My name is Kathy Kacer. My parents were both survivors of the Holocaust. My mother survived the war by hiding and my father was a survivor of the concentration camps. Growing up, my parents spoke quite openly about their experiences, and I grew up listening to their survival stories.
My parents were very candid about their history and presented it in a way that made me completely proud of them and passionate about their survival stories. There are certainly many survivors who find it too painful to talk about their pasts. That was not the case with my parents. I grew up in a community of survivors - they were many of my parents' best friends. It was a very natural thing for me to hear stories about the Holocaust.
Picture of my mother, Gabi
I was born in Toronto and have lived here my whole life. I had always loved to write. When I was young I wrote stories and poems. I kept a journal for many years and still keep one. I actually didn’t think about becoming a writer and in fact, decided to become psychologist, a career I loved for many years. About ten years ago, the bug to write hit me again, and I decided I would try and make a go of writing for young people. I stopped working full time in 1998 to pursue this dream.
I started writing my mother's story (which became The Secret of Gabi's Dresser) when my own children were young and were asking questions about their grandparents. (Both of my parents had already died by the time my children were very young). I decided to write my mother's story down so that one day my own children would have a written record of my her life. I loved the story so much that I decided to try and get it published and was lucky enough to find a publisher quite quickly. I was in my 40's and looking for a change in careers. I often refer to this as my mid life crisis that worked! It was indeed a big step and luckily I had the support of my husband to be able to do it. I never imagined that I would have this successful second career in writing.
These days, in addition to writing, I speak to children in schools and libraries around the country and in parts of the United States and Europe, about the importance of understanding the Holocaust and keeping its memory alive. In addition, I speak in universities and colleges on the topic of teaching sensitive material to young children.
I continue to be impressed with the thoughtful questions that young readers ask. It is always challenging to be asked “Why did Hitler hate the Jews so much?” And this is a question that I am often asked. I can talk about Germany being in an economic and social slump following the end of the First World War. I can talk about Jews being scapegoats for the difficulties that Germany faced at that time. I can talk about a charismatic leader like Hitler who came to power at a time when the country needed someone to lead them out of their difficulties. However, nothing can truly account for a calculated and deliberate decision to annihilate an entire race of individuals. It is something that we will never fully be able to understand or articulate.
I been asked challenging questions, but I don’t think I’ve had many “challenging” presentations. I love talking to young people and my presentations are always met with positive reactions. Perhaps the most “interesting” presentation that I did was when I was on tour in Germany several years ago. You have to understand that my parents had never wanted to go to Germany after the war. There were just too many horrible memories associated with the country for them. I grew up in the face of their reluctance to travel there. And perhaps some of that rubbed off on me. However, my tour to Germany was one of the most interesting and gratifying experiences of my life. I spoke in front of huge audiences of kids who had read my books and asked the most thoughtful and sensitive questions. It was extremely emotional for me to be there, talking about the Holocaust with these wonderful young people.
I also have visited the Czech Republic and Slovakia several times. I was able to see the house that my mother grew up in, and even the home of the family that hid her during the war. The only concentration camp that I have visited is Theresienstadt in the Czech Republic. It was, of course, very moving for me to be there, even though it was not a place where either of my parents had been imprisoned. These places are filled with the ghosts of those who once lived and died there. One can’t help but be overwhelmed by this history.
I have a wonderful room at the front of my house where I do my writing. There’s lots of light and my walls are filled with pictures of my family, and even some of the awards that I’ve won for my writing. I do a lot of thinking here. A lot of thinking about the past. Once a young girl asked me if I ever become so sad when I write my stories that it is difficult for me to continue. I responded that I do indeed become sad at times. While we can never of course fully understand what that time was like for survivors, I don’t think you can write about this history without feeling some of the pain. At the same time, I continue to be inspired by the survivors that I meet. And that’s what keeps me going in this writing.