sat on the high-backed sofa and reached for the brass knob on the cabinet radio, it brought news of war.

“This is a special announcement,” the commentator said. “German tanks crossed the Polish border in a devastating predawn attack that Hitler launched against Poland.”

Victoria sat upright. Her hands trembled as she dug to the bottom of her black leather handbag and pulled out rosary beads, a cotton handkerchief, and her train ticket. Departure: 9. 1. 1939 11:00, the stamp on the ticket read. Her train would leave in two hours to take her to the women’s dormitory at the University of Warsaw. She was supposed to start her first semester tomorrow. The announcer was saying that all university classes were suspended indefinitely, but Victoria’s suitcases sat packed and waiting in the front hall closet. Can it be true? Victoria crossed one leg and then the other to buckle the straps on her platform shoes. She hurried to tell her parents the horrible news.

By twelve noon, Victoria joined her mother and her sister, Elizabeth, in kissing Papa’s freshly shaven cheeks, telling him to come home safely. The army reserves had called him into active duty. It was the first time Victoria had seen her parents cry in each other’s arms. When the long embrace ended, and the goodbyes were whispered, the Darski women—Victoria, her mother, and Elizabeth—remained at home, glued to the radio all hours of the day and night, believing that at any moment the “Germans would turn back, that western Europe would come to Poland’s aid.

Victoria’s bags still waited in the front hall closet twenty-eight days later when Hitler raised the German flag on the Warsaw capitol building. She couldn’t listen to jazz because Chopin’s dirge was the only tune playing out of Warsaw. But she played the radio anyway. It was her only solace, her quasi escape from being held hostage in her own home. It muffled the sound of her sister bickering with her mother about the impossibility of cooking with little to nothing—no salt, no butter. Would there ever be potato dumplings again? Sausage or bacon or ham? Thankfully, over the noise of the cupboards slamming in the kitchen, Victoria heard Chopin.

That is, until Elizabeth stormed into the living room and said, “Mother wants you to turn the radio off and come help me bring the laundry in from the clothesline.”

Victoria didn’t look up. She straightened her dress hem and ignored Elizabeth. Not until Elizabeth switched the radio off did Victoria look at her sister. Elizabeth’s face was flushed brighter than the red polka dots on her blouse, and Victoria said calmly, “I’ve been fourteen, Elizabeth. I know it isn’t easy, but at least try to behave like a lady.”

Elizabeth crossed her arms defiantly. “No. You need to help me with the laundry.”

None of them had set foot outside in weeks, at least not past the clothesline in the backyard. Not since the German soldiers arrived in Lagodny and gave them strict orders not to leave the property. Being cooped up in the house was putting them all on edge. Victoria took in a deep breath and gathered her thoughts. “The point is, Elizabeth, I’d be at the university if it weren’t for Hitler. My suitcases are packed, sitting out there in the hall closet, and I don’t plan to let them sit there forever. There is a chance that Britain and France will show. They’ve declared war on Germany and this occupation could end, and when it does, I’ll be out of here.”

Elizabeth’s perfectly round face and delicate features hardened. “I’d love to see you go to Warsaw. I’m praying for it. Then I won’t have to watch you dress up day after day as if you’re going off to college, wasting your time on tying all that ribbon in your hair. Why can’t you face the truth?”

Victoria stared at Elizabeth. She had taken time on her waist-long French braid, elaborately weaving in the thin pieces of indigo ribbon. And why not? They had all the time in the world. But it never helped to reason with her little sister. “Right now, I’m thinking how nice it would be if you didn’t treat me like the enemy.” Victoria switched the radio back on. “You go get started. I’ll be right out.”

“Victoria again turned up the volume. The lamplight threw a hazy glow over the front room, and she found a sense of comfort in the smells of her mother’s cooking. The midday meal would begin, as always, with soup. Today it would be a clear beet soup, followed by potato cakes and sliced apples. She was too hungry to care that the food would be served without salt or butter. They had run out of salt days ago, and no one could go to the market. No one could even so much as visit a neighbor to borrow some salt. Not until they had ID cards.

Even with the radio turned up loud, the dirge didn’t muffle the sound of the crucifix rattling on the wall behind the sofa. Someone was pounding at the front door and nobody but the Nazis made a heart-stopping knock like that.

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About Victoria’s War

In Victoria’s War, Hamilton gives voice to the courageous Polish women who were kidnapped into the real-life Nazi slave labor operation during WWII. Inspired by true stories, this lost chapter of history won’t soon be forgotten.

POLAND, 1939: Nineteen-year-old Victoria Darski is eager to move away to college: her bags are packed and her train ticket is in hand. But instead of boarding a train to the University of Warsaw, she finds her world turned upside down when World War II breaks out. Victoria’s father is sent to a raging battlefront, and the Darski women must face the cruelty of the invaders alone. When Victoria decides to go to a resistance meeting with her best friend, Sylvia, they are captured by human traffickers targeting Polish teenagers. Sylvia is sent to work in a brothel, and Victoria is transported by cattle car to Berlin, where she is auctioned off as a slave. 

GERMANY, 1941: Twenty-year-old Etta Tod is at Mercy Hospital about to undergo involuntary sterilization because of the Fuhrer’s mandate to eliminate hereditary deafness. Etta, an artist, silently critiques the propaganda poster on the waiting room wall while her mother tries to convince her she should be glad to get rid of her monthlies. Etta is the daughter of the German shopkeepers who buy Victoria at auction in Berlin.

The stories of Victoria and Etta intertwine in the bakery’s attic where Victoria is held—the same place where Etta has hidden her anti-Nazi paintings. The two women form a quick and enduring bond. But when they’re caught stealing bread from the bakery and smuggling it to a nearby work camp, everything changes.

Amazon | Goodreads

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About the Author

Catherine A. Hamilton

CATHERINE A. HAMILTON is a freelance writer of Polish descent whose articles and poems have appeared in magazines and newspapers including the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, The Oregonian, the Catholic Sentinel, the Dziennik Związkowy (the oldest Polish newspaper in America), and the Polish American Journal. She is the author of the chapter about Katherine Graczyk in Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation, edited by Richard C. Lukas. Victoria’s War, her first novel, will be published in 2020 by Plain View Press. She actively publishes and blogs at http://www.catherineahamilton.com. Hamilton lives in the Northwest with her husband.

Connect with Catherine: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | Website

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Giveaway

The publicist is generously offering an ebook (mobi or epub) to one lucky reader, open internationally. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway will be open through Sunday, June 7, 2020. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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