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91-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor Recalls Nazi Terror As Antisemitism Rises Again



MEDIA CONTACT:                                                                FOR RELEASE

Gregg Wooding, 972-567-7660


New Autobiography Tells Remarkable Story of Journey From ‘Hitler Youth’ to American Dream


BALTIMORE, Md. -- A 91-year-old Holocaust survivor has recalled the terror of being a Jew under Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship — as the world experiences a disturbing new wave of antisemitism in the midst of the Israel-Hamas war.


At the outbreak of World War II, 7-year-old Jochen “Jack” Wurfl and his 8-year-old brother, Peter — sons of a Roman Catholic father and Jewish mother — had to hide their Jewish roots to escape being sent to a concentration camp.


To avoid being identified as Jews, the German-born youngsters joined the ‘Hitler Youth’ according to Wurfl’s new autobiography My Two Lives.” His mother was seized by the Nazis and taken to the infamous Auschwitz death camp, where she died. Other close family members were killed at various concentration camps. It’s estimated six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust between 1939-1945.




Disappearing Generation

Today, Wurfl is one of a rapidly disappearing generation, with fewer than 60,000 WWII Holocaust survivors remaining.


His timely new autobiography comes amid rising antisemitism around the world, fueled by the Israel-Hamas war. He hopes his story “will sound an alarm about the atrocities human beings are capable of inflicting on one another — so they never happen again.”


Hamas’ shocking Oct. 7 attacks on Israel killed 1,400 Israelis, reportedly the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.


In addition, several leading U.S. universities have been accused recently of tolerating openly antisemitic voices on campus, with some Jewish students reportedly too scared to go to class.


Many Americans ‘Know Little About Holocaust’

While most American adults know what the Holocaust was, and approximately when it happened, fewer than half can correctly answer multiple-choice questions about the number of Jews who were murdered or the way Hitler came to power, according to Pew Research.

 

The suffering inflicted by Hitler was “unfathomable, not even human,” said Wurfl, who was baptized Catholic to avoid being identified as a Jew by the Nazis.

 

To blend in and avoid detection, he and his brother had no choice but to join the Hitler Youth, an organization like the Boy Scouts, set up to indoctrinate boys into Nazi beliefs.


We had to line up outside to practice marching formation and learn how to use weapons. Peter and I sometimes asked each other, ‘What are we doing in the Hitler Youth?’ We always arrived at the same answer: We have to go along and sing the songs so we won’t be found out. We wanted to stay alive,” Wurfl said.


“I noticed our Jewish neighbors in Berlin disappearing,” he recalled. “One day, they lived next door or down the street — and the next day they were gone.”


Wurfl and his brother even witnessed their mother being whisked away from their home by the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police. She was killed in Auschwitz and their father, a political prisoner at another concentration camp, died just after he was liberated by the U.S. Army at the end of the war.


Their grandfather arranged for the brothers to live out the war at a children’s camp 200 miles north of the German capital, Berlin. They were taken under the wing by a kind German woman and — remarkably — a Nazi officer who became their school teacher.


America: Life Number Two

After the war, at age 17, Wurfl was given the opportunity to relocate to the U.S. — what he describes as his “second life.”


Driven to "build something that will last," he took night classes in Baltimore to learn English and found a job at a small insurance company. After becoming a U.S. citizen and serving two years in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Wurfl founded Diversified Insurance Industries that he built into one of the nation’s largest and most successful insurance agencies.


During his life, Wurfl’s family knew celebrities like actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr, and he played golf with the first U.S. astronaut, Alan Shepard, and tennis with Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova — among many stories recounted in “My Two Lives,” published by Outskirts Press and co-authored by Bill Tamulonis and Diane Lonsdale. He also married a former Miss El Salvador, Zonia Nusen, a marriage that spanned 63 years until her death in 2018, and they had three children.


“I hope my story will help those growing up in difficult circumstances, like I did, to overcome their obstacles and succeed,” he said.

***

MEDIA: For more information and to arrange an interview, contact:

Gregg Wooding, 972-567-7660 / gregg@iampronline.com

To follow Jack on social media, visit: https://www.facebook.com/JochenWurfl1932


To download the PDF of "My Two Lives", click here:

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Cover Photo Caption: Jochen “Jack” Wurfl, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, recalls the terror of being a Jew under Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship in his new autobiography My Two Lives” — as the world experiences a disturbing new wave of antisemitism in the midst of the Israel-Hamas war.


Summary: About Jack's Two Lives


Jochen “Jack” Wurfl lived two lives. 


Jack was born in 1932 in Germany to his Jewish mother and Catholic father, and lived in Austria until 1936. Anticipating Hitler’s invasion of Austria, his parents sent Jack and his brother, Peter, back to Germany to live with their Jewish grandparents in Berlin.


As Hitler’s persecution of the Jews intensified, Jack’s grandfather sneaked the boys into hiding at a children’s summer camp in the resort village of Dangast, 200 miles northwest of Berlin on the North Sea. The camp was operated by a brave and sympathetic German woman named Irma Franzen-Heinrichsdorff. 


Jack and Peter lived with “Tante Irma” for twelve years, where they survived bombing raids, SS police surveillance, and food shortages. Their mother died in Auschwitz. Their father, a political prisoner in the Mauthausen concentration camp, died shortly after his liberation after World War II ended.  


At age seventeen, Jack began his second life when the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children relocated him and Peter to the United States. 


Driven to “build something that will last” with his newfound freedom in Baltimore, Jack took night classes to learn English and found a job at a small insurance company. After serving two years in the U.S. Army, where he was selected for the color guard at the ten-year commemoration of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, Jack married Zonia, a former Miss El Salvador. They raised three daughters, Odette, Dana, and Lisa. 


In 1969, Jack founded Diversified Insurance Industries, an agency that he built into one of the top 200 in the country. Jack also played hard as a skier, pilot, thoroughbred racehorse owner, deep-sea fisherman, and world traveler. He golfed with astronaut Alan Shepard and volleyed with tennis star Maria Sharapova.  


These days, when Jack is not in the office, he enjoys spending time with his daughters and four grandchildren, Elle, Thomas, Gillian, and Aidan. 


My Two Lives is a story about the heart, courage, determination, and love that empowered Jack to overcome adversity and achieve his remarkable success.  


Suggested Interview Questions

  1. It's been nearly 80 years since WWII ended. Why did you write My Two Lives after all these years?

  2. What would you like readers to take away from reading your book?

  3. ​Describe what it was like to endure​ the Nazi's terror dur​ing ​y​our childhood?

  4. You lost your parents and many other close family members family members in the Nazi camps during WWII. How have you made peace with the past? Was writing the book helpful in dealing with these traumatic events from your past?

  5. You mention in the book ​​having to take part in the "Hitler Youth" with your brother Peter, while "hating everything to do with Hitler." What was that experience like?

  6. Now Israel is at war with Hamas, and we are seeing demonstrations across the globe. Do you think the increase in antisemitism we are seeing today is the same as during the Holocaust? 

  7. Tell us about the hiding place you and Peter found in the care of Tante Irma and Herr Pille​ in your book?

  8. How did family and ​your personal faith play into your ability to survive and eventually move to the U.S. and "build a life that would last"?

  9. At 91 you've had a remarkable life experiencing many highs and lows. What is your secret to living a long life and what would you like to be your ​epitaph?


Book Excerpts

 

 Growing Up As A Jew in Hitler’s Germany

In the 1930s, Jews in Berlin were not considered German citizens and were forbidden to fly the German flag. It was against the law for Jews to marry Germans.


Jews were barred from holding civil service and university positions, and Jewish doctors were not allowed to practice in German hospitals. Jews could not go to the grocery store and buy the same groceries as (non-Jews). One day my grandmother asked to buy coffee beans. The storekeeper reported her to the police and they slapped her with a fine of 25 Reichsmarks. Only imitation coffee made from acorns, chicory, or some other roasted grain for the Jews.


Students burned books written by Jews and about Jews at public bonfires under the orders of Joseph Goebbels, the (Nazi) Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. (p. 11, 12)


“Heil, Hitler”

Every April 20th, Hitler celebrated his birthday by parading down the Kurfürstendamm. We lived right around the corner and ran out to the curb to catch a glimpse of him as he rode by. The street bulged with onlookers but Peter and I wormed our way to the front to get a good look at him standing up in his car and waving to the cheering crowds. Some cheered because they believed in Nazism, while others, including Peter and me, were putting on an act to protect themselves and their families from persecution, imprisonment, or worse.


As Hitler’s visibility and control of the government increased, he tightened his grip on the German population, including Berliners, and life grew more dangerous. The Nazis introduced military training to boys at a young age. In first grade, my class was not allowed to go home and play after school. We had to stay after and line up outside to practice marching formations and the “Heil Hitler” salute.


At age six, almost every non-Jewish boy in Berlin — including my Catholic brother and me — joined Hitlerjugend (the Hitler Youth), which Hitler set up to indoctrinate young boys in Nazi beliefs. Parents who refused to enroll their sons lost their jobs or were imprisoned. Boys who didn’t belong were often attacked and beaten by Hitler Youth gangs. (p. 14, 15)


Taken By The Nazis

“Here, take this envelope,” my mother told my brother Peter and me, and gave us directions to the delivery location. “When you come up from the subway station, a man will meet you there and give you his code name. Give him the envelope, and he’ll give you one to bring back to me.”


I was nine years old, and Peter was almost eleven. We guessed that the envelopes contained messages to and from my father, who was a prisoner in a German concentration camp but still communicated with my mother and the Resistance through the Gestapo guards he bribed.


Peter and I exchanged envelopes with the man and rode the subway back home. As we walked away from the subway station and turned the corner onto Meineke Street, we saw Gestapo and SS cars up the road in front of our apartment and stopped in our tracks. We watched the agents take (our mother) out of our apartment, force her into a car, and drive her away.  (p. 3)


Enemy of the State

Back home in Austria, my father’s worst fears became reality on March 11,1938, when Hitler demanded that Austrian Chancellor Schuschnigg surrender all power to the Nazis or face an invasion…On March 15, Hitler arrived in Vienna amidst more cheering crowds, but my father was not among them. The Nazis arrested my father and Schuschnigg, charged them as “incorrigible enemies of the state” and shipped them away together on the same train to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside of Berlin. My father’s four brothers didn’t take any chances on the Nazis coming after them — they took off for Spain. (p.15, 16)


Our Hiding Place

My grandfather worried about the future of Jews in Berlin and feared that Peter and I were no longer invisible or safe. A lawyer friend told him about “Irmenfried” (Irma Peace), a children’s summer camp in the resort village of Dangast, 200 miles northwest of Berlin on the North Sea, operated by a woman named Irma Franzen-Heinrichsdorff.


In 1938, my grandfather arranged for Peter and me to hide away at Irmenfried temporarily. But “temporarily” turned into twelve years, and “Tante Irma” (Aunt Irma), as I called her, saved our lives and became our second mother. (p.17)


A More Dangerous World

The world became more dangerous for everyone on September 1, 1939, the day that nearly 1.5 million German troops invaded Poland, the attack that prompted England and France to declare war on Germany and triggered World War II. Poland surrendered in less than a month, and weeks later, the SS rounded up Polish Jews into enclosed districts — squalid ghettos where most died from starvation, disease, or execution. Those who survived the ghettos were deported to concentration camps and forced into hard labor. Peter and I would tune in to the verboten (forbidden) BBC broadcasts out of England on her radio. (p. 26)


The Shadow of Death

I noticed that some people walking on the streets wore a big yellow Star of David on their chests, and some didn’t. When someone wearing the star saw someone without a star walking toward them, they would step off the sidewalk into the street to let the person without the star pass by.

Inscribed in the middle of the star was the word Jude (Jew). Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels instituted the star, which he called a “general distinguishing mark” for Jews as a way to stigmatize them and, ultimately, segregate them and facilitate their deportation to concentration camps. (p. 29)


Killing Centers: “Your Mother Has Died”

I noticed our Jewish neighbors in Berlin disappearing. One day they lived next door or down the street and the next day they were gone.


My grandfather received a call-up notice from the Nazis ordering him to report to a train bound for the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. That encampment was a holding pen for Jews on their way to either a forced-labor concentration camp or one of the new “killing centers” that the Nazis had opened. Those killing centers — others called them death camps — were expressly designed for the mass murder of as many as 6,000 people per day in assembly-line fashion in gas chambers or by a firing squad’s bullet through the back of their head. Their corpses were burned to ashes in ovens or bulldozed into vast pits.


By the end of 1942, the Nazis had massacred over 1 million Jews, Gypsies, and Soviet prisoners at death camps in Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.  On Christmas Day, 1942, Tante Irma sat down with Peter and me. “I have something I need to tell you,” she said. “Your mother has died in Auschwitz.” (p. 30)


Trading Shrapnel Like Baseball Cards

Air raids seemed perfectly normal to Waltraud, me, and everyone at Irmenfried. Planes by the hundreds and thousands constantly barreled toward Berlin…When the anti-aircraft missiles blew up a plane, shrapnel flew everywhere, and often some landed on our campground. We made a game of it. We’d guess whether a piece came from the plane’s top or bottom or side, and trade pieces like baseball cards. Scraps with letters or insignia on them were the most in demand. We were kids, and even in the middle of a war, we found ways to have fun, and that helped us survive (p. 33)


Another day while I was out on the shrimp boat a dogfight broke out over our heads between American and German fighter planes. An American plane got hit and spiraled toward the sea. The pilot ejected and we watched him parachute into the ice-cold water.


We pulled in our nets, fired up our engines, and soared off on a search and rescue mission. We found the pilot, a Canadian, still afloat, and shivering from hypothermia. We pulled him onto our boat and I took him below to the cabin. He didn’t speak any German and I spoke no English, but as I helped him get into dry clothes, wrapped him in a blanket, lit a warm fire, fixed him a hot cup of coffee and something to eat, words weren’t necessary for us to bond as friends.

He stayed with us the entire day but the Germans were waiting for him when we returned to the harbor and hauled him away as a prisoner of war. (p. 34)


Zukommen! Zukommen!

Our German classmates hated the Allied air raids, but Peter and I — the two Austrian Jews hiding from the Nazis — inwardly cheered ZUKOMMEN! ZUKOMMEN! (Come on! Come on!) We hated everything to do with Hitler and wanted more air raids so the Germans would be defeated sooner.  (p. 35)


D-Day: “Where Was Hitler?”

The date on the certificate, May 14, 1944, is about a month shy of my twelfth birthday, and 23 days before the turning point of the war—D-Day, the day of the Allied invasion and liberation of Normandy, France, on June 6. Peter and I first heard about D-Day from villagers in Dangast. Just as Anne Frank — a Jewish teenager in hiding 200 miles from us in Amsterdam — wrote in her diary, the D-Day news filled Peter and me with “hope, life, and fresh courage.”


Our optimism spiked again in August when the Allies liberated Paris, and we knew that in a matter of time they would march into Germany. The next spring, in May 1945, Dangast lit up with chatter about what had happened to Hitler because he stopped making public addresses. Where was Hitler? Soon the truth reached us that he had committed suicide. (p. 39)


A New Life in America

Peter and I were tired of Germany. The Nazis had killed our family. Life was grueling during the war and it wasn’t much easier after the war. Seven years in hiding wore us out and we wanted to get away to someplace peaceful and free.


Colonel Hill recommended that Peter and I apply for relocation to America through the United States Committee for the Care of European Children (USCOM), an organization of Jewish and Catholic groups that helped place children under eighteen years of age. We applied right away, but so did hundreds of thousands of other children throughout Europe.


In December, 1944, USCOM moved Peter, me, and more than 50 other kids (to) America. I was so happy when the pilot announced we were on our way to New York City, I couldn’t believe it. I was seventeen, on a plane for the first time in my life, and taking off to a new life in America. (p. 49)


Anne Frank

I was fortunate because not every hidden child’s story had a happy ending, including Anne Frank’s. Anne and her family were discovered and arrested by the Nazis two months after D-Day. Anne was deported to Auschwitz in a cattle wagon and later transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She died about six months afterward from the typhus epidemic that ravaged the camp. (p. 48)


Wings and Roots: What’s In A Name?

I hated when people called me Johnny, but what did I want to be called? I thought long and hard... why not Jack? It flowed naturally from Jochen and Johnny but sounded better to me. Everyone I’ve met since I moved to Baltimore knows me as Jack, starting with the gentleman at the employment agency across from the bus terminal. (p. 59)


Drafted Into the U.S. Army

Jumping out of planes for parachute training was the most dangerous aspect of my training. Landing in a tree could hurt. On windy days, if we didn’t pull our chutes in quickly enough after landing, the wind would drag us across the countryside fields, and that also hurt.


In some ways, I was better prepared for basic training than most of the American guys. I grew up surrounded by the Gestapo and the SS and the police ordering us what to do and where to go. I learned how to march and throw hand grenades and shoot weapons in (the) Hitler Youth. Basic training felt like a continuation of my life in Germany. (p. 70)


The biggest non-military lesson I learned in basic training was how to get along with people from a tremendous mix of races, ethnicities, and life backgrounds. Living with 60 guys in barracks lined with bunk beds and training 24/7 to go into combat with them, I discovered that our differences didn’t matter. (p. 71)


I grew up in Germany under an oppressive dictatorship where unless you were a blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan person, you didn’t count. I always knew in my heart that was wrong, but in the army, I experienced the truth day in and day out. I ate at the same tables, worked and trained in the same uniform, and slept in the same rows of cots with people of every race and religion, college-educated and illiterate, American-born and immigrants. (p. 83)


Belief in God

I’ve always believed in God and the Almighty somewhere, somehow. But my mother and grandparents were not religious Jews… so I never had the privilege of growing up in the practice of any religion. I was always happy when I met someone who told me about their faith in God, whether they were Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or any religion. The basic commandments to do the right things, like the Golden Rule, are very similar. (p. 98)


Work Hard, Play Hard

I’ve always believed that you work hard, but you play hard too. Playing hard is the pleasure payoff from working hard, and makes the work worthwhile. When you’re playing hard you’re also learning something new, and I love learning.


After I learned to fly an airplane, I took advanced instruction and learned how to fly blind — by instruments only — so that I’d be ready to fly in unexpected bad weather or any other emergencies where I couldn’t see the ground. The instructor covered the windshield with a hood and taught me how to take off, cruise, and land the plane without seeing anything out the windshield. (p. 116)


In Search of My Mother’s Final Days: Our “Angel”

“Dana, you’re not going to believe how my mother closed the letter: ‘To you with much love and health, I remain yours with many greetings for you and kisses for the boys. Gretel Wurfl.’


”Dana gasped, and we looked at each other. To you with much love and health. Can that be right? That’s how the man who directed us to my mother’s house said goodbye to us. I read it again.

There was no mistake. That man’s glowing appearance — there was something spiritual about it. I had never believed in angels, but I had never experienced anything like this. Angels are people’s helpers from God, right? If it weren’t for that man I would not have found my mother’s apartment. That’s why Dana and I call him “our angel.” (p. 143, 144)


Still Searching For My Father

I was still missing pieces of the puzzle of what happened to my father during the war. In 2004, to look for more pieces, I flew to Berlin to visit Sachsenhausen, the first concentration camp where my father was imprisoned. Like many of the concentration camps, Sachsenhausen had been converted into a Holocaust memorial and museum.


“Do you have any records here of the prisoners?” I asked one of the archivists.


“Yes,” she said. “Your timing is remarkable. We just received a shipment of records from Russia a month ago that had been stored in Moscow for the last 30 years.” The archivist showed me the room where German doctors told the Russian prisoners to stand against the wall for their medical examinations and pointed to a hole in the wall. A Nazi soldier with a pistol stood on the other side of the wall and shot the prisoners through the hole. (p. 153)


My Father’s Escapes — And The Terrible Consequences

The archivist found records of my father’s escapes when he sneaked out to meet my mother, Peter, and me in Dangast. I walked the circle in the courtyard where I found out about his “boot-walker punishment" — they forced him to march in boots that squashed his feet and with rocks on his back until he dropped. (p. 154)


Fond Farewells

In March, Waltraud called to tell me that Tante Irma had passed away. I’ll forever remember her incredible intellect, courage, and groundbreaking achievements. I’ll treasure her fierce love for her own and her adopted children, and always be thankful that she infused in me the essential value of education and the love of nature.

I was moved by what her son, Gernot, said about her sacrifice for Peter, me, and Herr Pille: “For years my mother risked her life for these children. After the war, during war crimes trials, my mother testified on Herr Pille’s behalf, and he was released. Few Americans realize that some Germans were human enough to not follow the Nazi Party’s dictates about Jews.” (Quoted in Voices From The Other Side: Inspiring German WWII Memoirs, by Jean Messinger). (p. 155)

Israel


In all my travels, I find Israel one of the most fascinating countries in the world. It’s the holiest place for the Jews, the holiest place for Christians, and the holiest place for Muslims. Sadly, I suppose that’s why there hasn’t been peace in Israel for thousands of years. When we visited the Jewish holy sites, they drove us in a bus with bulletproof windows and a Jewish soldier with a rifle next to the driver. (p. 158)


Children Are the “Arrow”

By the early 1990s, Zonia and I were empty-nesters. By 2003 we were blessed with four grandchildren: Gabrielle Jaclyn Carroll, whom we call Elle, born in1992; Thomas Robert Carroll, in 1995; Gillian Jade Roeca, in 1999; and Aidan Jack Roeca, born in 2003. I’m so proud of all of them.


I’m grateful that I hear from each of them because I understand that their jobs and schools and boyfriends and girlfriends are more important to their daily lives than their grandfather is nowadays. I want them to live their own lives—as I did.


I subscribe to Kahlil Gibran’s philosophy [based on Psalm 127:4-5]  that parents are like a bow, and children are the arrow. Educate your children to make sure the arrow is perfectly straight because the day is going to come when you let go and shoot that arrow. (p. 161)


The Backbone of the Business

In 2021, with my 90th birthday a year away, it was time to relinquish ownership of (my insurance) company. I’m so happy to leave the business in (my children’s) hands because I’m confident they will always take good care of our customers and team members. My God, I’m so lucky to have them. (p. 175, 176)

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