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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       BERNHARD KEMPLER

INTERVIEWER:                    ERNA MARTINO                            

DATE:                                   NOVEMBER 20, 1991

LOCATION:                          ATLANTA, GEORGIA

ID#:                                       OHC10394

Transcript (PDF)


Bernhard Kempler was born in Krakow, Poland on May 2, 1936. His father owned an import-export business, which prospered before the war began. Bernhard had an older sister, named Anita, and the children had a governess, Sophia Janenska (who they called ‘Niania.’)  Bernhard’s father fled east to Russia before the Germans occupied Krakow where he ended up in a labor camp in Siberia.  He was released in 1942 and spent the rest of the war in Uzbekistan.

In 1941, Bernhard and his mother and sister were forced to move into the ghetto in Krakow, along with his Uncle Sigmund, Rita, Sigmund’s wife, and their daughter, Zruka.  Bernhard and his family narrowly avoided several actions, one time by hiding under the roof of their apartment building.  Bernhard’s mother escaped the ghetto and, using false papers identifying her a Christian Pole, obtained a job in the Gestapo office that distributed rationing cards.

Later, Bernhard and Anita escaped the ghetto by slipping through the barbed wire fence, and meeting their nanny.  From this point on Bernhard was disguised as a girl.  He became ‘Bernadetta Janenska,’and Anita became ‘Anita Janenska.’  For a short time, Bernhard and Anita hid in a sealed room in their uncle’s former apartment, then Niania took the children to the village where she had been born.   After a narrow escape when a neighbor betrayed them, the children were hidden in a convent by Catholic nuns.  After they were betrayed by the mother of another girl living in the convent, Bernhard and Anita were arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Montelupich prison in Krakow.  From there, they were transported to the Plaszow concentration camp.   Their Uncle Sigmund, who was a prisoner at Plaszow, used his influence with the commandant of the camp to save their lives.

In January 1945, Bernhard and Anita were marched out of Plaszow to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Bernhard continued to maintain his disguise as a girl.  In about March 1945, Bernhard and Anita were sent to Ravensbruck, a women’s camp, in Germany.  Bernhard and Anita were taken out of that camp by the Swedish Red Cross. It was not until his arrival in Sweden, that Bernhard abandoned the disguise as a girl that he had maintained throughout his time in the camps.

Bernhard had contracted tuberculosis, so he spent two and one-half years in a hospital in Sweden.  In 1946, Bernhard’s parents came to Sweden to find their children. The family lived in Sweden for four and one-half more years then immigrated to America.

In 1986, Bernhard visited Ruja in Poland, and went with her to Israel.  Both Ruja and Niania were recognized by Yad Vashem, based on applications filed by Bernhard, as “Righteous Among the Nations.”


Bernhard discusses his childhood in Krakow, Poland.  He was three years old when the war began, so his pre-war childhood memories are scant, however he does recall his middle-class life, their apartment, his father (Yehuda), mother (Zofia) and sister (Aneta), and remembers visiting the park and attending the synagogue with his father.  He talks about how life changed for him and his family after the Germans invaded Poland, at which time before the Germans arrived in Krakow, Yehuda left the family and fled to Russia.

Bernhard discusses their life in the Krakow ghetto, where food was scarce and roundups were ever present, including a tense moment where he and his sister, Aneta, hid under the roof of their apartment house for several days to escape a roundup.   He remembers his mother’s escape from the ghetto when she obtained false papers and found work in a Gestapo office on the ‘Aryan’ side, and later how he and Aneta also escaped from the ghetto with the help of Niania.  He talks about how he was disguised as a girl and, together with Aneta, were hidden by their nanny, Sophia (Niania) Janenska, helped by their uncle Sigmund’s housekeeper, Ruja.   He remembers how he and Aneta were able to occasionally see his mother in the park, although they could not speak or meet.

He recalls how they hid first in a sealed room in his uncle’s old apartment which had been seized by the Germans, and then in the village where Niania had come from under very difficult conditions. 

When they were almost caught, Bernhard and Aneta moved into a convent, where Bernhard maintained his disguise as a girl.  When they were betrayed at the convent, he and Anita were sent to Plaszow, a concentration camp outside Krakow.  He discusses how his and his sister’s lives were saved by his Uncle Sigmund upon their arrival at the Plaszow.   He also discusses their experiences in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Ravensbruck before they were liberated by the Swedish Red Cross.  Finally, he discusses life in Sweden after the war, the reunion of his family, and his family’s decision to immigrate to America.

Bernhard recalls an emotional visit when he returned to Poland 40 years later where he visited the sites of his childhood, including the apartment we his family had lived and his uncle’s apartment and his submission of Ruja and Niania to become “Righteous Gentiles Among the Nations,” which was granted.




Auschwitz-Birkenau (Poland: death/labor camp)

Bar mitzvah

Catholic Church

Children in the Holocaust



Death marches

Ellis Island


Goeth, Amon

Greenberg, Rita

Greenberg, Sigmund

Greenberg, Zruka

Hiding and flight

Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)

Janenska, Anita

Janenska, Bernadetta

Janenska, Sophia (Niania)

Judaism—Customs and practices

Kempler, Bernhard

Kempler, Sofia

Kempler, Yehuda

Krakow, Poland

Krakow Poland—Ghetto

Lobel, Anita Kempler

Plaszow (Labor camp: Krakow, Poland)


Ravensbruck (Labor camp: Germany)





Schindler, Oskar

Schindler’s Jews



World War, 1939-1945



Kempler, Anita

Krakow, Poland




Mother Superior

New York



ration(ing) cards






selection process


Stockholm, Sweden


Swedish Red Cross



Virgin Mary

White Buses

Yad Vashem

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