Books That Help Us Remember September 11, 2001

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Many of us will not forget that gorgeous September morning when we shared the shock of the decade as the Twin Towers fell. It’s good to take into account though, that to some people–and by some people I mean perhaps children who were born in 2001–this might be a story for the history books. I can understand that notion because it would be akin to what the assassination of John F. Kennedy was to me. Not having been born when it happened, I have no relationship to it. But for many who were there, and witnessed the story unfolding, they struggled with the senseless act, and found it difficult to articulate their emotions. They were forever haunted by it. So, perhaps, the same is true with September 11, 2001. Maybe it’s an event in the history books without a human face.

But many personal accounts have been written about it to keep alive the memory of what a blow it was too all of us. I, too, join the ranks and have a personal story about that day. Just one week to the day my husband and I had been in the Trade Towers. We had been in New York for the U.S. Open, as my husband is an avid tennis fan. One morning, Tuesday, September 4, precisely,  we took a trip via subway to downtown Manhattan. One of our favorite discount department stores, Century 21, was nearby, and we wanted to walk around Wall Street as well. We got off at the Trade Tower stop, right underneath the building. It was cool looking, but dark, and quiet. I guess many people were already at their desks in the offices above us. There were a lot of little stores and there was a Borders Bookstore I wanted to stop in if we had the time. As I was washing up in the restroom I noticed a sign posted that listed a number of rules about conduct in the towers. At first, I thought it odd, but then I remembered the World Trade Center Bombing attack in 1993, the epicenter was the parking garage beneath the tower. Granted, this had taken place eight years prior, but it resonated with me. I found my husband browsing the mall area and told him I thought we should get out of the building. I reminded him of the bombing in 1993, and then said, “This place is a target, we need to leave.” Isn’t that crazy? I thought nothing more of it until after we came home and we were watching in horror as the news covered the story of  two Boeing 767 jets flying into the twin towers, collapsing them on September 11, 2001. For me, 9/11 will always be personal.

On Monday’s Book Hound radio program Jan and I discussed some of the books that came out after 9/11. So, if you are interested in reading more about 9/11, then this short list might be of some interest to you. Let me know what you think, or if there are any 9/11 books you think should be here.

Nonfiction

Firehouse, by David Halberstam, published in 2003. Firehouse is the story of  Engine 40, Ladder 35, and the thirteen men who were on two rigs setting out from this firehouse, twelve of whom never returned. Along the way, we learn the culture of the firehouse and try to understand why these men would become firemen and pursue so dangerous a profession.

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman, published in 2005. This is a children’s picture book. The John J. Harvey was the best fireboat of its time, but by 1995 the city didn’t need fireboats any longer, so the John J. Harvey was retired. Then one  day in September a horrible event shook the world. The fireboat was needed to fight a roaring fire. This is a true story.

American Widow, by Alissa Torres, illustrated, published in 2008. A memoir written by a young widow who lost her husband that day in September. Alissa’s entire world was upside down. This book chronicles her journey through being a widow and carrying the baby of a father who would never set eyes on his child.

Fiction

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer, published in 2006. Narrated by nine-year-old Oskar Schell, who is trying to discover clues about his father’s death on September 11.

The Zero: A Novel, by Jess Walter, published in 2007.  New York city cop Brian is suffering from a brain injury due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He is  now a tour guide for celebrities who want to visit “The Zero.” He ultimately gets a job with the Documentation Department and uncovers clues about who he works for and who he was before he tried to kill himself. This book is described as a dark comedy and I can see why! It’s a complicated story that sheds some light on a harrowing time in our history.

Falling Man, by Don DeLillo, published in 2008. This story brings to the surface emotions and memories of Sepetember 11, and shows how those events shape our perception of our world as it is now. It centers around a married couple and their son who are forever changed by the events surrounding 9/11.

And check out Flashlight Worthy for more recommendations.

Please join us Monday’s on The Book Hound. We sniff out new books and learn about new and bestselling authors. We air weekly on 101.3 FM Renegade Radio and 99.1 FM Talk Fox News Radio. Tunein radio: Search America Matters Media
Text: 775.237.2266
Call in: 844.790.8255

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Nonfiction: Recommended Reading List for Books on the Holocaust

A box with about 150 jewish books which were h...

Since undertaking the huge task of writing a Holocaust memoir, (see my book The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir)I thought I should at least acquaint myself with some of the better written books on the subject. In my search I found some amazing stories, and most of them nonfiction. A few fictional accounts were astounding as well, and to be fair, I will include them in a separate blog.

If you are interested in reading about the Holocaust here are my recommendations:

Nonfiction

  • Witness Voices from the Holocaust, Edited by Joshua M. Greene and Shiva Kumar

Synopsis: first person accounts of twenty-seven witnesses, including camp survivors, American military personnel, a member of the Hitler Youth, a Jesuit priest, and resistance fighters.

  • Night, Elie Wiesel

Synopsis: this is the first person account of Elie Wiesel’s time in Auschwitz, the loss of his family and the difficult life choices he made in order to survive.

  • Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi

Synopsis: This is Primo Levi’s account of what happened to him in Auschwitz, a German death camp.

  • Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl

Synopsis: Viktor Frankl’s description of life in Nazi death camps, plus the psychological aspects of surviving such horrendous treatment. Dr. Frankl explores how we cope with suffering and how to move forward with renewed purpose. Dr. Frankl argues that it is the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful to be our primary drive in life, not the pursuit of pleasure as Freud claimed. One of the best books on the subject of the Holocaust, and Joseph Kempler’s favorite author.

  •  Holocaust Testimonies the Ruins of Memory, Lawrence L. Langer

Synopsis: an analysis of the unique ways in which oral testimony of survivors contributes to our understanding of the Holocaust. This book also sheds light on the forms and functions of memory as victims relive devasting experiences of pain, humiliation, and loss.

This was an important book for me because of the way I wrote Joe’s story, using oral testimony through personal interviews.

  •  Schindler’s List A Novel, Thomas Keneally

Note: typically a novel is considered fiction, they are one and the same, however, this book is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist, and how he came to save nearly 1,200 Jews from the gas chambers. The author uses actual testimony of the Schindler Jews to weave his story together. It really reads like nonfiction. Also, this is an area in Poland and the concentration camp of Płaszów that my father-in-law Joseph Kempler, came from. He absolutely loves this book and the movie Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg.

Synopsis: Schindler’s List is the true story of how Oskar Schindler saved more Jews from the gas chambers than anyone else. It begins in the heyday of the German military’s victories over eastern European countries. Money could be made during this time and Oskar Schindler took advantage of his times. As the war progresses Schindler becomes more aware of the atrocities the Nazis are perpetrating on innocent Jews. At great sacrifice to himself he begins to save as many Jews from the concentration camps as he can. I highly recommend this book.

  • The Nazi Officer’s Wife, Edith Hahn Beer

Synopsis: this is a well-written account of how one Jewish woman survived World War II under Nazi regime. After her time in a labor camp, Edith is released, but when she returns home she realizes she will always be a hunted woman. With the aid of a Christian woman, Edith goes underground. She meets Werner Vetter, a member of the Nazi Party, and falls in love.  Werner marries her and hides her identity from the Gestapo. This is an interesting account of survival at all costs.

  • In My Hands, Irene Gut Opdyke

Synopsis: this is an interesting tale of a non-Jew who helps feed Jews in a ghetto, transport work camp prisoners to a forest enclave, and hide a dozen Jews in the home of the Nazi major for whom she was housekeeper. Irene Opdyke’s personal value system superseded the pandemic view of racial superiority that was displayed by so many around her.

  • Leap Into Darkness, Leo Bretholz, Michael Olesker

Synopsis: Leo Bretholz escaped the Holocaust by staying on the run and remaining one step ahead of the Nazis who hunted him. This is his true story of how he remained seven years on the run in wartime Europe.

  • Unbroken Will The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man, Bernhard Rammerstofer

Synopsis: this is the true story of Nazi concentration camp survivor Leopold Engleitner, who is now 107 years old. This is my personal favorite life story.  Leopold was an ordinary farmhand who grew up in Upper Austria ( the same area as Adolf Hitler). He was imprisoned in the concentration camps because he refused to back down from his personal convictions. He refused to “Heil Hitler!” and to join Hitler’s army. Leopold devoted his life to peace and didn’t buckle in the face of death. For this he was imprisoned numerous times. He could easily have gained his freedom by signing a piece of paper renouncing his religious beliefs as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but he was steadfast in his refusal. Engleitner is now the oldest known male concentration camp survivor in the world, a model of tolerance and peace. His story should not be missed.

  • The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir as told to April Voytko Kempler by Joseph Kempler (not yet released!)

Synopsis: Josef Kempler is fourteen years old when he enters his first forced labor camp. He manages, through cunning, to survive five more concentration camps throughout Poland and Austria. Some of these are death camps from which very few survivors have lived to tell the tale. Along the way, Josef experiences spiritual shipwreck. Raised Jewish he begins to develop a hatred for his heavenly father and ignores his existence. Some spiritual flame still flickers within him as he is introduced to a mysterious group of Aryan Christians who are imprisoned alongside him in one of the concentration camps. Many years after the war Josef, the former God-hater, converts to a Christian faith. The Altered I chronicles what would lead to such a life altering decision.

Available as a preorder from LeRue Press Publishers.

Read sample chapters: Altered I Sample-April Kempler.