Just in time for author visit

by | Oct 31, 2014 | Book Reviews

Hanna and Walter
Hanna and Walter Kohner
With Frederick Kohner
iUniverse, reissued 2008
147pp., $14.95
ISBN 978-0-595-46598-9

On Sunday, Nov. 16, at the Women’s Cabinet PLUS ONE brunch, co-hosted by the UJFT Holocaust Commission, attendees will hear a Holocaust story with a happy ending. Julie Kohner, a scholar of Jewish history and founder of Voices of the Generations will carry on her parents’ legacy by retelling their personal story to school and community groups throughout the country.

Not everyone will hear that presentation, but everyone can read the book, first published in 1984 and now reissued. Hanna Bloch was a child barely 15 when she met and fell in love with Walter Kohner, 20. Walter, an indifferent student, was fascinated by “show business” and longed for a career in theatre. Hanna, teen devourer of romantic novels, turned off by the rankly pubescent boys her age idolized her older brother Friedl (who survived and helped his parents edit their book) and was smitten by Walter, whom she met by accident skating on a frozen pond in Teplitz-Schonau, a popular Sudetenland spa in Czechoslovakia.

Hanna and Walter is a slim memoir that reads like a novel with a classic romantic plot; boy meets girl; boy and girl fall in love; boy loses girl; boy finds girl; they marry and live happily ever after. This love story, however, unfolds in the context of the Holocaust. Walter emigrates to the United States before the Nazis take over of the betrayed Sudetenland. Hanna escapes to Holland and creates a new life, until Holland too is occupied by the Germans and she is eventually rounded up and deported to what will become a series of concentration camps, the last of which was the dreaded Auschwitz. Told in alternating first person chapters, Walter’s finding his way in America, and Hanna’s miraculous survival of a series of deadly “aktions” are compelling accounts and the reader is rewarded by the truly thrilling story of Walter, now a member of the American army of occupation, finding Hanna in the maelstrom of the post WWII displaced person scene. Their reunion, marriage and happy life together in America furnishes a bitter-sweet contrast to the murders of most of their families in Theresienstadt, Bergen- Belsen and Auschwitz.

In 1953 on the popular television program, This is your Life, Hanna became the first Holocaust survivor presented to the American public in a national setting. Memory fails to assure me that I read this when first published in 1984, thus I and our readers will be grateful for its reissuance in 2008.