Monday, March 18, 2019

"The Last Jews of Kalisz"- Keeping Alive The Rich Legacy of the Jews of Poland

Kudos to author Irv Kempner for his commitment to keep alive the memory of his father, David Kempner, who survived the Holocaust to live a full life in America. This very personal book, "The Last Jews of Kalisz," is also a loving tribute to the countless Jews from David's home town of Kalisz, Poland, who perished under the thumb of the Third Reich and their Polish collaborators.

The early chapters of this book set the scene and tell the history of Jews in Kalisz in Western Poland, perilously close to the German border. Jewish history of Kalisz began in the 12th century with settlers who were fleeing Crusaders. Over the years, the Jewish population of the city grew to close to 35%, and stayed that way until the purges began.

As I read the story of Mr. Kempner and his family and fellow citizens, I was reminded of the notorious quotation often attributed to Joseph Stalin: "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." By highlighting his father's tale of survival in contradistinction to the death of many of his family members, author Kempner moves the reader beyond mere statistics to make the tragedy of the Holocaust very personal. Writing this book is only one part of Kempner;s commitment to uphold the memory of the Jews of Kalisz. He is involved in a movement called March of the Living that brings visitors to Poland and Germany to learn details about the history of the Holocaust.

After being liberated from a death camp in May of 1945, David Kempner made good on a promise he had made to a young woman he had met before his imprisonment. He tracked Marilla Freidenreich down in Germany. Not long afterward they were married. Thanks to the kindness of a boyhood friend from Kalisz who had emigrated to America, the newlyweds were sponsored to resettle in the U.S. by Manny Duell. David started as a low-wage worker in the garment industry, and eventually founded his own successful company.

My reason for giving this fine book 4 stars rather than 5 is the author's propensity for needless repetition. He often repeats the same information several times within the same page or paragraph. For the second edition, some judicious editing will make this important book  even more compelling reading.


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