Ann Kirschner

Ann Kirschner

Ann Kirschner

Join us for a reading by author Ann Kirschner
Wednesday, April 27, 2022 at 7 p.m.
Sperry Center, Room 106
This event is free & open to the public

Sala's Gift

Sala's Gift explores the three hundred fifty letters her mother, Sala, had secreted away during her five years in Nazi labor camps. The letters provide a rare insight into the lives of imprisoned Jews during a horrific time. This talk is part of the English Department's Distinguished Voices in Literature series. It is also part of the Cultural & Intellectual Climate Committee's exploration of “Memory,” which is the theme for the current academic year. The committee is also presenting a production of Letter to Sala—a play drawn from Kirschner’s memoir—on Saturday, April 30th in Old Main on the Cortland campus. Kirschner’s talk is scheduled to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day in the United States.

Sala's Gift Book Cover

Sala’s Gift is truly a gift. Meticulously researched and respectfully presented, Sala’s Gift is a singular work, carefully crafted. It extends our understanding of Jewish women and the manner in which they struggled for survival — and for flickers of light amidst the darkness.
– Michael Berenbaum, Founding Director, The Holocaust Museum, and Professor of Theology, the University of Judaism

“This is a truly remarkable book, one from which both the general reader and the most experienced scholar will learn what can be learned in no other way. I read books on the Holocaust for a living, and I have rarely read one so economical in its prose, so elegant in its presentation, and so human in its narrative frame. It has uncommon power and deep effect.”
Douglas Greenberg, Executive Director, USC Shoah Foundation

An intimate family memoir ? at once vivid testimony and moving narrative  that opens up the larger horrors of the Nazi labor camps. Ann Kirschner has honored her remarkable mother by passing Sala’s gift on to all of us.
– Joseph Kanon, author of 
The Good German

KIRKUS (Starred review) Nov. 7, 2006
Restrained, well-handled chronicle, told primarily through letters among family members, of the five years spent by the author?s mother in Nazi labor camps. Sala Garncarz married an American GI at the end of the war and never spoke to her children about her experiences. In 1991, at age 67 and headed for triple-bypass surgery, she handed a box of letters to her daughter. Kirschner, a New York management consultant, translated them and unraveled a terrible saga. Sala was the youngest of 11 children in Sosnowiec, Poland, which before the war enjoyed a thriving Jewish culture much like that of Lodz and nearby Bedzin. At 16, she was rebellious and determined to take her older sister Raizel’s place when the occupying Nazis selected young people from poor homes to work in the growing labor camps. Her job was supposed to last for six weeks, but she was instead shuttled for five years among seven camps, part of the slave-labor network that sustained the Nazis? wartime manufacturing and construction. Part of Sala?s amazing ability to survive was no doubt due to her skill at sewing; she became a seamstress and laundress for the German officers, chosen and accepted as one clean Jew. She was also a leader among her peers, attractive and well-liked. Early on, she formed a protective friendship with an older woman named Ala Gertner, and relationships with various men helped her secure favored treatment. Unlike concentration camps such as Auschwitz (where most of her family perished after the roundup at Sosnowiec on Aug. 12, 1942), labor camps permitted inmates to send and receive letters, which were jealously hoarded as frail ties to family and truth. Kirschner allows her mother’s poignant story to emerge from these heartbreaking missives, filling in the gaps with a dignified, quietly eloquent connecting narrative. A cold-eyed look at one woman’s incredible journey through hell and back. (Agent: Philippa Brophy/Sterling Lord Literistic Inc.)

This moving account illuminates a little-known aspect of the Holocaust: Organization Schmelt, in which Jewish leaders supplied slave labor to the Germans for the war effort. In 1940, 16-year-old Sala Garncarz, a young Polish Jew (and the author’s mother), went to work in a Schmelt labor camp in place of her frail older sister, Raizel, who had been ordered there for six weeks by the local Jewish Council. But six weeks stretched into five years. Sala worked at seven German, Polish and Czech camps until she was liberated by Russian soldiers. In 1999 Sala shared with the author the box of letters that she had written and received during this period . Sala survived by her wits and the protection of Ala Gertner, an older woman who was later hanged for participating in an uprising at Auschwitz. Sala’s correspondence with Ala after the latter left the work camp, and the letters she exchanged with Raizel and other family members and friends are heartrending testimony to the extreme suffering of Polish Jews. After the war, Sala married an American soldier and immigrated to the U.S. Kirschner, president of a management consulting company, has skillfully crafted her mother’s documents, interspersed with a powerful and informed narrative. 16 pages of photos.

Kirschner knew that her mother was born in Poland, the youngest of 11 children, and that she had survived a Nazi camp and came to the U.S. as a war bride. In 1991, when Sala Kirschner was 67, she learned that she needed triple-bypass surgery and then showed her daughter a collection of more than 350 letters, postcards, and scraps of paper, some written in barely legible, tiny, cramped handwriting, other in beautiful italic script, and some dashed off in blunt pencil scrawls. They were from her years in seven labor camps from 1940 to 1945. The letters were written by more than 80 people and they told the story of a family, a city, and an elaborate system of slavery. There are hand-drawn birthday cards, some with poems, and love letters that had been smuggled to the author’s mother by a suitor named Harry. Kirschner posits that these private papers create an emotional history of the war, a complex figure of fear, loneliness, and despair, always returning to the dominant theme of hope for tomorrow. George Cohen