Old Tales of Nevada with April Kempler Episode 212

Joseph Kempler family photo.

Joseph Kempler family photo.

I’m really excited and pleased to share the interview I did with John O’ Brien host of Old Tales of Nevada, a local television show. I was actually filling in a late notice cancellation, but hey, I’m not too proud! It was a real honor and a treat. I enjoyed it, and was thrilled by the prospect of sharing Joe’s story through this medium. It was my very first television interview, and I hope not my last.

Primarily, the interview had to do with Joe’s memoir THE ALTERED I, MEMOIR OF JOSEPH KEMPLER HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR. Joe was a young boy when WWII broke out in his home city of Krakow, Poland. He and his family had to pack up leave town when he was 13 years old, and by the time he was 14 he was working in a forced labor camp in Rakowice, Poland. He spent the next three years in six different concentration camps, Plaszow and Mauthausen being the most famous. Plaszow was known from the movie Schindler’s List, which parallels Joe’s personal experiences for a time.

Joe’s story isn’t an easy one to hear or tell about, but I’m grateful people want to hear it and have supported me by purchasing the book, liking my Facebook page, and leaving reviews for The Altered I.

I thought I’d share the interview here with you. I welcome your comments, or any additional questions you might have.

 

The Altered I is available in paperback and e-book on Amazon, Google Play Books, and directly from the publisher Lerue Press at 775-849-3814.

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You Are Telling an Important Story

Joseph Kempler and his older sister Dziunka (Judy) Laub

Joseph Kempler and his older sister Dziunka (Judy) Laub

Last night I received the sweetest email from a reader of THE ALTERED I: MEMOIR OF JOSEPH KEMPLER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR, and I wanted to share it. I might add that Deb, the writer of the email, is also compiling her father’s memoirs into a book. Reading Deb’s words touched me to the heart. I feel sad that her father had to walk a similar path and endure all the horrible things Joseph did in order to survive, but I feel connected in some way by the shared memories of a father who went through the Holocaust.

To ensure the information Joseph gave me was reliable and accurate I researched diligently, giving all I could to the task. I had to dig deep, so it is always reassuring, and validating when I get feedback saying exactly that! It isn’t that I wrote such an important story, it’s important information that must be related accurately. To speak the truth  is a heavy responsibility for any writer of history, but to track down the facts is equally important for such a topic as the Holocaust. I never want room for doubt that the Holocaust didn’t happen.

I hear often, and honestly it’s too often, how some young people today are being taught by their parents that the Holocaust is a myth, a legend, a fabrication. I struggle to understand this belief. So each time a young person has an opportunity to learn the truth, that is a victory. I encourage young people to read more memoirs of survivors. Not only of Holocaust survivors but read the memoirs of people who saved others who weren’t Jewish and could have been killed. Read the memoirs of soldiers who were there and witnessed it all. There are countless books written by people who were in the concentration camps, not only as prisoners-of-war, but as people who worked for the Nazis and who saw, and sometimes took part, in the atrocities taking place. Also, there were many others imprisoned in the concentration camps who weren’t Jewish but suffered alongside for their crimes against the state. Reading from various viewpoints and backgrounds will give a fuller understanding of that time and hopefully will substantiate that the Holocaust was real.

I realize this is getting more rare, but when a Holocaust survivor visits a  school a student should view this as an opportunity to ask their questions and get answers from the source.

Joseph and I have some upcoming Holocaust presentation events where people, old and young alike, can meet him personally, (shake his hand!) speak to him and feel connected to that particular time in history. Yes, it’s a hard history, which none of us likes, and would rather didn’t happen, but it’s important to keep it fresh in our minds because it truly wasn’t that long ago.

As time progresses and these survivors and soldiers who fought for their liberation die, so does the intensity of that event.

My words seem inadequate so I will let the letter explain everything.

 

(edited)

Dear April

I am reading the book you wrote about your father in law. This is unbelievable, the dates and journey your father in law took was the same as my dad.  My dad was in ghetto in Boryslaw then forced labor then Plashow to Mathausen (dates match up with my father’s transport) to Melk, eventually to Ebensee where he was liberated. My dad met a soldier years later who liberated Ebensee.

In 2007 to the date of his liberation I found his brother’s children. My dad believed his brother was killed in war. When his area was annexed to Russia his brother was drafted. The last my dad heard before he went to Plashow that his brother was severely wounded. After the war he contacted Russian military and there was no record of his brother. Can you believe the Russians changed the spelling of his first name by one letter and because of that he could not be found.

My dad is going to be 90. He still plays tennis goes to gym a few times per week.

You are telling a very important story.  I am humbled by your dad’s experiences. Your book is unique in so far as your father in law acknowledged what he had to do to survive. People don’t talk about that. Very painful.

How is he doing?

I will finish his book probably tomorrow.

Excellent job

Warm Regards,
Deb

 

As always you can find your copy of THE ALTERED I: MEMOIR OF JOSEPH KEMPLER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle, Google Play Books, LeRue Press 775-356-1004, and announcing The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum store.

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)

– Joseph Kempler, THE ALTERED I: MEMOIR OF JOSEPH KEMPLER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR.

Cutting Room Floor Excerpts: On the Farm (Polish Village)

On the Farm

Shortly after my Bar Mitzvah, life on the farm became more active as winter was replaced by spring. Seedlings planted in winter began to grow and there was much work to do on the land. Important crops to the farmstead were mostly grains: rye, wheat, barley and oats. The other major crop was potatoes, which were planted in the spring.

The Biernat’s owned approximately three acres of land which was located in different parts of the village, all of it a little distance from the hut where we lived. On a typical American farm there is a homestead with the land stretching out from it, but in a Polish village, the farmland was divided in a different manner. The land was portioned and handed down to each successive generation. Various crops were planted and there was plenty of work, rows had to be plowed, seeds planted and carefully watched over, weeds would have to be pulled, and everyone pitched in to help.

A reliable horse and plow were needed. When other villagers were enlisted in the labor they might have the horse, another might have the plow. In this way everyone worked together. In time the favors were returned to fill whatever need someone else might have. Since Roman Biernat didn’t have a horse, he provided some form of labor to another villager and they provided him with a horse. This was an excellent exchange system.

As my contribution to living in the hut with the Biernat family it was expected that I should work on the farm. I was willing and ready to work. So reading and writing were put on hold and I learned how a Polish farmer plants his grain and potatoes. As head of the household, Roman sowed the grain. He wore a large apron with a front pocket. Inside the pocket he kept the seeds, sometimes these were oats or barley. He reached into the pocket, grabbed a handful of seeds and flung them over the readied soil.

During World War Two the Polish farmers paid taxes, not in money, but in specific amounts of grain to the German government. This was paid during the harvesting time. Pigs were also considered government property and each pig on the farm had to be registered. It was illegal for any farmer to slaughter a pig, but occasionally the farmers came together and managed to hide one from the German officials. When it came slaughtering time the neighbors shared the meat. Usually this was done inside a villagers hut. This happened in the Biernats hut while we were living there. Not only was it disturbing to witness the animal’s demise, but afterward it was a bloody mess where we lived and slept. As Jews it was especially upsetting because a pig is considered an unclean animal to eat, by Jewish law we didn’t want any part of it.

Other times were more enjoyable and less violent, like when we ventured into the dense forest and picked wild blueberries. I filled my basket and my mouth with the sweet and refreshing fruit.

Once a month a small bag of flour was distributed to all the inhabitants in the region. We’d have to get our rations from the nearby village of Niegowic. This was a task that the girls of household were usually sent out to do,  but since there were only two boys living in the hut, me and Janek, the errand became mine. I stood in line five hours before the mill opened its gates. I dared not leave my place in line because once the gates opened villagers flooded in with their flour sacks and once the flour was gone, that was it, no more flour for anyone. I stood patiently waiting while all around me chatty girls entertained each other with their stories. They seemed to be enjoying themselves while I became painfully aware of my Jewishness and loneliness. I especially couldn’t speak to the girls in this village because I was concerned I would be identified as a Jew. Also, because I was from the city, I didn’t speak like a Polish peasant, so I didn’t want to stand out as different. Normally shy and timid around girls, the only girl I could ever speak openly to was Anita. This made me more lonesome for her companionship and homesick for Krakow.

Four kilometers away, in the next town, was a kosher butcher. Someone in the village gave us a chicken in exchange for tailor work by Dolek. Mamusia sent me to the village of Gdow to have the chicken slaughtered kosher style with a special knife and bled properly. A number of Jews lived in Gdow, some of whom had come to my Bar Mitzvah. Once in a while Mamusia sent me to the butcher for a chicken. Mamusia sent me to the village so frequently on various errands that I became familiar with the route, I knew every step there and back.

A priceless book to me was the Farmer’s Almanac. I read it deck to deck. I found a section about herbs and leaves and learned that nettles where edible when cooked. There were plenty of nettles around the hut, and because I wore short pants at the time, I was stung by those annoying plants often. The little hairs on the leaves of the plant inflicted an irritating rash. One day after my herb research I asked Mamusia to cook the nettles.

Her eyes widened. “Joziu, where did you learn about cooking nettles?”

“In the farmers book. It said they taste like spinach when cooked. We have so many of them around here, I want to try it,” I said.

“You go pick them, I won’t risk getting stung.” She lifted her eyebrows.

I turned, and skipped off to gather some nettles, they will go great with eggs.

When I returned with the nettles, Mamusia took them with tongs in one hand and shears in the other and cut them up right into the cooking pot. “It’s the heat that destroys the venomous part of the plant hairs,” I said. She looked dubious. I tasted the cooked greens and they did indeed taste like spinach. “Here, try it, they’re good for you.” Mamusia touched her throat and shook her head. She trusted me enough to cook them, but not enough to eat them.

The Farmers Almanac contained useful information about herbs, fruit, and the weather. There were certain leaves that could be brewed into a tea. I learned how to identify edible berries. I collected the berries and leaves and experimented with them. Most of what I learned stuck in my mind so that I could call it back from memory if I needed it.

On the farm I liked playing with the animals. The cow was friendly and had just given birth to a calf. The calf was silly and inexperienced. She often wandered into places she didn’t belong. She found a patch of nettles and ate them. My skin puckered with goose bumps. How could she stand the sting? The mother cow stood mutely and watched her calf munching at the nettles without a care. The Biernat’s had given me my own tiny plot of soil to grow vegetables. I planted beans and other greens and surrounded the area with a primitive stick fence. I was proud that I would soon present Mamusia with food I had grown. One day, the stupid calf wandered over to my plot. She stuck her head over the stick fence and ate everything within reach. I stamped my foot in frustration and shouted at the calf, but the Biernat’s and other villagers laughed at my unhappy situation.

The Biernat’s also had a white cat. She became my dear friend. She was pregnant and ready to give birth. Because I liked her she spent a lot of time with me. Maria Biernat laughed at me. “Look out for her Josef, or she’ll be sneaking into your bed to have those kittens!” she said. Janek was the recipient of that gift. Later, the old man, Roman, took those kittens and drowned them. This news upset me and I often wondered how he could have been so cruel.

Life went on in the village. helping the other farmers with the chores took up a lot of my time. There were fields to plow, planting and weeding to tend to, plus milking the cow, and churning the butter. Maria made the butter and I would have to keep the white cat away, whose favorite pastime involved licking the churn.

August was harvest time. This was hard word work, but I readily participated and worked beside the villagers. The grain was bundled by Roman and pitched onto a flat-bed wagon with two ladders on either side. Then it was brought to the barn where there was a threshing floor. Four people worked rhythmically in a circle removing the grain from the stalks. I could see maintaining the rhythm was a challenge. Gradually I learned how to imitate the workers. Together we beat the grain with wooden flails seconds apart from each other, which required good coordination. After the stalks were removed what was left over was used to roof the peasant huts. The grain was then poured in bags and hand sifted.

Overall, I found life on the farm interesting. So many things fascinated me. Everything was new and so different than life in the big city of Krakow. From spring until the harvest time in late summer it was a steady stream of hard work. No matter how strenuous the labor, I did what was asked of me. As I learned and assisted with the work, the Biernat’s became friendlier toward me and treated me as one of them.

The fields and forest were pleasant to me. I came to look back at this time in the village as the happiest time of the war. The Polish farm and village were peaceful, yet structured. If we could have survived the war there I would have been very happy.

–Excerpt from THE ALTERED I: MEMOIR OF JOSEPH KEMPLER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR available on Amazon.com, Google Play books, the publisher direct LeRue Press, Reno, Nevada, and Sundance Books and Music in Reno, Nevada.

Hope you enjoyed this cutting room floor excerpt. To read more from THE ALTERED I click here.

 

 

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!

Question and Answers with Holocaust Survivor Joseph Kempler

Question: Did any of your family survive the Holocaust?

Dziunka (Judy) Laub Billys

Joe: Yes, my sister Dziunka (Judy) survived. She and her husband were hidden by a Christian family, an early group of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I began looking for any surviving members of my family after liberation. I asked anyone I met if they had known or heard of my brother, my sister, or my mother and grandmother. One man said he knew a Dziunka Laub that she was in a displaced persons camp in Germany. I wrote to her: Judyta Laub (German for Dziunka) Someplace in Germany. I gave it to him. By some miracle this man delivered the letter to her and she made her way to Linz, Austria, where I was staying and found me. Together we went to the displaced persons camp in Landsberg, Germany.

Question: Did you ever find out what happened to the other members of your family who didn’t survive?

Joe: Some of them. My father, Max died in the Bochnia ghetto of a stomach ailment. My mother, Malka and Babcia (grandmother) were transported from Bochnia to Auschwitz, and it is my belief that they died there. My brother Dolek was with me from Rackowice, to Plaszow, and Mauthausen. We were separated in Mauthausen and I never saw him again, but I found out that he died of typhus in Gusen.

Question: I notice from the photos that you were in the National Guard. Considering all the things you experienced in the camps why did you join the National Guard?

Joseph Kempler Sergeant 1st Class Joe in uniformTop-036

Joe in uniform

Joe:The Korean War had started, and I wanted to avoid the draft. A very good friend of mine, Leon Sperling, who I went through Landsberg DP camp and knew in New York, came to me one night and said that the draft law went into effect at midnight, but if we joined the National Guard we could avoid it. So that is what we did.

Question: You only had an education to the fifth grade level. What kind of work did you do after you came to this country?

Top-013I.D. Card from Landsberg

 

Joe:I did a lot of different jobs. When I was in the DP camp I went to a radio school, even in the National Guard I was in communications. I had a strong interest in Hi Fidelity sound and gravitated to that field. I worked at Jewel Radio as an assembler, and then moved on to Fisher Radio. I was looking for work in electronics and was hired by American Measuring Instruments Corporation. Near the end of the 1950s I started work with Audio Devices which was bought by Capitol Records. I worked in the tape division, for over 30 years until Capitol Records closed that division.

 

To read more about Joseph Kempler click for excerpts from his memoir THE ALTERED I: MEMOIR OF JOSEPH KEMPLER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR.

Available on Amazon.com and Google Play.

 

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