International Holocaust Remembrance Month

Top-035Technically the International Holocaust Remembrance Week started April 27 and continues through May 4, 2014, but I’ve been busy sharing the event since April 5.

Library Presentation

We kicked off the month with a special library presentation at the Reno Northwest Library. It was a warm day for early April and I was already sweating before the event took place. I was speaking for forty minutes about my father-in-law, Joseph Kempler who is a Holocaust survivor. People crowded into the room, which when empty looked plenty big enough. Soon, we had to scramble for more seating. Finally, people and children sat on the floor or stood in the two doorways, eight people deep I was told. We had 188 in attendance! This was a number beyond my expectations. But, it goes to show that people, young and old, are intently interested in the Holocaust. Carla Trounson, the librarian, prepared the room beautifully. The soundtrack to Schindler’s List was softly playing in the background. It matched the mood perfectly, somber and thought-provoking. While I was speaking about Joe’s life during 1939-1945 I had a slide show presentation of family photos. After the biography and description of the six concentration camps where Joe was imprisoned, we had a Question and Answer session. One of the questions was, ” How did you get all the old photos of your family?” The answer is simple: Joe’s sister survived the war. She and her husband, Jack were hidden in the home where he taught the daughters violin. Dziunka, Joe’s sister, was able to smuggle some family photos into hiding with her. What a treasure for us! I’ve been sharing them on a special Pinterest board. After the Q & A we had a book signing! Joe was asked many times by students if he would take a picture with them, and if they could hug him. That’s the most popular request Joe gets: Can I hug you? By all means, yes!

UNR and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Day of  Remembrance 

Next Joe, Paul, and I were invited to the second annual Day of Remembrance, hosted by Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), and  UNR, in partnership with the University’s Interfaith Students Club. This was the second annual Day of Remembrance for the University. I was asked to speak on the subject of genocide. Genocide is a term that didn’t even exist until after 1944. I thought it would be interesting if I shared the stage with Paul, a second generation Holocaust survivor. Who better than to talk about how he was affected personally by the Holocaust? There were other fantastic speakers. A particular highlight for me was the testimony of another survivor named Lydia Lebovic. She held the audience captive with her harrowing tale of survival in Auschwitz. Vic Thompson, a World War Two veteran, who participated in the liberation of Landsberg concentration camp, contributed his heart-breaking essay “Just One Page from the Holocaust.” This was a beautiful, yet sad, night to remember.

The Great American Authors Expo

At The Great American Authors Expo I was scheduled to read some excerpts from my book THE ALTERED I: MEMOIR OF JOSEPH KEMPLER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR. This was a great honor and a fantastic opportunity to draw awareness to the Holocaust during this month of remembrance. Two young ladies present said they came specifically to hear the reading. They were touched and purchased three books!

Parent Teacher Aids Store of Reno, Nevada

Next on the agenda was an author appearance at the local Parent Teacher Aids store. A pretty amazing store if you haven’t checked it out yet. Inside is every kind of tool to help teach kids in a fun and colorful way. I was able to speak to a couple of  patrons about the Holocaust and hand out some sample chapters and book marks. People really respond to the subject of the Holocaust and everyone I meet who is interested in the THE ALTERED I (as I like to shorten it!)  feels very deeply about it.

So, while I am exhausted from all the wonderful activity, I’m proud too. As one reader of my Facebook Author Page put it: “Thank you April Kempler for educating and being relentless about this.” – N. S.

I have done my job!

 

If you would like to read THE ALTERED I it is available on Amazon.com, Google Play books (there are excerpts from the book you can read here), and on the nonfiction table at Sundance Books and Music, Reno, NV.

Also, please visit my author page on Facebook and click Like. You’ll get updates to future speaking engagements and book signings! Thanks!

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Holocaust Remembrance Day: A Short Biography, Joseph Kempler

Josef Kempler

Joseph Kempler was born in Krakow, Poland in 1928. He was raised in a Jewish Household. His father’s name was Max, mother Malka, an older sister Dziunka and one older brother named Dolek. The family worked in their own restaurant called a szynk in Polish. It served popular Polish food such as a spiced sausage known as kielbasa, and potato dumplings called pierogi. Malka Kempler made desserts and other treats for the customers.

Malka Kempler (Mamusia)

When World War Two started it came as something of a surprise to eleven-year-old Joseph. When he saw the planes flying overhead he thought it was maneuvers, his country practicing for the war with Germany. But a school friend pointed out to him that this was indeed the start of the war.

Instead of being scared, young Joseph thought this was a great adventure, just like out of one of his favorite books by Karl May. School was canceled and Joseph thought this was a fine idea. Although he enjoyed school and was enrolled in Jewish school were Hebrew and Polish studies were taught. This is the type of person Joseph was, brave and carefree. He loved to run around with his friends. He loved movies, riding the tram, playing soccer and going to the park, known as The Planty. But all of this was going to change for him.

With the conquering of Poland, the German government moved in and restrictions for Jews began to take place.

I liken Joseph’s life to that of a funnel, wide and spacious at the beginning. All the opportunities were open to him: education, work, freedom, but as the funnel closed and Joseph had no choice but to be pushed through, his life became more and more restricted.

The family business was taken away, Joseph could no longer ride the tram with absolute abandon the way he liked to do. He couldn’t even sit on a park bench. Movies were banned and a curfew was set.

Max Kempler

The Krakow ghetto was being built and qualified Jews, those who could offer something to the war movement, or who were considered valuable to the work force were relocated there. Joseph and his family were not approved to live in the ghetto. When the order came that they would have to abandon their apartment they had nowhere to go.  Joseph’s grandmother, Babcia, knew some people in a nearby village. They were a Catholic family willing to house the Kempler family in exchange for rent money.  The family was soon living in this peasant village. They stayed here for almost two years.  Joseph often reflected that if he could have remained in that village for the duration of the war he would have been perfectly happy.

But that wish was not to be. The first to be relocated was Dolek, who was taken to a labor camp near Krakow. Then one day an order came that the family were to be relocated for resettlement in the east. The family knew what this meant: either deportation to a work camp or death. Joseph felt it was a death sentence, but there was little a fourteen-year-old boy could do. There was a Polish policeman who was instructed to guard the family and make sure they were on the transport to the Bochnia ghetto. He was known as a ladies man. He said something could be worked out if Mrs. Kempler agreed to meet him. She dressed in her finest and set out to meet the police man. Although innocent Joseph knew this was a sexual assignation. He felt angry and betrayed by her actions. He also felt guilty because he hoped she could save them. This was the beginning of Joseph’s emotional numbness.  He shut out all the love he once felt for his mother. He didn’t want to feel anything at all. That night the policeman failed to show up for guard duty and the family made their escape to a nearby forest.

Joseph felt burdened with the responsibility of caring for his family. He determined that he would have a better chance of surviving without his parents. He told them he was going to sneak into the Krakow ghetto.  He hoped from there he could sneak into the same work camp, Rakowice, that his older brother Dolek was working in. This began his concentration experience.

Rakowice was an airport run by civilian Germans. Joseph knew that to get into this camp he had to lie about his age. He told the barrack overseer that he was nearly sixteen, and they let him in. The work was hard for a young boy. At times he thought he couldn’t do it. Gradually the camp Plaszow was being built. This was the camp made famous from the movie Schindler’s List. As the Krakow ghetto was being liquidated, surviving Jews were sent to Plaszow.  In the summer of 1943 Joseph was relocated to this horrible, dangerous camp.

In the spring of 1944 Joseph was sent to Zakopane where the German army was building a hydroelectric plant. He was made to dredge stones out of a frigid, rushing mountain stream. After returning to Plaszow Joseph encountered a completely different camp. It was chaos. As the Soviet army was advancing the camp was being evacuated.  Joseph and his brother Dolek were then put on a cattle car in the hot August sun and left to die there.  The train finally departed for Auschwitz but didn’t unload its miserable cargo because the Nazis were too busy killing tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. The train continued for several days without food or water, people died rapidly. When the train stopped it was at the next diabolical camp, Mauthausen a death by work camp. Joseph was forced to carry stones up the infamous 186 steps. After surviving a month of this, Joseph was placed in a train and sent to the camp of Melk where they were building tunnels and underground factories.

186-Steps of Mauthausen

It was here that he encountered an unusual brand of Aryan, they were Christians imprisoned in the same camp because they would not support Hitler or his war. They impressed Joseph by their excellent conduct under duress. He was puzzled by them since he had long since abandoned his faith in God. He often wondered how they could do what they did. This meeting wouldn’t impact him fully for many more years to come, when he would find the faith he had abandoned, this time in a Christian religion.

April 1945 Joseph was made to march on a death march to the next camp, Ebensee. A month later he was liberated from Ebensee in May 1945. He weighed less than 60 pounds and was near death, the Mussulman stage, or walking dead. It’s at this point that Joe was squeezed into the narrowest part of the funnel, but miraculously with his newly found liberation he was set free, although he still likened it to a concentration camp, but instead of Nazis guarding him, it was now American soldiers. Soon, he would taste freedom in the fullest sense.

Joseph knew his father had died in a ghetto, and that most likely his mother and grandmother had died at Auschwitz, but he wondered who else from his family had survived. He spent some time looking for them, but to no avail. He eventually got news that his brother Dolek had died from Typhus in Gusen, but had no word about his sister, Dziunka. One day he met a man who insisted he knew who Joseph’s sister was and that she was alive in a German displaced persons camp. He had Joseph writer her a letter addressing it simply Judyta (German for Dziunka) Somewhere in Germany. Like a miracle the letter found her. She made arrangements to get herself to Austria and find her brother. The two were later reunited. Together they made their way back to Germany to the Landsberg displaced persons camp.

I.D. Card from Landsberg

Joseph spent the next two years in displaced persons camps. He learned English and a trade, radio repair work.  Then in 1947, he emigrated to America where in 1953, he married  Holocaust survivor Marion Dreifuss. She died soon after of Hodgkin s disease, leaving Joseph with a tiny daughter. Susan had been placed in an orphanage ever since she was born due to her mother’s illness. Now, Joseph was torn on the decision of what to do with her. He wasn’t in a position to raise her himself, but felt sad about giving her up for adoption. His sister Dziunka (Judy) not being able to have children of her own, stepped in and offered little Susan a loving home. After much deliberation Joseph agree to let Dziunka and her husband, Andy, have the little girl as their own. Susan grew up knowing who her real father was. Joseph spent many vacations with the newly formed family and was always, albeit distant, a part of her life.

Several years later he met and married Virginia Vrbanich in 1963. Later, they they had two sons, David and Paul. Added to this mix are three grandchildren Andrew, Brian, and Kelly. He is eighty-six years old and lives in Reno, Nevada with his wife Virginia.

 

The Altered I: Memoir of Joseph Kempler, Holocaust survivor is available on Amazon.com, Google Play, and Sundance Books and Music.

To read an excerpt from THE ALTERED I: MEMOIR OF JOSEPH KEMPLER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR click here.

 

 

 

2nd Annual Holocaust Remembrance Day Event Guest Speaker: Me!

Joseph Kempler

 

April 7 is a special day for me and Joe. This year we were invited to speak at the Second Annual Holocaust Remembrance Day event at the University of Nevada, Reno. This is event is sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in partnership with the University’s Interfaith Students Club. We were invited to speak on the theme Genocide. We have been generously given twenty-five minutes in which I will speak for ten minutes about Joe’s history and the six concentration camps he was imprisoned in as well as a plug for Joe’s memoir THE ALTERED I. Then I thought it would be neat if Paul (Joe’s youngest son) would speak for five minutes on what it was like to have a Holocaust survivor as a father and how genocide has affected his life as a second generation Holocaust survivor. And the crowning jewel of our presentation: Joe will have ten minute for a Question and Answer session. I think this will be a stupendous opportunity to spread Holocaust awareness as well as share Joe’s story. I’m nervous but happy and greatly honored that we were asked to speak at this important event.

 

OLLI_Holocaust_Flier_March21_14

How Genocide Affects My Family

Joe in uniform

Joe in uniform

Recently I was invited to speak at a Holocaust Remembrance Day event at the University of Nevada, Reno. The actual days of remembrance for 2014 begin on April 27. But there are a lot of reminders going on throughout the month. The theme for the event I will be speaking at, however, is Genocide.

In preparing my speech I pondered having my husband share his personal side of the story. I’m not one to hog the limelight! Ask anybody, I’m not a public speaker, but since the release of THE ALTERED I, I have had to step out of every comfort zone I may possess and become what I need to in order to promote awareness for the book. But I digress. The reason I thought of Paul is because it is his family that is directly affected by genocide. Who else could talk more freely on the subject?

What he said touched me. He talked about how if his father hadn’t survived he would never have been born. He said he lost his connection to his father’s side of the family, no grandparents to share summer vacations with or school report cards. He only had one bitter aunt who survived the Holocaust, his father’s eldest sister, but found it difficult, if not impossible, to share her ordeal. Because of genocide his father disconnected emotionally from his wife and children.

Conversely had his father not gone through the Holocaust at all Paul might not have been born anyway. So it is interesting to think that because of genocide Paul is alive. Not to say we welcome genocide, but life really does hang by a fragile thread, it’s a miracle when you think about it.

In this country we are relatively free from the impact of genocide, but we have other things. Perhaps PTSD  from some traumatic experience. Who hasn’t been touched by the war in Afghanistan? Every day I see commercials on TV asking for donations for wounded warriors returning home to their families. There is a lot of trauma that goes on behind closed doors. We aren’t aware of what people in our neighborhoods are really dealing with in their lives.

So even if genocide hasn’t directly affected you, I’m sure you’ve been affected by some trauma. How are you coping? Will this year’s annual Holocaust observance inspire you? What will you learn? What will you change?

I love hearing from you! Please leave comments in the area below.

Related article on inheriting stress genes.

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?

Book Review Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Dr. Miklos Nyiszli

Cover of "Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitnes...

In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, celebrated this Sunday, January 27,  I’m recommending Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account by Miklos Nyiszli.

This is the story of Dr. Miklos Nyiszli a Jewish prisoner/doctor who was sent to Auschwitz, along with his wife and daughter, in 1944. It is told in a first person narrative.

Synopsis: Upon his jarring arrival to Auschwitz-Birkenau,  Dr. Miklos Nyiszli is spared the gas chamber for the more barbarous task of assisting Dr. Josef Mengele in “scientific research” performed on the corpses of fellow inmates. Dr. Miklos survived and gives us his account in this horrifying memoir.

Any book of this nature is difficult to criticize, and I for one don’t. I think each memoir and account of the Holocaust is an important documentation of our human history. The Holocaust happens to be the most abysmal part of that history. It is humankind’s darkest era, as is so perfectly described in Our Living Legacy: “The Holocaust, which established the standard for absolute evil, is the universal heritage of all civilized people.” (read the Our Living Legacy Survivor’s Declaration)

Auschwitz a Doctor’s Eyewitness Account gives the reader a glimpse into what really went on in a death camp. Very few survived the gas chambers to tell the tale, and Dr. Nyiszli’s rendition is harrowing, eye-opening and tragic.

For other books on the subject of the Holocaust follow this link.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.