Julie Kohner, whose mother was one of the first Holocaust survivors to have her story told on national television in the United States, will be the guest speaker at a Kristallnacht program on Nov. 9 at Temple Sinai in New Orleans.
Underwritten by the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial Fund, the 7 p.m. program is open to the community.
In a 2000 talk in Birmingham, Kohner said it was time for the second generation descended from Holocaust survivors to start teaching and talking about their parents’ experiences.
To do that, she formed Voices of the Generations, using her parents’ story as a way of teaching about the Holocaust in a personal way.
Her parents, both natives of Teplitz Schonau, Czechoslovakia, met in 1935 when Hannah was 15 and Walter was 20. Walter was able to escape Europe and settle in Los Angeles. He was not able to send for Hannah, and she left her home in the Sudetenland for Amsterdam.
She was captured by the Nazis and survived four concentration camps. After liberation, she sent a letter to Los Angeles to try and find Walter, who at the time was a radio correspondent in Luxembourg.
They reunited and married, and in 1984 published their memoirs as “Hannah and Walter: A Love Story.”
In 1953, Walter, then a theatrical agent, asked Ralph Edwards to surprise Hannah by doing her story on “This Is Your Life.” In the show, Kohner was reunited with others who survived the Holocaust with her, and the story was told of how she met her husband, a U.S. soldier during the war.
Kohner often shows the entire “This Is Your Life” broadcast, but has to couch it carefully. “You have to remember, this was eight years after the war. ‘Holocaust’ was not spoken about in the home, let alone national television,” Kohner said. It was produced as “entertainment,” she said.
In fact, many viewing the broadcast now find it inappropriate, even offensive, but one has to view it in the context of the times.
At the end of the show, Hannah was showered with gifts from the show’s sponsors, and then, in a very unusual move, Edwards announced a contribution to United Jewish Appeal and urged viewers to support UJA’s resettlement efforts.
Kohner said she learned the most about her parents’ story when they wrote the book, and has all the hand-written manuscripts.
She has no siblings, as Hannah arrived in a concentration camp pregnant, and was told by others there that it would mean her death, and she would have to “get rid of it.” Complications caused her to miscarry eight times after the war, before they finally had their daughter.
Kohner has been presenting this program for 26 years.