Originally posted on the FJMC Shoah Yellow Candle (Holocaust Remembrance Program)
The Kempner and Freidenreich Family History
By Irv Kempner
David Kempner The Early Years In Poland
My father David Kempner was born Tuesday Oct 11, 1910, in Kalisz Poland.
David had a younger brother 3 years his junior named Beryl who died at the age of 7. My father’s recollection was that his younger brother was very ill and bedridden. The Polish doctor who came to care for him at home administered a fatal overdose of pain killers that terminated Beryl’s young life by accident.
My father David received a traditional Jewish education. He attended Cheder at the age of 3 until he was 11. At the age of 12 his parents enrolled David into the Mizrachi School in Kalish. At the age of 15 he was sent away to Lublin, Poland for one year to attend the prestigious Yeshiva in Lublin. When David was 16 he returned home and helped his father produce shirts for resale to the marketplace in Kalish. My father had a passion for ping pong and soccer and was scouted and recruited to play for the Maccabi Games where he was played soccer and was also appointed a team captain of the ping pong team.
My Grandfather Mayer Kempner the Zionist
My Grandfather Mayer Kempner was a modern Orthodox Chasid and an ardent Zionist who followed the teachings of the Rabbi from Alexander, Poland. In 1927 at the age of 47 my Grandfather Mayer went to Palestine for 7 months with Zionist friends to see if they could make a new life for themselves in the emerging Jewish homeland.
My father David was left behind at the age of 17 to help support his mother until his father could move the family to Palestine, assuming Mayer Kempner would become successful in the Promised Land.
Mayer’s bother in law (My Grandmother Baylah’s brother, Abraham Wolkovicz) had settled in this Kibbutz near Acco a few years earlier. Abraham moved from Kalish Poland, then to Cairo Egypt and finally gained entrance Palestine (Israel). Mayer’s brother in law Abraham was deeply committed to Zionism, started a family in Israel and invited Mayer to join his family living in a Kibbutz near Acco. My grandfather Mayer worked hard on the kibbutz outside of Acco doing anything that needed to be done to fulfill the goal of forming a Jewish homeland..
One evening late in 1927 the Kibbutz in Acco was attacked by Arabs and Mayer Kempner who was on guard duty was captured, tortured and finally released as a warning to other Jews to leave Palestine. His Arab captives had cut off the 4 smaller toes of his right foot before releasing Mayer near a road leading to the kibbutz. Mayer recuperated in at a Jewish hospital. When Mayer recovered and was able to walk again, disillusioned, he concluded that conditions in Palestine where too dangerous to expose his family too. So he said goodbye to his brother in law Abraham and returned to the so called safety and civilization of Poland, (12 years before the Nazi invasion of Poland!).
Upon returning to Poland Mayer Kempner began to learn the embroidery trade, when he mastered it, he and a close friend entered into business together. Mayer opened up a factory in Kalish manufacturing embroidery material for blouses, curtains and women’s undergarments. My father finished high school in Kalish and worked for his father from 1928 until 1935.
David Kempner Young Entrepreneur Meets the Friedenreich Family
At the age of 25 my father David moved away from Kalisz and became a salesman representing a sweater manufacturer located in Bydgosz, Poland. In 1936 he was promoted to a bigger sales territory in the city of Posnan. 2 years later he quit this sales job and moved back to Kalisz where he and his friend, Joseph Rockman opened up a textile store selling material used to produce men’s suits. David and Joseph were doing well. David also acted as an outside salesman and called on various general stores owned by Jews throughout Poland. One of the general stores he frequented in Radom Poland was owned by my maternal grandfather Yitzchak Freidenreich.
In Radom David became friendly with my mother’s older siblings and her older cousins the Moshovitz Family. After the war, the surviving Moshovitz siblings, Mark & Jerry who emigrated to the USA, Carola who moved to Canada, Neuta who went to France and Marcel who crossed the channel to England, all changed their last names to MOSS. Our cousins, Abe Moss of Corpus Christi Texas and his sister Simone Gross of Cleveland, are the Children of Mark Moss. My Mother was 12 years younger than my Dad. In 1937 David’s natural focus was on older women and generally enjoying his youthful independence as a bachelor, frequenting night clubs to dance and sing which he enjoyed very much.
Poland Invaded, Life in the Ghetto’s Impact on the Family
My Dad’s business operated successfully until the outbreak of the war on September 1, 1939 when the Nazi invaded Poland. When Germany invaded Poland in the Blitzkrieg of 1939, my father was 28 years old and my mother Marlene was only 16.
Kalisz was located near the German boarder. After the Germans occupied Kalisz they forcibly ordered all Jews to leave the city and to leave all they possessed behind. My grandparents Baylah and Mayer were deported to the Lodz ghetto. My Father David never saw his parents again after this deportation in 1939. He believed that Mayer and Baylah Kempner were forcibly transferred from the Lodz Ghetto to the Chelmno concentration camp in 1941 where they were gassed shortly after their arrival.
David escaped Kalisz and made his way by walking to Zwolen which had not yet been occupied. A few days later the Germans began to bomb the city because the Polish residence of Zwolen had held a German resistance rally where they had burned a picture of Hilter in the town square.
My father escaped from Zwolen unharmed and made his way by foot and hitching rides back to Radom, Poland where he knew members of my mother’s family and sought out other Jewish business contacts. Many of these contacts were people who had also escaped from the Kalisz Jewish deportation to the Lodz Ghetto.
Once in the city of Radom, David checked into a Jewish hotel called the Mentlick. There David met a prominent Jewish businessman from Lodz who had represented a large textile manufacturer prior to the war. This fellow liked my father and introduced him to other important Jewish business contacts living in Radom who had access to rare apartments, permits and merchandise. One of David’s Radom business contacts was Mrs. Reichman who had been in the gold jewelry business back in Lodz. David agreed to help Mrs. Reichman smuggle the remaining gold she had in Warsaw into Radom for resale in the black market. David established a reputation as a black marketeer by selling, buying and transporting contraband goods to and from the Warsaw and Radom Ghettos, a very risky business in occupied Poland.
David’s luck transporting contraband into the ghetto was about to run out. In 1940 David convinced a doctor friend of his to use the Doctors more liberal medical travel permits to help David secure textile piece goods from the Lodz Ghetto. David wanted to smuggle these piece goods back into Radom Poland for resale to clothing manufacturers. Both men had traveled to Lodz , bought the textiles and then hid them in a horse drawn Wagon. On the road back to Radom their wagon was stopped and searched by a unit of German soldiers. The Nazis found and confiscated the piece goods, tore up the doctors medical travel permit, and verbally and physically abused both men.
My dad and his doctor friend returned shaken, empty handed but safely to Radom feeling lucky that they had escaped with their lives. As a result of this encounter the Doctor decided to flee from Poland and made his way to Russia. Unfortunately for this Doctor a few months later the Nazis attacked Russia too. The Jews in Russia were eventually sent to forced labor or to perish in concentration camps, the Doctor who was my father’s friend was among those selected to die.
The Ghetto Story Ends, the Concentration Camp Begins
Almost immediately following his rise to power, Hitler began the creation of concentration camps. Initially these were designed to incarcerate political prisoners (enemies of the regime), criminals and security risks. While conditions were, predictably, horrible in these camps, and while the death rates were high, there is no evidence that they were used for extermination purposes. By the late 1930s there were literally hundreds of camps scattered throughout Germany.
In 1933 under the new Hitler regime, the Berlin Chancellery created a Nazi Euthanasia Project and an organization to oversee it called T4 ( the initials T4 , described the location of the German Chancellery at Tiergartenstrasse 4, hence the “T4” code name. T4 perfected processes for the medical killing of mental and physical defectives defined and rationalized by the new Nazi government as the elimination of “life unworthy of life.”
Following the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, January 20, 1942, the “Final Solution” became official policy and a major obsession of the Nazi regime. Hitler and his henchman put their full attention on implementing the protocols of The Wannasse conference and its final solution. The Concentration camps that were being built quietly from 1939 through 1942 in occupied Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Austria and Germany were now operational and ready to receive and process daily arrivals consisting of thousands of Jews, Gypsy’s, Gays, Socialists, Democrats and Slavic ethnic minorities that the Nazis considered “life unworthy of life” and were determined to purge from Europe.
Once Jews arrived to these concentration camps they were stripped of their remaining worldly possession, mainly the cloths on their backs, the shoes on their feet, and any remaining jewelry, watches wedding rings etc. that the victims had left on their bodies.
After being disposed of their material possessions the Jews had their heads shaved and were marched naked, through a quick medical selection process to determine who was fit for forced labor and who was to die, usually the sick, the elderly and the very young were sent to the gas chambers on the same day that they arrived. The death rates were so high, from malnutrition, typhus, exhaustion and by murder that the disposal of corpses became a serious problem
In Dachau, one of the largest camps in Germany proper, crematoria were constructed for disposal of corpses. There was also a gas chambers constructed at Dachau; the crematoria were used for disposing of the corpses of those who perished. There were also execution devices at Dachau, such as a gallows, and gas chambers. The Nazi’s pioneered these efficient killing processes to eliminate prisoners who were executed and disposed of there. The efficient killing and disposal lessons learned at Dachau were quickly shared with the Kommandants of other death camps.
Friedenreichs & Kempners in the Camps 1942 to 1945
During peak operation from March, 1942 until November, 1944, trains arrived almost daily to Auschwitz with transports of Jews from all over occupied Europe. My father and mother met again during one of these daily transports. My father vowed to her that if they should both survive he would find her wherever she was and protect her.
On the unloading ramp, new arrivals underwent selection (selektion) by SS officers. Most women, children, and those that looked unfit to work were sent to the left; while most young men and others that were fit would be sent to the right. The left line meant immediate death at the gas chambers and the right meant probable death from hard forced labor. The selection split families – mothers from their children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. My mother Malka (Marlene) and Aunt Francis was sent to the right and separated during the selection process from their sister, my Aunt Regina and her 4 year daughter, Hadassah. My Aunt Regina and her daughter Hadassah were sent to die on the left the same day they arrived at Auschwitz.
Those selected for forced labor were sent to a part of the camp called the “quarantine,” where their heads were shaved and were issued prison uniforms before being sent to one of the labor camps nearby. These prisoners were registered and received numbers tattooed on their left arm. Initially the numbers were tattooed on the left side of the chest. Approximately 405,000 prisoners were registered in this way. The vast majority of the Auschwitz victims were not registered at all, those men and women who, upon arrival were led to the gas chambers and killed immediately like my Aunt Regina and her daughter Hadassah. Only about 65,000 of the tattooed inmates survived the camp experience. My mother was among them.
Arrivals at the complex were separated into three groups. One group went to the gas chambers within a few hours; these people were sent to the Birkenau camp, where more than 20,000 people could be gassed and cremated each day. At Birkenau, Zyklon-B, a cyanide gas originally manufactured for pest-control was used to kill the victims.
Before the bodies were burned the victim’s hair was cut off and gold fillings and false teeth made of precious metals were removed. The hair was used for making haircloth, and the metals were melted into bars and sent to Berlin. After the liberation tons of hair were found in camp warehouses. Laboratory analysis of the hair conducted by The Kracow Institute of Judicial Expertise found traces of prussic acid, a poisonous component typical of Zyklon — proof that the victims were gassed..
A second group of prisoners were eventually transferred to Germany to be used as slave labor at large industrial factories for such companies as I. G. Farben and Krupp. My mother survived by working in a munitions factory and later by producing dresses for the wife of the Nazi Kommandant. Some prisoners survived through the help of German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who diverted them from Auschwitz to his factory near Krakow and later at a factory in what is now the Czech Republic.
A third group, mostly twins and dwarfs, underwent medical experiments at the hands of doctors such as Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death.” Eva Moses Kor, a survivor of Mengele’s twin studies, remarked: “I was not on Schindler’s list; however, I was on Mengele’s list. And it was better to be on Mengele’s list than on no list at all.” Aunt Francis may have been part of these experiments; she chose never to speak of her horrors to me.
At the Auschwitz complex 405,000 prisoners were recorded as laborers between 1940 and 1945. Of these about 340,000 perished through executions, beatings, starvation, and sickness.
When the SS realized that the end of the war was near, they attempted to remove all evidence of the atrocities committed there. They dismantled the gas chambers, crematories and other buildings. They burned documents and evacuated all the prisoners who could walk to the interior of Germany.
When the Soviet army marched into Auschwitz to liberate the camp on January 27, 1945, they found about 7600 survivors abandoned there. More than 58,000 prisoners had already been evacuated by the Nazis and sent on a final death march to Germany. My mother and Aunt Francis were evacuated by the Germans to Kaunitz where they were eventually liberated by the American Army 3 months later on April 1, 1945.
David Kempner was an able bodied worker and also survived the selection process. He was sent to work camps in Germany’s interior and put to hard labor clearing Nazi roads of boulders, smoothing pathways for expansion and repair of the German railway system. He injured his right leg moving enormous boulders but was allowed to live and transferred to the concentration death camp at Mauthausen toward the end of the war. My father was liberated in Mauthausen by the American Army in May of 1945.
The War Ends: Picking Up the Pieces and Starting Over
Following his liberation David lived in Italy for a few months with a fellow Mauthausen survivor, Herb Hoffman. Like all survivors the Jews started to network and share stories about what they had seen who had perished and who had survived. They especially wanted to know where survivors could be found.
My dad had learned from other survivors that my Mom was in fact alive and living in Stuttgart Germany. Mother shared a home with her sister Francis and other female camp survivors that the American Army had confiscated from a Nazi Commander. David Remembering his vow to find her, convinced his good friend Herb Hoffman to come with him to Germany to help him locate Marlene, a much younger, attractive women he had never dated before, and with no reason to believe she even loved him, but only that they knew each other and that David had fond memories of her family and the times he enjoyed when he traveled to Radom, Poland on business.
So David and Herb began their journey on foot and literally climbed the Alps to reach Marlene and ask her to marry him. When they arrived in Germany, penniless, my father convinced a cab driver to take him to Marlene’s house where he told the cab driver his “wife” would have pay the driver. Imagine her shock when David showed up and embraced her like they were already married and then asked my mom to pay the driver!
Now that’s Chutzpah!
David Kempner courted Marlene Freidenreich for a few months more and helped her to care for Aunt Francis who was ill and recuperating in a convalescent home in Schloss Elmo. Francis was recovering from the severe beatings and abuse she had sustained by the Nazis treatment of her in Auschwitz.
My Parents were married in a simple civil ceremony surrounded by other young survivors in their 20’s and 30’s in Stuttgart Germany in August 16, 1946. They remained in Germany for 2 more years. In 1948 they had to come to terms with their next big decision, namely where to raise a Jewish family and spend the rest of their lives. Remaining in Europe was too painful and out of the question. The Killing Grounds around them were soaked in Jewish blood and sad memories of European betrayal, indifference and loss of family and material possessions. But before moving anywhere and starting a Jewish family they decided they also required a Jewish wedding ceremony. So they arranged for a Rabbi, Ketuba and a Chupah and renewed their wedding vows in Germany on Feb 12, 1949.
The Kempners Decide to Come to America – How to Get In?
Originally my father, who like his father and uncle was a Zionist, had planned to move to Israel as their first choice, but Israel was in its infancy and engaged in a war of survival and did not have the modern medical facilities back in 1948 to deal with traumatized and infirm Jews like my Aunt Francis. What Israel needed then was able bodied men and women to help create a new country and fight off their hostile Arab neighbors to retain their new independence. Thus my parents turned away from the idea of moving to Israel toward getting into the USA. They wanted this golden land of opportunity to give them a second chance of a new life and to get Aunt Francis proper medical care.
In order to get permission to enter the United States my parents had to be sponsored by a current USA resident. The USA resident also had to vouch that he agreed to give them employment so they would not become an economic burden to the country.
My father knew of close friend from Poland (Manny Duel) who had come to the USA from Kalisz Poland in 1938. Manny Duel was to become the USA resident who would eventually agree to sponsor the Kempner family’s journey to the United States.
Manny Duel (he changed his name from Dunkelman) was a younger of 2 older brothers. His brother had already immigrated to the USA before WWII in 1935. Manny’s brothers brought Manny to the USA 3 years later (during the 1938 Worlds fair in NY).
Manny’s wife Irene came from a very prominent Polish Jewish family. Irene (Kestenberg) Duel was a well-heeled granddaughter of a Polish Magnate in the retail garment business (The Posnyzski stores were considered the Macy’s of Poland). Irene’s grandfather was Mr. Posnyzski, the stores founder. Irene’s mother was Posnyzski’s daughter.
Irene’s mother married into another prominent family the Kestenbergs and their family also immigrated to the USA before the war. Irene Kestenberg met Manny Duel in the United States and married him here. Irene’s older brother was a successful NY real estate lawyer and he partnered with his brother in law, Manny Duel, to become successful businessmen in both NY real estate and manufacturing women’s lingerie in New York’s thriving garment district.
By 1949 Manny and his wife Irene were living large in a fashionable apartment on 5th avenue in NYC. They had not only escaped the tragedy of the holocaust but were living a high lifestyle and detached emotionally from the scope, horror and impact that the wars effects had on their former Jewish landsman.
My Father had heard about Manny’s success while he and my mother were living in Stuttgart, Germany. My father and mother wrote to Manny in 1948 looking for his sponsorship to come to the USA. Manny responded to him by sending a gift pack of Gillette Razors and a somewhat discouraging letter stating that many earlier Polish immigrants were disappointed by the hard work and living conditions that they faced once they arrived in NY. The Jewish immigrants who had come before, many of whom had held important or prosperous positions before the war in Poland would soon learn that the streets of NY were not paved with gold but with opportunity for those who worked very hard and were willing to start from scratch.
My mother and father wrote back to Manny responding that they understood the challenges facing them in USA and would be willing to work hard and do whatever it took to start over. They wrote that they would gladly repay Manny for any out of pocket expenses involved in sponsoring the 3 of them. My parents also needed sponsorship for Aunt Frances, who was recovering from Typhoid fever and the beatings she had sustained by the Nazis while in concentration camps.
Manny Duel finally agreed to help get the 3 of them the affidavits needed to come to the USA. Marlene, David and Frances were very excited and shared their good news with their fellow Jewish survivors. The good news shared created a jealous rumor amongst the survivors that the Kempner’s were leaving Germany for the USA and going to live amongst the Millionaires in NY on 5th avenue. The Reality was to be very much different.
The Journey to NY and Their American Greeting Party
My Father, Mother and Aunt Francis arrived in New York Harbor in a military transport boat named “The General Muir”. The rough Atlantic Ocean crossing was a very difficult one for all. My Aunt Francis got very sea sick on board the General Muir and spent most of the journey in the ships hospital. My father also got sea sick and vomited frequently. My mother spent most of the journey caring for both her husband and her sister. Needless to say they were all very happy to finally land safely in NY Harbor on March 22, 1949. Aunt Francis was so weak from the rough seas that she had to be off loaded in a wheel chair. When the 3 of them arrived in NY, weak from the rough seas journey and waiting for Manny to show up, they were instead greeted by Manny’s wife Irene who came to the NY Pier impeccably dressed looking for Mr. Kempner. She was anything but warm to my downtrodden parents and informed them that Mr. Duel was in Paris on business and that she was there to help them get settled. At first Irene behaved more like a sophisticated personal secretary than Manny’s wife.
My parents did not speak any English and Irene asked my mother what languages she knew (my mother knew 4 languages, Polish, Yiddish, German, and French). Although Irene was Polish born and fluent in Polish, as were all 3 of the new arrivals, Irene choose to show off to the newcomers by speaking to them in the romance language of French. Only my mother understood what Irene was saying and speaking in French made communication unnecessarily hard for all of them. At first Irene did not acknowledge who she was until she was pressed by my mothers question “Do I have the pleasure of Addressing Mrs. Duel or his secretary, Irene snapped that she was Manny’s wife, thus the charade was up and my mother began talking to Irene in perfect Polish so that all could understand what was happening.
Irene hailed a cab at the pier, my dad put their excess luggage in storage and the Kempner’s only took a few items for short term use for temporary hotel stay. Irene instructed the Cab driver to take them to the Chesterfield Hotel near 49th street near Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. At the hotel they secured one room for 2 weeks on the 19th floor of the hotel for $35 per week until they could find a permanent address. Then Irene took them out for a dinner to a fancy NY restaurant and ordered Grapefruits that they had never eaten before and found sour. They could hardly hold down any food after their rough and long journey. After dinner Irene gave my parents’ walking directions of NY and said good bye and returned them alone to the hotel. My mother cried herself to sleep on her first night in what she remembers as a grey, dark, dirty and inhospitable NY.
Making Do: Hard Labor, Low Wages in America
When Manny Duel arrived back in a NY a few days later he gave my Dad a laborers position at his factory. My father started out as a shipping clerk and eventually moved up the ladder to the more prestigious position as a fabric cutter making $35 per week. My mother also found employment as a hat designer.
Their meager salaries forced them to eventually move into a small apartment in North Bergen, NJ which cost the family $12 per week. The $35 per week salary had to support all 3 adults and my fathers cost to travel to work in NY by train along with his extravagant habit of smoking cigarettes, wearing dapper suits and wanting his shoes shined.
When their landlady in North Bergen NJ demanded a raise in rental of $5.00 per week to pay for a 3rd person Aunt Frances, the Kempner’s decided to move to NY. The date was June 15, 1949 when they moved to their upper west side Manhattan apartment at 659 west 162nd street, Apartment 65 on the top (6th) floor.
My father was a hard worker and added value to his employer in the area of product design, speed of production and his sales ability. David quickly became a capable employee who used his time with Manny Duel to get to know the production process and build strong customer, supplier relationships. David was making good career progress as an employee for Mr. Duel; But God had other plans for my father and our family.
The Family Faces Near Tragedy and Overcomes Again
We took a family vacation in 1953 to Toronto Canada. There my mother took us to visit 2 of her childhood friends from Radom Poland (survivors Ella and Guta were also sisters) who had moved to Toronto from Stuttgart Germany after the war. During this trip Ella and Guta also helped my mother find other surviving members of her family who had moved to Canada. Unfortunately during what should have been a trip of family renewal, my father took very sick and we had to return to the United States to get him examined. My Dad saw a neurologist and he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor that had seriously affected his sight and sense of balance.
On May 27, 1953 Dad underwent emergency neurosurgery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in NY. This operation was a huge setback for our family. We almost lost my dad when I was only 2 years old. Following this high risk brain surgery, my mother was told by the neurologist that my father would never be able to return to any kind of strenuous manual labor and that she had to go back to work to support our family. So my mother contacted her old boss and returned to her career as a millinery worker designing hats, a position she had put on hold after I was born.
My father underwent a long recuperation period following his brain surgery. My mother went back to work, but in the summer she decided that our family should take some time off to be with my father’s cousins Sadie and Mary Diament at their families’ summer retreat in Elba Ron N.J.
Every Cloud as a Silver Lining: The Birth of a Business – KERO
When the family returned to NY in August of 1953 following my 3rd birthday, my parents were approached by a fellow survivor (Isaac Rosen). My Mother had befriended Isaacs’s mother in concentration camp and the families remained close. Isaac was 13 years younger than my dad and looked up to him as a mentor. Isaac wanted to use his own youth and energy and my Dads business contacts and knowledge of the garment industry to go into business together. My mother trusted Isaac and encouraged my father to join forces with him. They agreed to business terms where my father would play the executive role and Isaac the operations manager. KERO lingerie (KEmpner-ROsen) was born. KERO’s factory was located on 26th street on Madison Avenue, founded by David Kempner and his younger business partner Isaac Rosen in September 1953.
Based upon my Dad’s solid reputation he was able to secure a $100,000 line of credit from the Chase Manhattan bank to buy equipment and fabric. KERO soon became very successful as my dad worked harder than he should have and kept cost down by designing, selling, delivering merchandise himself if needed and training his own non union employees in production techniques. He made it a habit of paying his bills early and taking anticipated discounts off of invoices to bring his costs down. He built the confidence of his suppliers that he had the ability to pay on time. Suppliers rewarded him by giving KERO favorable terms and opportunities to buy remnant fabrics at below market prices. This gave KERO lower costs and allowed them to offer competitive pricing that made KERO lingere attractive to emerging discounters like Ben Franklin stores (where Sam Walton of Wal-Mart got his start as a store manager). The Kempners and Rosens were living well, the business was growing. KERO had over 60 employees by 1958 and finally making enough to save and invest a little for their future.
The Kempners Have Kids and Raise an American Family
I was born at Wadsworth Hospital on July 30th 1950 and My sister Teri was born on May 27th, 1960 at Columbia Presbyterian Children’s Hospital in Manhattan. My parents lived at the 659 west 162 street apartment for 16 years. When I was old enough to go to school they sent me to Yeshiva Rabbi Moses Solovechik near YU in Manhattan for 1st and 2nd grade, Unlike my father I was not exactly a Talmud scholar and my neighborhood friends were all secular Jews, so in third grade I was transferred to public school 128 to join my young friends. By the time I had completed elementary school the upper west side neighborhood was loosing its Jewish Character and inhabitants. The Upper west side was turning into Spanish Harlem, which it remains as of this day.
My grades were good enough that I and my other Jewish friends in the neighborhood (Jeff Sands, Mark Glatt, Steven Saul, Dennis Kaufman and his cousin Alan Kaufman) all qualified to travel out of Manhattan daily by subway into the prestigious JHS 80 located near Moshulu Parkway in the Bronx. JHS 80 was a top notch public Junior High School specializing in Math and Science. Many of JHS 80 graduates went on to the Bronx High School of Science or to Fordham High School (where notables like Burt Lancaster and Ed Sullivan had graduated from).
Life was finally good and the Kempner’s were living the American dream. My parents went on winter vacations to Florida and spent memorable Passovers and summers in the Catskills at various Kosher hotels and Jewish bungalow colonies. All was going well until 12 months prior to my 13th birthday.
Tragedy & Renewal: Dad’s Will to Survive and Celebrate
In 1962 my dad developed a rapidly growing tumor on his back which was eventually diagnosed as malignant and had to be removed. Following 2 surgeries and another lengthy convalescent period that kept him away from his work, dad recuperated and was forced to dissolve his business partnership with Isaac Rosen, KERO Lingerie was no more.
Over the 10 year span that KERO existed My Dad not only lived well but also had invested in real estate in Toronto, a house in Rego Park, an apartment in South Miami Beach and property in Cape Coral Florida. He also began to invest heavily in the stock market. Although my dad had no visible traditional means of support beyond investment income, he was appreciative to be a survivor of both the holocaust and 2 serious operations, he was happy to be alive, he loved my mom and he was proud to have a young 3 year old daughter (Teri) and a son of Bar Mitzvah age to carry on the family name.
Having suffered 2 near fatal illnesses he and my mother decided to throw a first rate Bar Mitzvah the size and cost of which mirrored that of a large Jewish Wedding. My Bar Mitzvah reception took place in August 1963 at the Park Terrace Caterers opposite NY Yankee stadium in the Bronx. It was a lavish affair for 300 friends and relatives replete with appetizers, 7 course dinner, full band and photographer with staged movies and pictures to capture this historic Kempner event.
My parents had invested in a new Home located in Rego Park in 1959 but did not occupy it until 1965. Instead they had rented it out for additional income to help pay off the mortgage. They were not ready to leave the convenience of apartment living in Manhattan as long as my dad owned KERO and worked on Madison Avenue.
However after KERO was dissolved, my Dad and Mom also realized their upper west side neighborhood had changed for the worse and that my sister was soon going to be 5 years old and she would need a safe school to attend. It was also time for me to attend High school and prepare me for college. So my parents felt the time was right to move into a more Jewish neighborhood with a better school system. So they gave their tenants notice to leave and arranged to move into their row house at 64-06 Wetherole Street in Rego Park during the spring of 1965. Teri attended the elementary school directly across the street from our home and I enrolled into Forest Hill High school, where I met my lifelong friends Ralph Quinnonez and Peter Katona.
In 1965 my dad was going to Wall Street via subway every day and studying to become a stockbroker. While he initially failed the stock broker license exam, he resolved to do better, study hard and he finally passed this collegiate level stock broker exam in 1965. We were all very proud of his resolve and ability to start a new career at age 55. David Kempner with only a high school education and having lost his family & friends in the Shoah, stripped of all of his material possessions in Poland, and having to learn the English language starting from scratch was now undertaking a new white collar career in the land of opportunity as a stockbroker for Edward A Viner & Company.
He was truly an inspiration to all future Kempner’s that would follow him.
David Kempner: The Legacy
Despite his many health set backs my Father lived long enough to see me attend the University of Miami and to Graduate from NYU’s school of commerce. I was the first member of his family to graduate from college. My Dad lived to see me get married to your lovely mom Mindy and to raise you all his 3 beautiful grandchildren. He also saw my sister graduate from Queens’s college and get married.
David Kempner lived to see his only son achieve the position of Vice President of Sales for the Gillette Company and to have the Kempner name rise from the ashes and ruin of the Holocaust to the executive suites and riches of a fortune 500 company.
David Kempner lived to see the creation of the state of Israel and witness able Jewish soldiers defend their land successfully prevailing in 5 bloody wars (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1980).
David Kempner lived long enough to see all 3 of his grand kids become Bat and Bar Mitzvah and he enjoyed the knowledge that the Kempner family’s Etz Chaim (tree of life) was not cut off at the roots in Poland but instead was transplanted into the stronger and fertile soil of opportunity and tolerance here in the United States of America.
David Kempner died at the age of 88 on Monday January 25, 1999 in Rego Park, NY while waiting for a taxi taking him and my mother to the airport to leave for their winter vacation apartment in Miami Beach, Florida.
He died before he could see his first grandchild Batyah married, but he was keenly aware of Batyah’s strong affection and intent to marry Benji Cohen. No doubt he is very delighted and looking down from heaven appreciatively at the successful thriving Jewish families being created and positive careers that all 3 of his grandkids Batyah, Benjay and Jeremy, who he loved so dearly are engaged in (all 3 of his grandkids eventually Married and are raising 11 Jewish Great Grandchildren.. two of which are named for him)
David Kempner is buried at:
New Montefiore Cemetery
Pine Lawn Long Island
Cemetery Grave stone Location:
Block #3 Section # 4 Row A, Grave 2L
Whenever you visit him be sure to leave a stone and remember him as our rock.
Sing to him La Door Va Door and Am Yisroel Chai to acknowledge this great survivors legacy he left to us all and to the brighter future that you and your children represent to him. Remember the sacrifices of all survivors that overcome trials and challenges and remained proud, enduring and resilient Jews. La Chaim!
CJP Kempner Family Foundation
100 Pond Street
Sharon, MA 02067