Misunderstandings and preconceived ideas have been smacking me in the face lately. One such misunderstanding I feel I have to address is that of the notion that because we have such a plethora of Holocaust memoirs and stories to choose from, that we understand the Holocaust survivor, or who we think a Holocaust survivor is. These preconceived ideas might block our thinking and shut out any other stories about the Holocaust because perhaps it is controversial in nature.
Take for example The Altered I . This is the memoir of my father-in-law, Joseph Kempler. He survived, miraculously, six different concentration camps from the ages of fourteen to seventeen. There is a lot in his memoir about growing up Jewish, and many details about the brutal camp life, including after Liberation when people were put into Displaced Persons camps. But his memoir is also controversial from the front cover that has a bold swastika above a focused blue eye, to the last several chapters of the book. His isn’t the typical Holocaust story that we might be familiar with. And for this reason a reader might be shocked, taken aback, offended, and perhaps disenchanted with the story on the whole. (I’ve written another blog on the subject of one-star ratings and how an author copes with the inevitability of receiving one, published on Pypeline Editing Blog Page. That’s not what this post is about, but I think it is related).
Many people were targets of the Nazi regime and were imprisoned for being considered enemies of the state, or in the case of some six million Jews who lost their lives, considered sub-human. Who were targets of the Nazi regime?There were the Roma, the Intelligencia, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Poles, Slavs, and other groups the Nazis hated. But Joe’s story touches on another group who were victims of the Nazis, these were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Joseph Kempler was raised Jewish, then as a result of his experiences in the camps he became a self-proclaimed God-hater, but later, in the 1950s, he became dedicated as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was shocking to fellow Jews because this was was viewed as a traitorous act. Others who read Joseph’s memoir are surprised and made unhappy because of their preconceived ideas about who Jehovah’s Witnesses are. This isn’t about liking Jehovah’s Witnesses or becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, or any kind of recruitment for that particular religion. This is simply one man’s story of survival and why he made the decisions he did in order to survive. Joseph Kempler’s story is one of faith lost and faith regained, an account that might not fit into the stereotypical Holocaust story.
There is not just one type of Holocaust story, just as there is not one type of story about another person’s culture, background, or lifestyle. Tweet this!
I was inspired to write this post by the wise words of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose early writing reflected the British and American children’s books and stories she had read and loved, which predominantly centered around Western culture and that world view. The settings and characters were alien to her, a Nigerian girl raised in Africa. She ultimately found her writing voice and realized she needed to put to rest preconceived ideas and misconceptions about Africa and its people. And after listening to her Ted Talk I felt that she expressed it so beautifully, and more elegantly than I could do that I’m sharing it in this post. I hope that some readers will take eighteen minutes and listen to it and be inspired as I was.
“If we hear only a single story about another person, or country we risk a critical misunderstanding.” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Originally I saw Ms. Adichies Ted Talk on Books Outside the Box Blog Post
The Altered I: Memoir of Joseph Kempler, Holocaust Survivor is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle format and digital download on Google Play books.