Saturday, March 31, 2012

Writing for Borderzine

I have been a little slow writing on this blog, but I have an excuse, I have been writing stories for The following is my most recent effort.

David Kaplan – A child in the Nazi concentration camps survives and forgives

Kaplan survived four years in the Nazi concentration camps and was the only one from his family. (David Smith-Soto/
Kaplan survived four years in the Nazi concentration camps and was the only one from his family. (David Smith-Soto/

EL PASO – Loud demanding voices in the darkness of the early morning disrupting too few hours of sleep and waking to find that the man next to him is now a corpse mark the start of another stressful day in the Nazi concentration camp.

Hunger pangs continually tear at his stomach as he labors in the ever-present bone-chilling cold that cuts through the filthy rags he wears.

These are some of David Kaplan’s childhood memories.

“Families were torn apart, you never knew when it would be your turn to die,” said David Kaplan, 82. He told journalism students at the University of Texas at El Paso that he felt lucky to have survived the hell he fell into when he was only 11 years old.

These memories are alien to most of us in America today, seen only in old World War II movies. Even there, the actors are too well fed to be truly representative of those who spent anytime at all behind the electrified wire that fenced these camps. Under a continual death sentence that could be carried out at any time, most of us would be reduced to mental and emotional wrecks. But there are some who seem to be able to accept the situation, adapt, and if not thrive, at least survive.

On June 14, 1940 under the provisions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact Russia occupied Lithuania, Kaplan’s homeland. At the time, he was eleven years old, living in the town of Kaunas with his father, mother, grandfather, sister and brother. His father was a tailor who employed eight other workers in the creation of tailor made suits. “We lived on the upper floors of the house that contained Kaplan’s Tailor Shop,” he explained.

Even prior to the Soviet occupation his relationship with his father was strained. His father was an alcoholic who beat his wife and then life under the Soviets was harsh. “I was happy when they took him away,” he remarked during the interview. Considered wealthy, his father was ordered to stop work by the Russians, the state would provide. However, Kaplan senior disobeyed and was arrested and sent to Siberia, leaving the family to shift for itself.

In 1941, Hitler declared war on the Soviet Union and invaded Lithuania. However, even before the arrival of German troops a group of Lithuanians began killing Russians and Jewish members of the population. “The partisans attacked the Jewish section of the city and killed over 10,000 Jews,” Kaplan said. On June 22, 1941 the German military arrived in Lithuania and put a stop to the violence. However, the peace was short lived, the calm before the storm, so to speak.

Before the Holocaust, Lithuania was home to almost a quarter of a million Jews and was considered one of the greatest centers of Jewish theology, philosophy, and learning in Eastern Europe. Unlike any other Nazi-occupied countries where the Holocaust was introduced gradually beginning with limiting Jewish civil rights, then concentrating Jews in ghettos, and finally moving the Jews to the death camps, executions in Lithuania started during the first days of war.

Researchers estimate that over that 80 per cent of the Lithuanian Jews were killed before January of 1942. The surviving 43,000 Jews were concentrated in the Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai, and Švenčionys Ghettos and forced to work for the benefit of German military industry. However, on June 21, 1943, Heinrich Himmler issued an order to liquidate all ghettos and transfer any remaining Jews to concentration camps. Vilnius Ghetto was liquidated, while Kaunas and Šiauliai were turned into concentration camps and survived until July 1944. The remaining Jews were sent to camps in Stutthof, Dachau, and Auschwitz. Only about 2,000–3,000 of Lithuanian Jews survived to be liberated from these camps at the end of the war.

Due to widespread Lithuanian cooperation with the German authorities, the genocide rate of Jews in Lithuania, estimated to have exceeded 95% of the Jewish population, was one of the highest in Europe. Jews were widely considered to be responsible for the previous Soviet regime and were resented for welcoming Soviet troops. Targeted Nazi propaganda exploited the anti-Soviet sentiment and increased already existing, traditional anti-Semitism.

After initially gaining some control over the country, the Germans issued an edict giving all Jews in Kaunas 18 days to move to a small area called Slobotka. This was an area where the poor Jews used to live and the Germans wanted all Jews to move to this section of town. There was not enough space for all of the Jews, but Germans insisted the Jews move into this area anyway. They were told that they could exchange their homes in other parts of the city for a place to stay in the Jewish ghetto. The Kaplan family was forced to change their home with its shop and apartments for one room that lacked water or even plumbing. This one room had to provide shelter for David, 11, his brother, who was 16, his sister who was 14, his mother and his grandfather.

“The ghetto was surrounded by chicken wire and within its confines the Germans created a police force and a fire department staffed by Jews,” Kaplan said. A Jewish professional by the name of Dr. Hellkes was placed in charge of the ghetto and was the conduit between the Jewish people and the German authorities. “Life was hard in the ghetto, there was very little food and those confined to the ghetto were expected to work at the airport getting it ready for the influx of the German troops,” he explained. David’s mother and sister worked at the airport, but his brother was too sick to work.

The Germans kept adding Jews to the ghetto until overcrowding was a very serious issue. Dr. Hellkes complained to the Germans that there were too many people in the ghetto and was told not to worry that the overcrowding problem would soon be solved. Shortly troops and buses arrived and half of those in the ghetto were loaded onto the buses and taken away to the death camps. The other half was left to continue their work. Eventually, the ghetto was eradicated and the survivors sent to the death camps.

When Kaplan was 12, he was finally sent to the camp where the Jews were divided into two groups. The group on the left, the group to the right went to the barracks. Kaplan was originally selected for death, but he claimed to be an experienced shoemaker, which got him the opportunity to demonstrate his ability. In truth, his ability was minimal, but a kind worker suggested that he shine shoes to speed up the manufacturing process.

One morning, Kaplan, then 13, was working in the shoe shop when he saw several red buses with white paint covered windows enter the compound. He watched silently as the children left in the barracks while their parents were working, were rounded up by the guards and herded onto the buses, kicking, yelling and crying. Kaplan stayed hidden in the shoe shop and was spared. The children that were taken were never seen again. When the parents came home and found their children gone, they screamed in desperation and many killed themselves on the electrified fence.

Kaplan survived four years in the Nazi concentration camps. Along with his older brother, his mother and sister, he was shipped out of Lithuania in a railroad cattle car. In Poland, on the way to Germany, his mother and sister were separated from him and were marched into oblivion. He never saw them again.

Ending up in the Dachau camp near Munich, he was assigned to carry bags of cement.  His brother only lasted three weeks, but by using his wits and taking advantage of some lucky breaks, Kaplan managed to survive until the end of the war.

When Dachau was about to be liberated by allied forces on April 22, 1945, the camp survivors were marched toward the Swiss border to be exchanged for German prisoners. One morning, the survivors awoke to find their guards gone. Eventually a Wehrmacht Major approached and told them that allied forces were not far away and they should go to the nearest town. Shortly afterward, American soldiers discovered the survivors.

Eventually, more by luck than plan, Kaplan arrived at one of the resettlement offices and received permission to be resettled in St. Charles, MO. However, en route, his destination was changed to El Paso, which became his home. The boy who had his family torn from him has now been married for 60 years and has a large extended family.

After his liberation, Kaplan said, he decided to survive psychologically as well as physically and he found it in his heart to forgive the Germans. He didn’t want to carry hatred with him for the rest of his life, he said, but he still maintains that his story should be told lest people forget the Holocaust.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

History and Mystery

Nice of you to join me again, I am trying to make time to write something everyday, but it is tough. The Ken Hudnall Show is building listeners and new books are coming. In July I will be presenting "UFOs and the Paranormal" at the Roswell UFO Convention. The presentation will be at the UFO Library and Study Center.
I would also point everyone to my History and Mystery Tours every Saturday night beginning at the Camino Real Hotel. On these tours we cover unsolved mysteries, lost treasures and ghosts in and around downtown El Paso, Texas. Beginning at the Camino Real, we discuss the mysteries of the hotel, the Plaza Hotel, the Plaza Theater, White House, Mills Building, Library, Chase Bank, the Cortez Building, the old Popular Building, the Acme Saloon and then we are back at the Hotel. It will fascinate and mystify.
Oh, I have had further communication with representatives of the Central Intelligence Agency. It has been officially decided that I am not too old and perhaps my skill set is of the level that they would like to acquire. I had a telephone conference with the same individual who did not have time for me and the 30 minute call turned into an hour and a half of discussion regarding opportunities for the me with the CIA. Who knows, perhaps it is a route.
Until next time, good day.

Monday, March 12, 2012

An Out of This World Trip

Since I am writing for several outlets in addition to my book writing, I spent the weekend in Roswell, New Mexico doing a story on the UFO Museum and Study Center. It never ceases to amaze me how much people love the topic of unidentified flying objects. For my new stories check out
I also want to make mention of the fact that there has been no response either from the University or from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) regarding the age discrimination issue. So much for supporting the vet.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What's Too Old?

Well, it's me again. I don't have enough time to add to this blog every day, but I will make time in the future. Something happened Tuesday, March 6, 2012 that I think is applicable to everyone who has been around for a while. I was discriminated against based on my age.
I don't know if I have mentioned it but I have returned to school to learn how to make movies. I am attending the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The classes have been very useful and the school does make every effort to help you prepare for the work force. Of course, I retired ten (10) years ago so that has really been relatively unimportant to me. However, since I am a disabled veteran and have a somewhat extensive professional background, when I was invited to a meet the Centrial Intelligence Agency (CIA) meeting I went. That was my first mistake.
When the two CIA personnel arrived, a man whose only name was Mark and a young lady whose only name was Kim, I asked if my age would be a problem. Mark said age would not be an issue and asked me about my background. When I mentioned military service he kind of snorted and said that was irrelevant, which I found insulting. I am a 100% disabled veteran and I can assure you my military service was not irrelevant and should have been a plus for a government agency like the CIA.
Next, the room was too small for all of the people that showed up and they were initially unable to show their video. While they were waiting for the University tech folks to get things going I went up to Mark and asked him a couple of questions. I noticed that the two were making individual appointments with people and I asked for an appointment. Mark told me they were not making appointments, even though he had just  made one and had the list of open times in his hand. I responded that I had just seen him make an appointment and he assured me that I had not. Clearly he did not want anything to do with me even though he knew nothing of my background and based on the ages of those in the room my qualifications were far greater than anyone else in the room. Finally, in the face of such a negative attitude from this man I left.
I went to the University Provost office and filed a complaint regarding what had happened and it was referred to Dr. George Barton head of the University Career Center. He sent me an email asking what had happened and I responded with what I have laid out here. When I told him that Mark had informed me that individual appointments were not being made, Dr. Barton informed me that Mark and Kim had been the entire next day having individual appointments with people from that original meeting. At this point in time it is clear to me that I was lied to by Mark for reasons unknown. I might also point out as a disabled veteran I have a 10  preference for any government job I apply for. However, apparently the CIA marches to a different drummer and has no use for those who have served their country.
After I explained everything to Dr. Barton he asked if I minded if he contacted the CIA about what happened. I told him that was fine. So there you have it - at 59 I am too old to serve my country once again. That being the case, how old are the Repulican nominees? How old is Vice President Biden, or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or for that matter President Obama? At what point does age and experience cease being relevant? Why would the CIA rather hire pretty college girls (besides the obvious reason) and wide eyed naive students who believe they can single handedly save the world rather than someone who has more experience than most of them have years?
I had believed, based on everything the University has said up to this point, that qualifications were the basis for these meetings now I see that it is not the case and am saddened by that knowledge. I am also baffled that the CIA treats this country's veterans in such an off handed disrespectful manner. Mark could have told me that I was too old, or too tall or he didn't like me, which was clear from the beginning. He did not have to lie to me about the individual appointments. So much for equal opportunity and all of President Obama's rhetoric about supporting the veteran.