The Counterfeit Countess

The Counterfeit Countess by Elizabeth White and Joanna Sliwa

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Counterfeit Countess:

Best. Fraud. Ever.

Quick synopsis:

The story of Dr. Josephine Janina Mehlberg who became a fake countess and saved thousands of people in World War II.

Fact for Non-History People:

Mehlberg negotiated the release of at least 9,707 people and that does not include the people saved by the supplies she distributed.

Fact for History Nerds:

At least 100,000 Jews were murdered after World War I due to various battles between warring parties in Poland and the surrounding areas.

My Take on The Counterfeit Countess:

Dr. Josephine Janina Mehlberg was the best fraud ever. Elizabeth White and Joanna Sliwa tell her story in their book The Counterfeit Countess and it’s nice to be rooting for the imposter. Mehlberg was a Polish Jew who during World War II became “Countess Janina Suchodolska” just to survive. However, she decided surviving wasn’t enough and became a resistance member along with the boldest humanitarian I have ever read about. What made her bold? Well, she willingly went to the nearby concentration camp and proceeded to manipulate every single Nazi she could to get food and medicine within the camp. A lot of books try to oversell what their main character accomplished. This is not one of those books.

I especially appreciated how White and Sliwa approached the story. They make it clear in the introduction to the book that much of this is pulled from Mehlberg’s unpublished memoir, but nothing is taken at face value. There is a lot of scholarship and significant research to make this story both readable but also complete (and verified). There are portions of the book which lag a bit as there is a fair amount of paperwork wrangling or administrative arguments. These sections are short, and the story inevitably picks up immediately after with Mehlberg descending into the lion’s den of Nazis. This is a book that truly does justice to its subject.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Simon & Schuster.)


A meticulously researched and engaging story. Buy it here!

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