My review of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”

Lately a lot of people have been mentioning to me the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, whenever I discuss Joe’s memoir, The Altered I: Memoir of Joseph Kempler, Holocaust Survivor. I have seen this movie, several times, and felt completely absorbed by the plot. I haven’t read the book…yet. Joe has seen this movie as well and he remains silent on the subject. I’m not sure why this fictionalized account is being taken as some kind of truth, but I would like to set the record straight. I certainly don’t mean any disrespect toward this movie or book (which as I mentioned I do want to read), but people need to understand that the book, written by John Boyne, and adapted as a movie (2008, directed by Mark Herman) is generally accepted as a fable–a story conveying a moral–and shouldn’t be taken as the truth. What I’m about to say is very difficult, but most children taken to the concentration camps were gassed immediately. So, using this story as some basis of fact would be a disservice to the history of the Holocaust and would minimize the horrors of a camp, trivializing what truly took place in these despicable facilities of death and torture. I’ve even read that this movie is compared to Schindler’s List. I personally do not see a comparison. Schindler’s List is based on fact, and accurately portrayed. My father-in-law’s story parallels what is described in Schindler’s List, and is in fact one of his favorite movies on the subject of the Holocaust. I give the highest praise for Schindler’s List. Joseph almost made Schindler’s famous list, but you would have to read his memoir to find out what happens (wink, wink). He did know many people on that list and therefore it is a story dear to his heart. But, I digress. This blog post is a very good review of the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Much better than I could do! Please read.

Scrapbookpages Blog

This morning I read a review of the book entitled The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, written by Irish author John Boyne in 2006. You can read the review here.  In 2008, the book was made into a movie.

The film was advertised as a “family movie,” rated PG13, which parents were encouraged to take their older children to see. The author of the book classified The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as a fable. Libraries classify the book as Teen Fiction, and the movie producer called the story a fantasy.

A fable is a fictional story that has a moral. For example, the German fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel,” is a fable: the story couldn’t possible be true because it includes a wicked witch who lives in an edible gingerbread house and cooks and eats little children. Likewise, the story of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”…

View original post 2,177 more words

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Book Club Night with the Girls!

Valerie's Book Club

Valerie’s Book Club

If you are following my Facebook page or Twitter posts…er tweets, then you already know that Joe and I were invited to a local book club. They had graciously selected THE ALTERED I as one of their reads for this year and invited us to discuss it with them. First of all WOW! That was a huge gift in itself, what many an author dreams of, really. Of course I know the real star of the show is Joe. People love him. But, I got some nice praise as well.

Valerie was the perfect book club hostess. She introduced us to the group and expressed why she wanted The Altered I to be on the schedule for the year. She had met us last year when she called the publisher, LeRue Press directly to order more copies of the book as gifts for friends and family members. She had initially been given the book on loan, but wanted her own copy after reading it. The publisher (LeRue Press) mentioned that Joe and I could come in and meet with her and sign the books. We had a great time with her and she even brought a friend along.

Joe with April and Valerie at private book signing

Imagine my surprise when I got an email from LeRue Press saying that The Altered I was selected by Valerie’s book club and could we (me and Joe) be available to join the club to discuss parts of it? Of course!! My honor!

The ladies of this club are wonderful, intuitive, insightful, kind, and generous. We discussed the line-up for the year. Next month everyone is reading The Martian. This one is on my own TBR pile. Some of the ladies won’t see the movie until after they’ve read the book–I did see the movie, but didn’t give away any spoilers–I’m good that way. Everyone brings a dish, no one knows who is bringing what, but it is usually varied. I tasted a variety of healthy salads, my favorite little meatballs, which I don’t prepare anymore since my husband is now gluten-free, and some other main dish fare that was equally delicious. They joked that one time they all had brought salads, twelve of them, but all twelve were different, so it was fun. I learned a lot from this group–especially when planning my own book club–sharing, laughing and eating are all important factors.

The group of twelve members, was formed over eleven years ago, and has met continuously to discuss the next great read. Each submits a book they want to read for the year. My husband, Paul, asked them which was the first book they had read as a club and I was surprised (and delighted) to hear it was Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. Since that first book they learned a lot, like not choosing a book over 800 pages long! I confided that as one of my favorite authors she had inspired me to want to write.

After some small talk everyone felt comfortable enough with each other to discuss Joe’s memoir The Altered I.

P1070334

My heart was warmed each time there was a section from the book mentioned and the group collectively would recite parts from the text. I felt  joy sitting there listening to them tell Joe’s story. I really can’t describe it accurately, but, they knew him and his experiences from what they had read and it felt dear to me.

I was really happy that Joe was comfortable enough to express himself and tell his own story. Sometimes it just isn’t possible. But, with the love and respect directed toward him, he felt he was able to open up and tell his side. There were some unexpected emotions having Joe present. It’s one thing to read about someone’s tragic life story, and then quite another to have this person sitting at your dining room table! One of my friends said that the book club was in for a treat, but in actuality it was the other way around. I felt that this was a fine gift and it was privilege to be among them. These ladies spent their valuable time and money and invested it in a book I wrote. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

If interested in The Altered I Sample Pages

The Altered I is available in print and Kindle format from Amazon. In Kindle format at Amazon UK, as an e-book from Google Play books, and as a print book at BookBind.net

In Reno, NV as a print book: Sundance Books and Music, Grassroots Books, Buy Local (4001 S Virginia St, Reno, NV 89502 775-224-2242), and LeRue Press (775-356-1004).

In Carson City, NV as a print book, A to Zen Thrift and Gift , and Dog-Eared Books

 

 

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.

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.

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.

Synopsis:

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:

Amazon

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)

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

What’s So Great About Publishing Anyway?

Reading The Altered I at Sundance Books and Music

I had to clear up some misconceptions some of my friends had about the business of publishing. Perhaps I was in a sour mood, or I was tired that day and didn’t want people having fantasies about the wonderful world of publishing. I don’t know. At any rate, I told them that the business end of writing a book was not as glamorous as they thought it was. In fact, it’s a lot of work and worry and time spent trying to figure out where or who your target audience is. Publishing for a writer is more than good formatting, perfect editing and a pretty cover. Part of the work involved is distribution, making your book accessible to the readers, and before a reader can get their mitts on it, the bookstore owners need to see it in a catalog and order it. It can be frustrating, and sometimes daunting.

But then, as I usually do, I cheered myself up with some positive thoughts about publishing. Without getting a book published, whether traditional or self, I wouldn’t hear what people thought about the book, the topic, the writing, or any of it. And when it comes down to it, that is the fun part, the real glamorous part, in my opinion.

Nevada Humanities recently invited me to participate in their inaugural Literary Crawl in support of Reno’s Artown project. It was the most fun I’ve had promoting the book. It was one of the shortest times I’ve spent, but the most gratifying in that all I had to do was read a passage to some book lovers. There was no big two hour long presentation with power point, or sitting at a table hoping some people interested in my genre would stop by and talk to me, or maybe want a signed copy of the book. I was scheduled third to read at a local bookstore, but there were twenty-two authors scattered about mid-town at various locations doing the same thing.

As I arrived I saw a large crowd of people. I wondered if any would stay to hear my reading. After the poet ahead of me finished with her reading, people took off for the next reading on the list, but some stayed and some new arrivals joined the waiting audience. I was so nervous. Probably because several of my dearest friends showed up to support me. I’ve been publicly speaking, and reading, and signing books for several months, so I didn’t need to feel nervous, but I was scared out of my mind! Also, reading in a real brick and mortar store just sent me over the moon!

I read from the Prologue, which is not too long and not too short. Although, I’ve been toying with the idea of adding more to the reading, like a small section of the first chapter, or just jumping to a more tense section of the book. But, for this venue, the Prologue was about right. Then there was a question and answer session, which I always love. My total time was a mere thirty minutes, but people stayed after to talk a little longer.

One college aged boy stopped by and said he had picked up the book mark for the book somewhere (I suspect one my library presentations), and he had been using it to hold his place for every book he had been reading. It was funny, because on the book cover is a large blue eye, and that is the section of the book mark that stuck out of the book, the eye just watching everything.  Then he told me he saw the advertisement for the Literary Crawl. Featured as one of the books to be read on the crawl was the cover from my book (which matched the book mark!) and he just had to come to the reading, where he purchased the book.

Another young lady remarked on the byline of the book. It is rather unusual. It doesn’t say “by author so-and-so” rather it says “As told to” because in all truth, the story was told to me. I translated that story into the written word, and hopefully added enough descriptive language to enhance the reading experience. The young lady remarked that she liked that it was “as told to” because “You aren’t saying you wrote it, it’s his story,” she said. I took that comment as a compliment. I try to be humble in what I’ve done, and take myself , as the author, out of the story and make room for Joe to tell his story.

Those are the beautiful things about being a published author, sharing the story by reading parts from it, giving presentations to school kids, or library folk, and hearing what readers have to say about it. That’s the great part about publishing. The rest is numbers, charts, and graphs–business as usual.

reading - 5

THE ALTERED I: MEMOIR OF JOSEPH KEMPLER, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR is available at Amazon, Google Play books, and LeRue Press.