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Maria the Panther presents the story of the author’s grandmother, Maria, who was a strong professional woman well ahead of her times. At the same time, her biography provides a sweeping overview of the history of twentieth-century Europe, transcending cultures.

Grandma Maria was born in 1902 in Warsaw, which at that time was part of the Russian Empire. She died in 1992 at the age of eighty-nine, in a free Poland. She survived World War I and cheated death at least four times during World War II. She was arrested by the Soviet NKVD (later known as the KGB). As private in the Home Army (serial number 202), she fought the Nazis in the Resistance and the Warsaw Uprising.

She was taken to a Nazi concentration camp and later worked at a labor camp in Berlin. There she gained a nickname—“The Panther”—for her resourcefulness and courage. She survived the carpet bombing of Berlin. In the late 1940s, at a time when most women were confined to domestic duties, she became the president of a bank. Years later she joined the free Solidarity trade union. She lived to see the fall of the Berlin Wall and to participate in free elections in her native Poland.

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