Zibby is joined (for the third time!) by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Barr, this time to discuss THE GODDESS OF WARSAW, an utterly gripping WWII story about a young Jewish actress turned assassin. The protagonist, Bina Blonski, uses her looks and talent to escape the Warsaw Ghetto, ultimately rising to Hollywood fame—and continuing to fight against Nazis. Lisa explains how her own family history (she is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor) influenced this book and then delves into her research process and the novel’s relevance to today’s current events. She and Zibby touch on the ongoing fight against antisemitism and the importance of standing against hate.


Zibby: Welcome, Lisa. Thank you so much for coming back on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books for, what, the third time now? Third time?

Lisa: It is the third time, and, and I was one of your original anthology writers, like, way back, way before Zippyverse. 

Zibby: That's true. Way before the Zippyverse. Uh, you were OG member, I feel like one of the first to come to events here. 

Lisa: Totally. I'm so proud of you. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Well, you've been an integral part of the whole thing.

And I swear, the day you hit the New York Times list, like, I was jumping in my kitchen. I was so excited. So excited for you. That was just, I don't know. I feel like it happened to me. It was so exciting when it happened to you. 

Lisa: So exciting. And it was, I think you called me, it was like 11 30 at night and you're like, I'm crying.

And I was just, it was a big moment. Yeah. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. 

Okay. Let's go to the goddess of Warsaw for a minute. All right. The goddess of Warsaw. Please tell everyone what it's about. Your latest book. Congratulations. 

Lisa: Thank you so much. So the Goddess of Warsaw is about a World War II assassin, but this was not a woman born an assassin.

She was born an actress, a young actress from a prominent family who did not, so to speak, or quote, look Jewish. She actually was blonde, blue eyed, a beautiful young woman, and really at the beginning of her career. And, Then the Nazis attacked Poland and her family. They, with the rest of Warsaw's Jews, which was the biggest Jewish community in the world, was, uh, in Poland, were sequestered and killed.

Trapped inside a ghetto, and so she very quickly had to survive with those who were there that were left and needed to survive. There was no food, there was, you know, medicine, everything that we take for granted was gone. And so she had to use her looks, her appearance, her acting ability, her intelligence in order to get outside of the ghetto.

And blend in and smuggle. So it began with smuggling, then became, uh, she became an assassin. And through twists and turns, she makes her way to America and rises to become Lena Browning. So she went from Beena Blonsky to Lena Browning. leaving her past behind but not really. So basically she rises so high as a Hollywood actress that she uses her sets in order to continue her war against the Nazis who came to America and were living free and easy and hiding and she was an assassin.

So her job Never ended throughout her career. And so it was for me. I literally threw in the whole kitchen sink. Everything I love to write and read and was probably the most personal book. Um, as you know, I'm a daughter of a Holocaust survivor. So it was, uh, very intensive writing this book for sure. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh.

Wait, Lisa, can you share? I know because we're involved in all sorts of Jewish advocacy and just like, you know, and we're friends and whatever, but can you share with everybody else, your family's history and how this is so personal for you? 

Lisa: So it's crazy and I'm sure I'm not the only author who says this, but given this book is really a David versus Goliath, you know, Jews versus Nazis and really centered around the greatest uprising in Jewish history.

It's crazy when I was editing this, and I'm going to get to your question. How eerily, and I started this book over two years ago, researching eerily relevant this book. Is to today's events and I would read through and literally words and events that were happening were happening right now. It was like 1944 was 1924.

And so for me personally, as a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, my, my dad was 13 years old when he survived with his immediate family, his grandparents and aunts and uncles. Everyone perished in Auschwitz. And his immediate family survived because they were from Poland and they refused to become Russian citizens.

The Russians sent them to Siberia and very much like the, I'm blanking on the, the Netflix series that's on right now, but very similar story to what's happening. So. They came here and, you know, with nothing and he rose to become a prominent ophthalmologist and, you know, selling socks on Maxwell Street to put himself through medical school, you know, all the stories.

And, you know, my grandma actually, I will always say she's my, was my very best friend. So she lost everything, but such a fighter, such a woman filled with joy. And she is the voice in my head, I'm sure. You have a voice in your head. She's my voice, and she's the reason I write what I write and fight for what I fight for.

And so this book is a little bit of a swan song to her, you know, just, I don't know, that fighter in me. And, you know, now more than ever, I feel happy that at least I can go on the road with this book as my book to take to, you know, wherever I go because my head space is all over the place right now. And um, so this, I, for me personally, this is very meaningful and important.

And uh, this is where we at it, where we're at. It's a new crazy reality. That's happening. I think so. 

Zibby: Well, there, there's nothing like specificity in storytelling to make you feel and understand what other people are going through, right? I mean, you have people, you can feel people. Like, you know, wandering through sewers, or like, you can feel and smell and the way you write is so, you know, place specific, so you're like, oh, wow, you know, and even that you have characters with regular, quote unquote, regular feelings, right?

Like, even though people were there. Yeah. trying to escape and trying to survive. They still had crushes. They still had longing and, you know, all of that was still part of it. How do you, how do you even deal, like, where does that all come from? And tell me about that. 

Lisa: Okay. So, so interesting when you, when I was deep diving into the ghetto, you know, you just picture, picture like people starving, laying dead on the Street, you know, just the images of dark gray and black.

But I mean, the movie cabaret, this was happening in the ghetto. There were five, there were symphonies, there were a cabaret, there were a standup comedians, there were bars, people were meeting, people were getting dressed up, they were living normal lives. And in fact, I found that one of the A woman that I interviewed who survived the ghetto and who was in her 90s, she came from a very prominent family and she said her father, until he was taken, in the end, he was giving her French lessons.

French lessons! What, why would you possibly have French lessons in the ghetto? But the reason is, to give her a vision that she was going to live a vision of the future of you know, that she was going to be part of the world, not trapped in this desolate, you know, disgusting ghetto where, but that there was going to be a future for her.

And she survived five concentration camps at a. Beautiful family, all of those things, but really she never forgets, forgot the French lessons her father made her, you know, learn. So, so I think to your question, people have crushes, people were having sex, people were, you know, girls were, you know, in love with, you know, the boy who was selling whatever the newspaper, it was just, And they were trying to forge a real life amid hell.

And so, you know, I, I wanted to capture that as well. You know, it's, it's, was the reality of what was happening there. And as I wrote the book, there were a lot of things that people will ask me. I mean, I have an author's note that I discussed some of the real life events that were captured in the book, but a lot of people would say, is this even real?

Did this happen? Um, And, yeah, because, as we know, if you survived, it's surviving through extraordinary experiences. It's, it's not anything that's ordinary. The ordinary people achieved extraordinary experiences of survival. So, it was, it was crazy, but it was very fascinating to go deep, to deep dive into that part of history.

Zibby: I mean, looking back, we know that it was, a step on the way to sort of mass extermination. But they didn't know that then, right? Like they, like, imagine we were all taken somewhere. Like, would, would our thoughts and feelings, would we stop doing work? Like, do you know what I mean? 

Lisa: No, you, so that's exactly right.

So they were told that these trains were, you were going to a beach town. Like they thought, a lot of them thought they were going like vacation, you know? And, and so, and they, and the Nazis. The Nazis were brilliant at compartmentalizing and keeping it quiet until, you know, because no one survived basically to, you know, but there were people who escaped and then the story got out and that was the really important having couriers to deliver the message to the world.

Unfortunately, very similar to what's going on now, a lot of the world, you know, they were anti Semitic and they did not care, you know, but. There were good people. There were, you know, wonderful, caring Poles who did save a lot of people and, and did go the extra mile at their own risk. And, you know, it's, you know, I, I, I know we've talked about this through different groups, but, you know, being this author that I am, historical fiction, Uh, or historical suspense writer with a Holocaust type of brand.

It's been tough. I mean, there have been review bombings going on, which we've discussed. I had to, and this was very hard for me. I had my launch at my favorite bookstore that I've done over 30 events with, and they canceled another Jewish author. I'm not going to out names or anything like that, but I had to make a decision.

How could I with this book launch at this bookstore? And I did give them the opportunity to apologize to the community and it did not happen. So, it was, it was, it's things that you cannot believe. Like, I'm picturing my grandparents and my great grandparents, I'm like, you know, And how is this even possible, but it's happening.

So you know, it's, it's tough times, but I think I always say the silver lining for the Jewish world right now is the Jewish world is coming together in ways that we haven't before. So what I'm excited about with this book is that I'm touring in and not just specifically Jewish book. You know, council or areas, a lot of places that my readers are going to feel, you know, are not going to know my history.

So I'm, I'm very excited to share this. with readers out there. Do you ever feel scared? Like, are you worried? I don't feel scared. I, I get nervous, like I get butterflies, but then once, you know, it's like, I, I think you pinpointed it exactly. I, you had, um, something you posted and it's that sickening feeling when you know you're about to post something that's going to be very important and resonate with people.

And, you know, you sort of have that. Where you can't breathe for a minute and then you hit send and then you see that it resonates and it's like this feeling so I feel like there, you know, yes, there could be protesters and various things, but I'm not going to stand down. I mean, you know me. I'm, you know, kind of a tough chick that way.

But I mostly worry for my kids, not for myself, if that's, if that makes any sense. But, you know, we'll see what happens. But I'm, the thing about this book, it really is, I, there's a universal theme of, you know, how, like, what is, The, you know, the fine line between the, the pursuit of justice and the hunt for revenge.

And it could be anyone or anything. And, you know, and just as a person, when you do, when someone is paid back or we have our, like, Oh, karma's a bitch, you know, it's like, and then, you know, something bad happened to a bad person and you're like, okay, there's justice. So. The question is, is there an expiration date when justice is done?

Is that person who's seeking justice, is there an inner peace that happens? And usually there's not, you know, and so that is sort of explored. As well, and the price tag of survival. So if someone is, you know, in a terror attack and someone is not, what is the guilt, the feelings, the price tag of survival and going on, that's explored as well.

So there are universal themes that are pretty powerful in the book. 

Zibby: I mean, we're, we're, this will air closer to your launch date. But as we're talking, you know, in our group chat, people are posting about the 50 people who have committed suicide, who were part of the survivors of the attacks of October 7th.

It was just, I mean, it's like, how do you glance at your phone, read a thing like that, put the phone down and then just like, okay, back to emails. Jeremy, it's like the effects of everything today are so far ranging And a book like yours coming out now is so incredibly important because the survivor effects have, I mean, this is going to reverberate for generations as well, right?

I mean, it's. 

Lisa: Yeah, it is. It's the world is, is changed and you know, the world is We know it is, is very changed. And, you know, obviously there are people who you could say, they say, you know, I can't look at the news. If I want to function during this day, I need to shut it off. Or you have someone like me where I'm, you know, checking four newspapers an hour just to see.

And, and I also know that that's not totally healthy at all. You know, because you feel like you have one foot in this world and you know, your, your kids are saying, Oh my God, I need this new bathing suit. And you're like, Oh my God, you know, you know, there's hostages there, you know, whatever it is, you know, where, and yet you want.

Your family and your kids to go on is normal, but I do remember when I was in Jerusalem and I, this is when I was a young reporter and there was a war going on and my friend who was serving was out, you know, having drinks and having a good time. And I said to him, I said, how can you possibly like enjoy your life and, and do all these things when your, your, your friends have died?

And he said, They died so I could do this. So I have to do this. I have to go out. I have to dance. I have to sing. I have to have fun because that's what they lost their lives for. So we could have a normal life. And I, you know, I was, I, that just always goes through my head all the time. You know, you have certain voices or things.

Along the way that's one of them for sure. So as as we were saying like I'm happy My kids or my family are thinking about normal types of things, even though I'm like all over the place you know. 

Zibby: It's like they're still learning French, right? 

Lisa: Yes. Yeah, exactly Yeah. 

Zibby: Tell me more about the writing of this book and the research involved I know you mentioned some first person interviews, but what else did you have to do and did you Did you go to the ghetto?

Have you been to the Warsaw Ghetto? 

Lisa: No, I have not been to the Warsaw Ghetto. I, you know, just, I did a deep dive. I read through fabulous books. I did a lot of interviews. And, um, I, really, you know, as we're, when we know our story, we sort of know what we need for a story. But I did have, you know, I worked closely with the Illinois Holocaust Museum.

And so they gave me great, you know, background and testimonials and piles and piles of stuff. And I'm sort of a geek that way, old school, like I love all my research books and my, you know, You know, highlighters and my papers and old, like, my, you know, microfilms, you know, all those things that are very old school.

So I was sitting at the Holocaust Museum in the library by myself, surrounded literally by the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and Really, you know, there were, you know, 400, 000 Jews were in a space like a, and not even 11 miles space. I mean, we're talking seven people minimum crammed in one room, and the wealthier people had maybe three in a room.

Like, even though they lost everything, there were still hierarchies of things that went on, but I Surrounded myself in the Warsaw ghetto uprising and, and, you know, having had, as I said, you know, a family that came from Poland, I had a lot of background and there are a couple major stories in Jewish history that I've always connected with.

And one was Masada, the whole story behind Masada and Jews who stand strong in the face of hate and evil and persecution. and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I always knew, even as I was doing in all my other books, Nazi looted art, that I was going to get to this. This was the one. And, you know, I feel like this is my strongest book.

You know, I don't know what's going to be with it, but it is for me. I, I, I feel like it, it says everything. It's, it's who I am as a and as a woman and as, you know, having my background. So, You know, it's, it's going to be interesting for sure. 

Zibby: And you even get in a little bit about aging and what it is to be a woman here.

You know, when you have an aging beauty and like, what is that? I mean, you know, you're really getting it all. We're getting it on all sides here, you know, possibly be worrying about. 

Lisa: Yeah, no, it's and really like it is. It's like that whole old Hollywood actress still hanging on, but she she's got sort of the Margot Robbie actress who's coming to interview her and everything and they forge.

Later on in the book, a beautiful friendship and sort of the mother daughter situation that each one of them needed, but this old broad Lena Browning is going to have the last act and that's what I even when I set out to write this book. I knew that she was going to have the last act last word. So, you know, it's always fun when you have a target.

I mean, I'm sort of a writer where I am a hybrid of our plot or pants or situation. You know, we always talk about. But that was one plot point that was going to happen, for sure. 

Zibby: So I know you are already working with the one and only Sharon Stone on adapting your, your previous work. But what about this one?

Has, has she taken this up? I mean, she could be this older.

Lisa: I, she, she really, really could. I mean, you can picture her doing this. I, you know, I think Sharon, interestingly, through COVID, she's taken a huge, right turn or left turn, whatever you want to call it into painting. So she's finding her new like mode of expression.

And I think she's in love. So with that, and I'm happy for her, you know, it's, you know, she's the typical Hollywood it girl. And when you age in Hollywood, either they grab you later or they discard you. And so, you know, this is a type of woman who will never, Go down, you know, she will go her way all the way.

And so she's, she's, she's funny. She's nice. I like really nice and very much of a cheerleader, which is, you know, you don't always see that and she really is. So we'll see what happens with that. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. What is your next book? You must have said yes. 

Lisa: So interestingly, I had a book that I was working on and this is again before October 7th and had to do with hostages.

So I kind of had, so I, I had to put that aside because it's just, it's too much. Yeah. But this one is on. It's also, it's just beginning and it's, it's also World War II, a part of history that even my editor who's kind of specializes in World War II history had never really heard of it. And there's art, there's intrigue, there's deception.

You know, there's going to be some great passionate scenes, you know, because you got to go war and you got to go passion, put it together. That's kind of, uh, you know, what I enjoy. And so I'll tell you more details once it finalizes. Our art is really a big part of it, but a very different angle. 

Zibby: Wow. How do you, I know you're so focused and so helpful and so, so much of just a warrior when it comes to fighting all of the current day antisemitism and everything.

And often people say, well, like, what can we do to help? Or is there anything we can do? If there are people listening who just, their heart is going out to Jewish people or they don't agree with anti Semitism or, you know, whatever, is there anything that you want to say to them? You know, for how they can help, aside from by the Goddess of Corsa, which is, of course, very helpful.

Learning history and all that. 

Lisa: I, I, I think, you know, you know, I've used my social media platform to write, to, as some opinion types of pieces, and obviously to stand strong and to fight, but I think Most people are against hate. Most people like despise what's going on. I mean, we're talking people who are not Jewish, but maybe have Jewish friends, Jewish, what, it doesn't matter, but overall.

So when you see they are taking a message you write and they are putting it in their own stories and they are supporting it and they're standing up and. Even in the smallest way, even if it's just a personal call where I've had people reach out and say, Hey, I, I see what's going on. I'm with you and I'm here for you.

If you need me, it's any sort of small voice, big voice, you know, helps. And, you know, there's no magical solution to stopping antisemitism. And obviously so many parents are seeing what's going on in campuses. And it's, it's. Disruptive. And, you know, I'm all for freedom of expression, but this is a new level of hate.

You know, it's, it's next level hate. And so I think when people are standing up, whether it's to their university president to say, Hey, I'm not Jewish. My kid is at your school and I'm seeing what's going on. You need to do more or something like that. Every small message helps and reaching out to your Jewish friends, letting them know, Hey, we see you is probably the most important advice right now.

Obviously, if we were in a true Holocaust situation, we would need them in a different level. But this right now, uh, is You know, the we see you we are here for you. We stand against hate all kinds of hate and that's really important. I think. 

Zibby: I think so too. Um, well, you know, it's crazy to do this in mid April and know this is, you know, by the time this comes out, what will have happened when we're in the middle of attacks and who knows.

So saying a little. Prayer that by the time the message of your book comes out things are better and that works like yours are just so important and you know the fun with which you tell your story is in that little dash of Sexiness and whatever, you know, you always keep everyone's attention And that lust and you know, like you said passion and pain, you know interwoven in this like delicate beautiful braid so kind of like a holla.

I'll just Throw that out there. 

Lisa: Exactly. No, I just think that no matter what's going on, like, we have those human needs. And just really briefly, I remember doing research, uh, for a book, someone else's book, and they asked me to write a chapter on Rwanda. And um, I had done some research. some work when I was a reporter and interviewing a psychiatrist who was who was dealing with refugees and kids who saw horrible things.

And she said, the psychiatrist said to me, she was the most surprised that people weren't talking about the rape of their sister or their anything they were talking about. That boy doesn't like me. He likes another girl here. And it's just, it's the basic human need. And so you, and, and I just, and that, that's in the book.

And I just remember how important that is in times of war, in times of peace. You know, we just, we have love. We, we have needs for passion. We have needs to feel liked, respected, all those things. And it doesn't change. In any society, it's the same thing and so that universality is such that message is so important.

I think. 

Zibby: Amazing. 

Lisa, congratulations, the goddess of Warsaw. 

Lisa: Thank you, Zibby, for all that you do. All that you do for authors, for books, for your friends, your family, it's amazing and we love you and appreciate you and I'm so glad that I get to call you friend on top of being a colleague and I'm really proud of you.

Zibby: Thank you! You too. Bye. 

Lisa: See you later. Bye. 

Zibby: Bye.


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