When Hanna Kohner sat as an audience member of the NBC reality documentary series “This Is Your Life” on May 27, 1953, she had no idea her life would end up the subject of the episode. Nearly 70 years later, Julie Kohner continues sharing her mother’s story to keep her memory alive.
Partnering with several Kansas State programs, the Department of English co-sponsored a live stream event of Julie Kohner’s educational program Thursday evening. Karin Westman, associate professor and head of the English department, introduced Kohner.
“Julie has been a Jewish educator for more than 30 years,” Westman said. “She has a master’s degree in educational counseling and she’s been an invited speaker at community centers and schools and universities all across the United States.”
Kohner found her life’s mission after her mother died in 1990. She used the video of her mother’s 1953 interview — along with her parent’s book “Hanna & Walter: A Love Story” — to teach a seventh-grade Holocaust studies class.
That one lesson grew into the non-profit organization “Voices of the Generations,” which is dedicated to sharing the memory and personal stories of Holocaust survivors.
“Through ‘Voices of the Generations,’ I would reach as many people as possible to the story of the Kohner’s involvement in the tragedy we call the Holocaust,” Kohner said.
During the live stream, Kohner shared her mother’s episode of “This Is Your Life.” In the episode, host Ralph Edwards tells Hanna Kohner’s story and surprises her with various guests such as childhood friends and fellow prisoners from the concentration camps. At the time, no other Holocaust survivor had shared their story on national television.
“My dad was a theatrical agent and Ralph Edwards was his client … so he went to Ralph and said, ‘I know you typically do celebrities, but perhaps you’d like to hear about Hanna’s story,'” Kohner said.
At the end of the episode, Edwards announced a party organized in Hanna Kohner’s honor where she could catch up with all of the surprise guests. She also received a charm bracelet with charms representing important moments in her life. Kohner keeps the bracelet with her when she presents.
“I usually wear [the bracelet] when I go to speak,” Kohner said. “It’s the only time I carry that with me because it’s so delicate.”
Jeremy Cox, junior in history, asked Kohner during the Q&A portion, “What would you want the younger generation that’s in elementary school or in preschool right now to understand about your parent’s experience, not only the Holocaust but also … during the Second World War?”
In response, Kohner stressed the importance of sharing Holocaust stories to keep history from repeating itself. In a second interview from her parent’s 1984 book tour, her mother said, “If we don’t put it down and tell it to our children, the day may come when people may believe that [the Holocaust] did not happen.”
“If you can take one person’s story and convey it and touch another person … you can then … tell it to somebody else, who will then tell it to somebody else,” Kohner said. “It makes the difference.”
The book “Hanna & Walter: A Love Story” is available for purchase through the “Voices of the Generations” website. Also on the website are other resources, testimonials and donation opportunities.