Sala Garncarz Kirschner came to America as a war bride and raised her family without speaking of her wartime experiences. An impending health crisis encouraged Sala to share with her daughter the secret and more than 350 letters and a diary from her years in the camps. Kirschner discussed what she discovered about her mother and how she translated that very private experience into a public narrative.
February 12, 2011 7:00 pm
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Few family secrets have the power both to transform lives and to fill in crucial gaps in world history. But then, few families have a mother and a daughter quite like Sala and our speaker.
For nearly fifty years, Sala Garncarz Kirschner kept a secret from her family: she had survived five years as a slave in seven different Nazi work camps. Living in America after the war, she never gave her children any hint of her epic, inhuman odyssey. She held on to more than 350 letters, photographs, and a diary without ever revealing their existence. Only in 1991, on the eve of cardiac surgery, did she suddenly present them to Ann and offer to answer any questions her daughter wished to ask. It was a life-changing moment for her scholar, writer, and entrepreneur daughter.
The original letters are in the permanent collection of the New York Public Library, which introduced the letters to the world in 2006. Since then, the letters have been the subject of a theatrical play written by Arlene Hutton, a documentary film directed by Murray Nossel, and an exhibition that has traveled to dozens of cities in the United States and Europe. And Sala’s daughter Ann has written Sala’s Gift, the story of her mother’s survival and of her own quest to understand the remarkable stories and people behind these rare letters. Sala’s Gift has been published in Polish, German, Italian, French, and Chinese editions.
Dr. Ann Kirschner has contributed to a rich mix of the academic and business world and of traditional and nontraditional media. She is the University Dean of Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York. She began her career as a lecturer in Victorian literature at Princeton University, where she earned a Ph.D. in English. Her subsequent career as an entrepreneur in media and technology included the creation of businesses in cable and satellite television as well as online businesses for the National Football League and Columbia University. A frequent contributor to conferences and publications on higher education and interactive media, Ann Kirschner was named one of New York Magazine’s “Millennium New Yorkers” and honored as a distinguished graduate of Princeton University. She serves on the Board of Directors of Apollo and Public Agenda.