Holocaust Narratives Didn’t End at Liberation–Displaced Persons Camps

Many people don’t realize that the stories of Holocaust survivors continued months and years after they were liberated from concentration camps. Many of these survivors, including prisoners of war, had no homes or families to return to. What happened to them?

Millions were placed in what is called Displaced Persons camps. These institutions were difficult and challenging in themselves. Anti-Semitism still abounded. Living quarters were cramped with little privacy. Sometimes only a threadbare blanket separated individual families from each other. These close, and often unclean living conditions bred sickness.

In addition to physical discomfort, there were the emotional and mental anxieties bearing down on the survivors weakened shoulders. This was termed survivor’s guilt. Some displaced persons, wishing for a reunion with their family members went so far as to fantasize against all evidence that one of their family members had survived and was still living, or perhaps waiting for them in another country overseas. This type of thinking never went away and many carried the burden of guilt until they died.

Source: DPs Europe’s Displaced Persons, 1945-1951 by Mark Wyman

The Wild Place by Kathryn Hume

The Altered I: Memoir of Joseph Kempler Holocaust Survivor, as told to April Voytko Kempler

Read a sample from THE ALTERED I


I Sit Watching About a Hundred High Schoolers

Today I want to share an essay that Paul Kempler (my husband) wrote a little while back during a high school Holocaust presentation. I meant to re-blog his post but, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from simply writing an introduction to his exceptionally moving piece, and wrote my own blog post here.

A friend of ours, who stumbled across the post by accident, told Paul that she had looked into his heart after reading his words. So before I run on and on, I present Paul’s thoughts on his father’s Holocaust presentation.

Hug High School Holocaust Presentation:

April and my dad spoke to students at a local high school today and while they spoke, I wrote down my thoughts on the event. I’m posting them here. I called it my creative writing assignment.

I sit watching about a hundred high schoolers. These aren’t the most refined kids. They are the type that are always being torn in different directions. Many don’t have complete families and what family they do have is sometimes very challenged. Drugs and gangs are never far from the world that they live in. Often, their teachers say, they are disinterested and disrespectful.
These young ones sit in rapt attention. They are listening to a story of a man who endured many trials and this interests them. He is a holocaust survivor from Poland. When he talks of near starvation, beatings, hard labor and survival, they listen. Maybe the world they face isn’t that different from what this man’s experience is. He claims that his only thought was how to survive that minute. You didn’t think about the future. If you did, it was a death sentence. For to feel, was to allow emotions through and emotions were a recipe for death. These children or young adults in the high school auditorium can certainly relate to this. The modern world creates distance. What young one today really feels comfortable with their own emotions. If their experiences don’t damage them enough, so many are actually causing harm to themselves due to the need “to feel”. Cutting, addictions, even suicide are on the rise. This old man speaks to their hearts. They don’t fidget, they don’t whisper, they don’t sigh. Their eyes and seating inclination are both forward.
These are history students. Usually, there is a great disconnect from what they learn. So many years have passed. In this case, though, history comes to life in the person of an 87 year old man who lived through an important part of history. Some people deny that his story, like so many other holocaust survivors, is based in fact. Once these living historians are no longer with us, it becomes easier for those who challenge the story to gain traction for their statements. So, even though this man struggles to speak clearly and fluidly, it is important that he pass on this information to the newest generation. He tugs at his sportcoat lapels, tries to sit up straight as though this action will trigger his mind to return to the times when his photographic memory brought every detail to his tongue. It doesn’t work anymore. The twirling of his thumbs in a circular motion while the rest of his fingers are interlaced doesn’t work either. He tries smacking his lips and tongue, making small noises. But they don’t bring to mind the words either. He has a spokesperson though; his daughter-in-law. She spent 6 years interviewing him, chronicling the account of his life and tabulating all the information into a written document. She knows his story better than he does now. It is a shame that he is a shell of his former self, but it may have benefits too. If there was something traumatic you wanted to put behind you, memory and cognitive issues might be a blessing in disguise. He still claims to not sleep and have nightmares based on his past, but under these circumstances, he struggles to tell these children many specifics. His memoirist fills in the gaps for the eager ears in the auditorium.
Questions that the students asked were varied in content:
Did you ever go back to visit your home town? Was it hard to go back?
What did you weigh after the war?
If Hitler were here, would you forgive him?
What was the first time you saw a dead body and how did it make you feel?
Were any of the soldiers nice?
Would you like to take revenge if you could?
What happened to your family?
Did you ever think about escaping?
What motivated you to survive?

What do these questions teach us about the students? They want to connect with family. They want to believe that there is good in all people. They want to believe that there is a way out of any situation.
These are common threads to humanity. We all face similar challenges and evils, regardless of our background. I’m guessing that the children that sit in this room with the Survivor don’t have access to special treatment in the world. Their backgrounds are very similar, though separated by 70 years and the Atlantic Ocean. Both were very interested in their freedoms, though they were pressured from all sides. Both wished for closer connections to family. Both learn to survive using whatever skills or manipulations they can.
In the end, we are all damaged in some manner. The scars are not always visible. But, sometimes they are. Maybe it is a tattoo of a number on your arm, given while a prisoner in a concentration camp. Sometimes it’s a burn mark on your hand where an overzealous parent has put out their cigarette in an attempt at discipline. But these scars withstanding, the majority of damage we all endure is internal. It is good for these students to realize that no matter what we face, we have the opportunity to persevere through them. Conquer or overcome might be too strong of a word. This survivor has a special gift. He has developed something that helps him. Faith.
I’m not sure how these young students view faith. Do they possess it? The Survivor claims to have begun life as a practicing Jew, then as a result of his experiences a God-hater, then an atheist and finally religious again, via a different path. He claims that his search for “God” has helped him endure. Most holocaust survivors had a very different path when it comes to their relationship with a higher being. Most became quite anti-God, assuming that he had abandoned them. They returned the favor. This is a common reaction when having gone through something traumatic. The Survivor didn’t get on this road to faith until far after the war had ended. What will bring these students to the same place of faith? Will they ever grasp for it or will they rely on their own strength to overcome whatever comes their way? Only time will tell, but the story they are hearing provides a key to how to find that path. Maybe they recognize this. Why else would they pay such close attention? No one is looking at their phones or acting otherwise distracted.
Humanity is closely connected. In any group, there are leaders and followers. In this auditorium of young souls, some would have been Nazis and some would have been persecuted, while others would be observers. Would those observers have stood for what was right or would they looked away as atrocities occurred under their noses. (The smell of human flesh burning is pretty hard to ignore.) This is the message of the Survivor.

Holocaust Presentation at High School Prompts Insightful Questions from Students

Joe and I gave a Holocaust presentation yesterday at a local high school. This was challenging for me in several ways.

Typically, Joe and I will go to a school, or library, or other venue at a specified time and speak for roughly an hour or two, followed by a question and answer session. I enjoy this sort of thing. I’m always nervous, but afterward we have a jolly time interacting with the audience. And the book sale and signing is always a boost. But, recently I was asked by a teacher if Joe and I could speak to each of her World History classes in one day. Soon, other teachers wanted their classes to join in the discussion. One thing led to another, the presentation grew and grew, and it turned into a big day. Joe and I arrived early in the morning (7:30 a.m.) at the Little Theater on the school campus, and gave the presentation to each class period, there were seven of them! Each class period was 50 minutes long with anywhere between 50 to 150 students in the audience. I had thirty-five minutes to give Joe’s life story before opening it up to questions from the students, and then a five minute break in between before doing the whole presentation over again. Over and over, seven times.

What did I get myself into?! This was a bit more than I had anticipated, and I had never done this format before. Rising up early in the morning, making sure Joe had gotten up early, and making it to school on time for first period, was stressful in itself. Getting to school on time was never a goal I could reach for most of my school days, but now I had to do it with an 87-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.

Thankfully, I had a team of great friends behind me. My husband Paul, was a stronghold for me. My team from LeRue Press, Kathy and Tanisha, who arrived early with over 500 sample chapters excerpted from the memoir THE ALTERED I: MEMOIR OF JOSEPH KEMPLER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR, and bookmarks, plus several copies of the book on hand in case anyone wanted to buy a copy on the spot (which several did!) The teacher who organized the whole affair was a doll, enthusiastic, helpful and generous.

After the first three class periods I seemed to hit my stride and my focus. I wanted to convey a positive message to the students not just relate the sad events of Joe’s life. I wanted to show the students that they could stand up against peer pressure and racial prejudice and do the right thing despite the circumstances being intense.

Well, I believe it was a success. The questions from the students were incredible. These were some standouts for me:

If Hitler were here would you forgive him?

When was the first time you saw a dead body, and how did you feel?

Would you take revenge if you could?

What motivated you to survive?

If you had blond hair and blue eyes did that guarantee you survived? (A student noticed Joe had blond hair as a youngster from old photos I had running during the presentation.)

What do you think? Insightful right?

Despite a raging headache by the end of the school day, I felt relieved. Relieved it was over, but also happy with the students. They were quiet, respectful, and curious. After each class period there were several students who wanted their picture taken with Joe, or just to shake his hand. Some hugged him. It was adorable to see. Everything I had gone through emotionally and mentally in preparation for the presentation had been worth it for these students. I was glad Joe could do it too. I was concerned about him getting up early, (he fights it!) concerned about remembering his own history, concerned about his energy level, concerned about the kids understanding him, he is soft spoken, has a bit of an accent, and slurs his words more than he used to. My fears subsided as we got underway. Joe was a real partner. He was awesome. He only forgot what he wanted to say a couple of times and I was able to help him get on track and expand his thoughts.

I most likely will never do another all day presentation again. It was relentless–wash, rinse, repeat. Some times I got lost in my thoughts and couldn’t remember if I had said this or that. Each time was a little different, but for the most part I was on track. Near the last period, Paul whispered to me, “Keep it fresh!” I really have a new appreciation for what teachers go through each day, and I’ve determined I’m kind of spoiled … but in a good way.

I’ll be posting Paul’s thoughts on the day in a future post. It’s a wonderful essay and I can’t wait for you to read it!



Goodreads Giveaway for The Altered I: Memoir of Joseph Kempler, Holocaust Survivor

This is very exciting news: LeRue Press, publisher of THE ALTERED I, is hosting a Goodreads Giveaway. Ten copies will be given away.

Enter to win starting today, September 16-October 7, 2014. U.S. residents only, sorry Canada!

Click here to enter.


Joseph Kempler is eleven years old in 1939, when World War II begins. German soldiers have invaded his hometown of Krakow, Poland. Forced with his family to leave their home, business, and belongings, Joseph embarks on an adventure that changes his life forever. The family seeks shelter with a Polish peasant family in a small village, but the threat of discovery by the Nazis becomes imminent. Ultimately, Joseph determines that the best course of action is to join his brother, Dolek, in a forced labor camp. Thus begins a tortuous existence surviving six different concentration camps from the ages of fourteen to seventeen. Along the way he abandons family and faith. He curses God for allowing the Holocaust to happen and becomes an atheist. After a brief encounter with Christians imprisoned in the same camp, Joseph is stunned by their demonstration of faith, a faith he a had long-since left behind. This group of Bible students, known as Bibelforscher, leaves an indelible impression on his mind. Years later, after emigrating to the United States, he converts to a Christian faith. The Altered I chronicles Joseph’s journey from his zealous beginnings in Judaism to his conversion, while shining new light on an untold story of the Holocaust.


Front Cover-Altered I 3rd revision


Author Bio:

Born in Southern California, April Kempler currently resides in her “adopted” city of Reno, Nevada. She lives with her husband, who doubles as her editor-in-chief. April Kempler’s first book titled The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir, is a first-person narrative about the Holocaust. April loves reading, a habit she picked up as a child. Instead of playing with the other kids, she could be found with her nose in a book. She reads a variety of genres, but is especially drawn to historical fiction.

You can also purchase this book from:


Google Play books

LeRue Press

Sundance Books and Music



Cutting Floor Excerpts: Childhood Antics Or Growing Up a Poor Jewish Kid in Kraków During WWII.

Some of the antidotes from THE ALTERED I had to be cut out entirely, but this one, like so many, was always a favorite of mine. It’s about how Joe would ride the tram to see a young friend. This sounds like a simple enough action, just get on a tram and go see a friend. But this was during Nazi occupation in Kraków, Poland and Joe was a little Jewish kid who wasn’t allowed to ride a tram. He wasn’t allowed to do anything he previously had done: sit on a park bench in a beautiful park called the Planty and watch the swans swim in the lake, go to a library, buy anything from a store, ride a train, or be out on the street after curfew. Joe was precocious. He got around these rules. He tried to pass himself off as Aryan, or at the least a Polish citizen. In some cases he succeed, and in others he had some close calls. These were scary times, especially if you were Jewish.

So I give you this short excerpt:

V & T Train

The Virginia and Truckee Railroad Steam Locomotive.

“My parents were very preoccupied during this time, trying to survive and keep their heads during conditions that were more dangerous and desperate to live with. However I continued with my childish lifestyle and behavior. To my way of thinking it appeared as if Mamusia and Tatuś encouraged me to do whatever I wanted. They never said no to me, and whatever I decided to do that day I simply accomplished it.

I lived in my own fantasy world, often pretending to be one of those trains I greatly adored. I walked the streets like I was a train. Whenever I was free to roam the streets I moved like I was a train. When I encountered a corner on the sidewalk I slowed down, then chugged around it like it was a mountain pass. Then I increased my speed having successfully made the  turn onto the straight-away. My world was fantasy trains and trolley’s, characters in my favorite Karl May action books, and of course movies. Movies were another joy I was prohibited from because I was a Jew. But, this didn’t stop me, or any of the other kids who ran wild on the busy Kraków streets. Often we sneaked in at great risk of discovery. But, I loved movies so much it was worth the gamble.

The V & T Steam Locomotive

I became friendly with a Jewish kid who lived across the street, with hair so blond it looked snow white. I called him Biały, Polish for”white”. He was an exact miniature of his father who had the same white hair. Whitey was a mean kid, but I liked playing at his apartment. His father and mother seemed to like me and I always felt welcome there. Whitey’s father was indulgent and his mother was a mouse. She was nice, but without a backbone at all. Whatever her son wanted he got. Mousey’s father was a very religious bearded older man. He lived with the family, praying all the time. Whitey and I loved to play nasty tricks on him while he was in one of his deep prayers. Usually, as the grandfather prayed, his daughter, who I called Mousey, would pour him a cup of coffee and leave it on the table in front of him. We did whatever thing we could think up to his coffee, we added salt, or pepper, whatever was on the table. Another time I dipped the tip of an umbrella in it, swirling the cream around. This resulted in a big mess with a puddle of coffee on the table, but he was so deeply involved in his prayer he didn’t notice the antics going on right under his nose.  After his prayer he would take a gulp of coffee with great gusto, but then to our delight, splutter with disgust and spit it out in a long arching spray. Mousey, hearing the ruckus, shuffled in and squeaked, “Get out of the kitchen and leave grandfather alone.” It was halfhearted at best because I could see she was trying to hold back her own laughter.

When we weren’t pestering the poor praying grandfather, we played one of the myriads of Whitey’s games. Monopoly was our favorite. Ours was a Polish edition with the street names from the city of Warsaw. Unfortunately for me, Whitey and his family moved out of the Kazimierz. They moved far out of town beyond the tram line. Whitey’s father saw that I wanted to keep visiting his son so he arranged for me to have a tramway pass, valid for one month. This pass allowed me to ride any tram without paying the fare. I was so happy even though I had to walk about two kilometers by foot, but we could continue our Monopoly game anytime we wanted.”

Photo credit: Michelle Staryos, The Rusty Curio (Etsy)

Photo credit: Michelle Staryos, The Rusty Curio (Etsy)


Robert McQueen High School Holocaust Presentation Responses

I wanted to shared with you all the awesome notes the students at McQueen High School wrote. Joe, Paul and I gave a brief Holocaust presentation in May. There must have been over 70 students, plus staff. It was an occasion I won’t soon forget! We had a brief question and answer sessions and then afterward the kids wanted to take their picture with Joe. I brought excerpts from Joe’s memoir with me to hand out to the students, the first four chapters or so, and the kids wanted Joe to sign their copy. We had a spectacular afternoon at McQueen High School, and I hope we can come again next year!

The students were so touched and inspired by Joseph’s story and their heartfelt letters show it:


“I’m very glad Joe survived the Holocaust. He might’ve been atheist at the time, but I want him to know that God is the reason for him to still be alive and able to survive the Holocaust. To be honest, I wasn’t really interested in the Holocaust because I have a hard time paying attention, but when I heard we were going to have Joe come as a survivor of the Holocaust my attention was immediately grabbed. Thank you again.” A.

“You are so inspirational, and I admire you. My friend and I have a project on the Holocaust and what you said showed us a different side of what happened. You are such an inspiration to my friend and I.” J.B.

“This letter is a way of me saying thank you for sharing this remarkable story. To hear the struggle and strength and chance it took you to survive touched my heart and soul to the core and made me realize that life as we know it goes fast with a ton of struggles ahead of us…I read the first few chapters of your book and was enthralled through the entire thing! Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to the book.” S.A.

“Thank you so much for attending McQueen High School. Your story was truly inspiring and I will remember it for forever.” H.B.

“I learned many things, such as the way that only people with skills deemed useful to the Nazi cause were allowed to live in the ghettos. The stories of your struggle for survival, your intelligence mixing with luck to miraculously save you from the most desperate situations, touched me and made an impression my mind (and heart) that will not ever fade. Thank you.” D.

“I know that reliving those memories must be a tough and unpleasant thing to do, but you do it anyway to expand young minds like mine, and for that, I am grateful. My knowledge of the events of the  Holocaust is little, and I wish to expand it. The opportunity to see you and hear your story was rare and greatly appreciated. I am still a kid, but I have been told I am the future as well. The Holocaust is an important and dark past of human history; as the future of America and possibly the world, I find it my duty to never let history like this repeat itself ever again. Again thank you for visiting McQueen High School.” E.

“I am honestly speechless. I am so amazed that after all you went through your still alive. You have honestly inspired me so much every day now that I think my life sucks I just think of you and all the stuff you had to go through and I realize my life isn’t that bad. I am so thankful that you cam to our school on the 15th of May. Sitting there listening to your story was so amazing, you’ve inspired me so much to live my life to the fullest and love as much as possible.” L.D.

“Your story really touched my heart. Since 5th grade I have read and watched everything I could about the Holocaust, for the simple reason that I feel if we do not learn from the past we are doomed to repeat the same mistake in the present. What you went through was horrific, but you have amazed me and everyone you spoke too with your story of survival. I look up to you because you survived under immense odds. I was with my younger sister when your story was being told. She talks about how amazed she is by you. The Holocaust was a dark time in the history of this earth and I pray it is never epeated. you have left an impact on my life and my sisters and I thank you for that. You have encouraged me to be more thankful what I have.” D.P.


Such nice well-though out sentiments of the young minds here in our little town.

Joe and I will be doing two more library presentations in September 2014:

September 19, 4-6 p.m. at Incline Village Library.

September 27, 2-4 p.m. Sparks Library.


If you want to read an excerpt from THE ALTERED I: MEMOIR OF JOSEPH KEMPLER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR click this link ISSUU-sample.

THE ALTERED I is available on Amazon.com and Google Play books. Find me on Goodreads too!





Young People Still Care About the Holocaust, or Students Are Awesome!

Recently a young junior high school student handed me an article about a Holocaust survivor who had given a speech at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Apparently, this survivor’s family had made their living with a successful Krakow based chocolate factory. When the Nazis invaded, his family fled Poland, left the chocolate-making business, and their affluent lifestyle behind.

All completely fascinating and tragic.

One thing this survivor said really struck me as inaccurate. He indicated that today’s kids didn’t care about the Holocaust, that it doesn’t register with them. I disagree. He is of the opinion that the children only paid close attention to him because he illustrated his story with a tub of chocolate. Now this is even more of a discredit to students and young people today. Perhaps it was his experience when telling his story to others, or the slant of the journalist who wrote this article. I can’t say. But, I was starting to feel insulted for “today’s kids.”

I realize the tub of chocolate helped this particular survivor get through the rough nights and hard life he had to endure as small child. As one student said, “It was his happy place.” We all need that happy place from time to time to endure. But, I think the kids were interested in his story because they want to learn about the Holocaust. Simple and true.

In my limited experience, and my father-in-law’s vast experience, we find that the kids today do care about the Holocaust, it does register, and it impacts their lives forever after learning about it.

Recently I had the privilege and honor of speaking at a local high school about my father-in-law’s Holocaust experience. Since he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease it is hard for him to say what he wants to. I’ve become his voice. My father-in-law joined me at this presentation and we stood before a full auditorium of students. This was an after-school presentation and a lot of the students had prior activities scheduled that they couldn’t miss, still there were many students who sat in quiet rapt attention. Afterward, we opened the discussion to the audience for a question and answer session. I am always touched and impressed by the thought-provoking questions of these young people. When I told them that I had been hearing from some people that children today don’t care about the Holocaust I saw heads nodding in disagreement, and on some faces the look of outright indignation. No, this is not true. I find more and more students are just as interested in the Holocaust as I was when I was a student many years ago.

In today’s world kids see hardship, displacement, war, and tragedy. Kids are blended in from other countries with American students. They come from various cultures and backgrounds, so it is possible that the stories of the Holocaust resonate with them on a personal level.

Let’s show trust that the young people of today care about the Holocaust. And don’t hold back from teaching it to them, or talking about it out of some fear that they won’t hear the message. They really do want to know!