Why This Day is Important to Remember: International Holocaust Remembrance Day

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Usually I post on Wednesday, no rhyme or reason, but today I’m posting on this very important day. Why is it so important you may ask? On this day sixty-nine years ago the concentration camp known as Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops. The United Nations General Assembly designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Through education it may be possible to eradicate such genocides from happening again. However, the Holocaust isn’t really ancient history. We see genocides taking place the world over: Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and Syria. It seems the world isn’t paying attention.

Paul tells me he is planning on remembering this day as a celebration that he is alive. If his father hadn’t survived the Holocaust there would be no children, no future offspring, no chance of life. For that I’m personally grateful. So I will remember this day as a day of life too.

While Joseph Kempler wasn’t in Auschwitz, his train did briefly stop there. As Joseph puts it, “The Nazis were too busy burning Hungarian Jews so they didn’t have room for us.” Haunting.

Joseph was still in the camp of Melk in Austria. He still had a death march of some ten days ahead him and a month or so barely surviving in yet another concentration camp before he would experience liberation. When it came in May, by Patton’s Third  Army, it was nearly too late. Joseph had withered away to a mere sixty pounds and was lying in his bunk awaiting death. The call of food roused him from his state of  inertia. But when he arrived at the place the bread was stored it had already been consumed by other starving prisoners.

By some miracle Joseph survived.

How will you remember this day?

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The Message Behind The Altered I

Another question I get asked a lot is, “Why did you write the book?” Good question. I had been long dreaming of writing something. I wasn’t sure just what that would be. I was a writer without a story. But one night as I lay in my bed ruminating on the subject of what I could possibly write about I was struck with the idea of Joe’s story. Here was a tremendous story right at my finger tips. I had inside information on this subject. Why on earth wasn’t I tapping into it?

For that matter why hadn’t Joe written his own story by now? Another good question.

Why hadn’t Joe written his story. I don’t know. I know he talked about it. A lot. I know other writers, shall we say more professional than yours truly, offered to help him write it. I sure heard that one enough. “Oh, so and so, who’s father is a Pulitzer prize winning author, really wanted to write Joe’s story with him.” Well. . . why hadn’t they? I will never know. I’m going to have to ask Joe these questions. I doubt I’ll get an answer, but maybe. Regardless, he didn’t do it. Knowing Joe he likes to think about a thing for a long time before acting on it. I’m only speculating on this, but maybe he was gearing up for it, but since there were so many aspects to his story he just didn’t know where to begin, or end. That is where I come in. I could look at it more objectively. I targeted in on what I wanted to hear or understand from Joe’s story and just went for it! In all my naiveté I plunged into the task at hand.

I really believed THE ALTERED I needed to be told. I couldn’t wait for Joe to do it, or any one else for that matter. This was my springboard to launch my writing career. I looked at it as my starter book, my practice book. I hoped I would do it justice but ultimately I gave everything I had to it. I needed to prove to myself and Joe that we could get this story told in a way that no other Holocaust memoir has been told.

THE ALTERED I is relevant for our times. We live in a world where love is seldom seen. There is a lot of selfishness, a lot of greed, and to be frank, a lot of people don’t stand up for what is right. Even if their conscience dictates otherwise. Young people especially need to fight tremendous peer pressure.

The dilemma is that people have different choices on how they face the same problem. What makes one group succeed while another seemingly fail? There were a group of people under duress in a similar way as Joe during the Nazi regime. They made different choices than he did and came out of the situation better, seemingly undamaged. While Joe made every choice based on his own immediate need. There was seldom a sacrifice for another person. It was always about his survival. Yet he came out damaged.

These are some of the issues THE ALTERED I touches on. Choices. Doing the right thing. Setting aside our own selfish inclination under hard times. What will you do? What will I do?

Read an excerpt here.

Purchase here.

If You Liked The Altered I You Might Like These Similar Titles

If you like The Altered I, you might also like Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally, published by Simon & Schuster (1982, Serpentine Publishing Co.,1993, published by Touchstone) Joseph Kempler was in the camp featured in Schindler’s List and missed an opportunity to be on the actual list which, would have saved him a lot of anguish.

Cover of "Schindler's List"

Similar to The Altered I is The Road to Rescue the Untold Story of Schindler’s List by Mietek Pemper in collaboration with Viktoria Hertling (2005)

Cover of "The Road to Rescue: The Untold ...

Leap Into Darkness Seven Years on the Run in Wartime Europe by Leo Bretholz, edited by Michael Olesker (1999, Woodholme House Publishers) tells a similar story of a teenage boy escaping from the Nazis. The Altered I is different because Joseph Kempler managed to survive inside the concentration camps rather than hiding while on the run.
Cover of "Leap into Darkness: Seven Years...
Night by Elie Wiesel tells the gritty story of survival in Auschwitz, similarly The Altered I tells the story of survival in six different concentration camps, some of them death camps.
Mauthausen by Iakovos Kampanellis (1996, published by Kedros S.a. July 1996, Modern Greek Writer’s Series) tells a similar story of survival in Mauthausen where Joseph Kempler was imprisoned and climbed the famous 186-steps with stones on his shoulders.
If you like The Altered I, you might be interested in reading these story’s of survival by those who were persecuted for their faith:
Crucible of Terror: a Story of Survival Through the Nazi Storm by Max Liebster Sept. 1, 2003 pub. by George Milakovich & Associates, Inc.) Max Liebster was Jewish who later became a Christian. He was impressed by the outstanding example set by the Bibelforscher, while under trial in the concentration camps. This is a similar story to Joseph Kempler’s life story portrayed in The Altered I.
Facing the Lion by Simone Arnold Liebster (2000, Grammaton Press) These are the memoirs of a young girl in Nazi Europe and how she took her stand for what was right.
Unbroken Will, The Extraordinary courage of an Ordinary Man by Bernhard Rammerstorfer (2009) tells the story of Leopold Engleitner, who was imprisoned in concentration camps for refusing to renounce his faith. He was recently the oldest living Holocaust survivor in the world, but he sadly passed away in 2013 at the age of 107 years old.
And in case you missed The Altered I, here is some brief info: 
The Altered I, chronicles survival in six different concentration camps throughout Poland and Austria. If you liked Survival in Auschwitz (1958, first touchstone edition 1996) by Primo Levi, then you will like The Altered I.
Book Cover for The Altered I

Book Cover for The Altered I

What Does Joe Think About His Book?

I get asked this question a lot.

Honestly, I didn’t know. Until yesterday. Most of you are aware that Joe suffers from the abominable disease Alzheimer’s. This disease makes communication with the person who has it almost impossible. So I didn’t really know what Joe thought of his book. When we worked on it together it was mainly to get the facts and chronological order correct. Beyond that he didn’t say “yea” or “nay.” As is my way, I would cross that bridge when I got to it.

When asked, “What does Joe think about the book?” I usually said what was customary: he likes it. He says it’s the best book he’s ever read. . . of course it’s about HIM! Then I would chuckle.

Yesterday was different. Joe was sharp. He started conversations, he answered questions. He was polite! He said, “Yes please,” and “Thank you.”

Ever since the book came out he has been asking to read it. He is a little obsessed. He has his very own copy, but I have no idea where it is. I only know whenever he comes over to my house he asks if  there is one he can read.

Yesterday he played a new trick on me. He said he had a dream about which point of view the book was written. Was it first or third person? Did I have a book lying around that he could look at so he could settle his mind on that issue? Coincidentally, I had a few, but they were all spoken for. Getting books has been problematic for this author. Orders on Amazon must be fulfilled first, then after any other orders I can have what I want, but only in limited quantities. So I was hesitant to let him look at any books I had. They weren’t there for him to rifle through!

There was one book though, designated to a dear close friend of the family, an older woman, and I knew she wouldn’t mind in the least if Joe thumbed through her book. I sat him down at the table, made sure his hands were clean and gave him very specific instructions: don’t lick your fingers to turn the page, don’t blow your nose over the book, and don’t crease the spine! I showed him the only allowable position for reading the book, the pages at a 90 degree angle. I know, I’m so demanding, not to mention uptight. Anyway. That man proceeded to start at the beginning and read all the way through to page 123! And often he told me what every author dreams of hearing about their writing. Did I mind? Not one bit! It was the best news all day. And better yet, reading the book the way he did revived his memories. He couldn’t believe all the things he had forgotten. Over and over he said in utter amazement how he was reliving it. I asked him if this was a good thing or a bad thing, and he responded, “It’s good. I have my memories back.” Now if that doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will. Right there I was so happy he had his book. It’s the only thing that helps him remember his past. Now I can say with all confidence that the book has Joe’s wholehearted stamp of approval.

Joe Absorbed in his book The Altered I

Joe Absorbed in his book The Altered I

Last night the three of us talked about Joe’s active role in upcoming book signing events. I warned Joe that those books wouldn’t be there for him to read through. Paul laughed and said, “We can market them as pre-read by Joe.”

Later I said to Paul that this was a good day with Joe. That we need to hold onto this memory of him so that when the disease makes Joe behave in a way that is challenging we will think of something positive. Joe is brilliant, sweet, adorable, funny, and charming. I hope the readers will see that in his book and think of him in those terms.

Lazing Around on a Caribbean Cruise Vacation

I’ve been noticeably missing for most of December and if you really want to know what I’ve been up to well then here is visible proof. Paul and I went on a vacation to celebrate our 20-year-anniversary.

First we traveled to the north part of Florida to visit family. Then after a few days visiting and cooing over new babies and young ones we traveled to the south part of Florida. There I met up with my long-time friend Leigh. She is looking pretty good too!

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We went to the neatest estate in Miami. It is a museum now but once was known as Villa Vizcaya, a sprawling mansion built in 1916 fit for a king. I recommend it if you are in that part of the world and looking for something really amazing to do.

Then the cherry on top of our vacation was a cruise to the Caribbean. What was unusual about this cruise was that we traveled north first! Charleston, SC was our first stop and we stayed there three wonderful days. Besides touring Fort Moultrie (there is a very entertaining video to watch) and Fort Sumter, we saw gorgeous plantations and historic homes, and fit in some souvenir shopping.

Plantation, Charleston SC

We also took a day trip to Savannah, GA. Here I am standing next to a statue of Johnny Mercer, legendary songwriter.

Johnny Mercer Statue, Ellis Square, Savannah, GA

After that we headed south (for real this time) to Haiti, Dominican Republic and Bahamas. Along the way we entered the Bermuda Triangle and watched a Meteor Shower. Amazing!

We leave 2013 with this relaxing picture in mind:

Bahama Beach