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Now browsing: Hometown News > News > Brevard County

Daughter writes book about father's memories of Holocaust
Rating: 1.66 / 5 (32 votes)  
Posted: 2013 May 31 - 06:31

By Amanda Anderson

Staff writer

BREVARD -- If you've lived in Brevard for more than 20 years, chances are high that you know, or have heard, the name "Holzer."

This is a name that is heavily embedded in Brevard history, and it belongs to Dr. Oswald A. Holzer -- or "Bubbie" to those who knew him well.

Dr. Holzer and his wife, Ruth -- or "Chick" -- were well-known Brevard residents, immersed in the Space Coast's healthcare and volunteer history.

Many remember Dr. Holzer as a doctor on staff at Brevard Hospital, where he delivered 200 babies in 1957. Others remember him as the physician for Northrop or Harris employees, or as the company physician for Boeing and Lockheed Martin for its space program work at Cape Canaveral, where Dr. Holzer earned the honor of "Space Pioneer."

Dr. Holzer's name is recognized by those who have walked through the Florida Tech campus, where he volunteered as Medical Director for 10 years and founded the college's Student Health Services.

Mrs. "Chick" Holzer was heavily active in her church, Eastminster Presbyterian located in Indialantic, where she was the youth choir director. Others may know her as the president of the local PTA and as an active volunteer with the "Pink Ladies," the women's auxiliary at the Brevard Hospital, which would later be renamed to Holmes Regional.

Despite their incredible legacies, Dr. and Mrs. Holzer were simply "Mom" and "Dad" to Joanie Holzer Schirm, sister, Pat, and brother, Tom.

It was a discovery that the siblings made shortly after their parents passing in January 2000 that would forever alter their perception of the parents they knew and loved fiercely.

"My mother died at the age of 83, on Jan. 1 in 2000, after suffering from Parkinson's Disease," Mrs. Schirm said.

Dr. Holzer unexpectedly died two days later, on Jan. 3.

"I think he died out of grief, but [my siblings and I] were told it was congestive heart failure," Mrs. Schirm added.

While going through their parents' possessions, Mrs. Schirm and her siblings came across a red Chinese box, which housed 400 letters.

"The letters were in Czech and needed to be translated," Mrs. Schirm said. "Once I started reading the translated letters, I realized they included so much more, not just about my father, but about his friends and relatives and the circumstances leading up to what happened."

Before moving to the United States, Dr. Holzer, a Czech Republic native, fled his home country in 1939, when the Nazis invaded.

"My father was in the Czech army at the time, but escaped to avoid the Nazi regime," Mrs. Schirm added.

Through the 400 letters, Mrs. Schirm and her siblings learned about the incredible travels her father took, before arriving in the U.S., and about the people who wrote them -- many of them being family.

"I did seven hours of interviews with my dad in 1989, because he was a great storyteller," Mrs. Schirm said. "I thought I would retire one day and write a story because he had an interesting story to tell."

After discovering the letters and having them translated, Mrs. Schirm began writing "Adventurers Against Their Will," which tells of the exchange of letters between Dr. Holzer and seven of the writers, who were either friends or cousins.

"I went on the writing equivalent of an anthropological dig, looking for clues wherever I could find them and studied the history that put their stories into context," Mrs. Schirm said. "Their words, for me and, I hope, the reader, put a face on history."

"Adventurers Against Their Will" tells the story of Dr. Holzer's correspondents, who are either displaced due to the escalating Nazi power. Mrs. Schirm said that, surprisingly, the letters are filled with humor of the writers, as they try to survive everyday life.

"The spirit of rebuilding life after such unimaginable losses of family, friends and homeland speaks to all of us," Mrs. Schirm said. "Every day I worked on the book, I was reminded of the consequences of indifference and the importance of human rights and dignity."

Because the 400 letters contained so much information, Mrs. Schirm decided to write two books, rather than one. The second is titled "My Dear Boy: The Discovery of a Lifetime." Mrs. Schirm hopes to have the book completed by the end of the year.

"This was a huge puzzle that I needed to figure out, and many pieces were so emotionally difficult to read, as you know the history and the writers don't know what is going to happen next," Mrs. Schirm said.

The collection of letters has been hailed as a very unique collection, because 70 of the letters Dr. Holzer kept were ones that he had typed. Three experts have also informed Mrs. Schirm about the uniqueness of her collection, as there isn't a great deal of literature from a connected group of people, that follows them through the war and outside of the concentration camps.

"As I did research for the book, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., played a huge role in helping with their vast archives of documents, plus recommendations of World War II experts to work with," Mrs. Schirm added.

With "Adventurers Against Their Will" currently available for purchase, and "My Dear Boy: The Discovery of a Lifetime" in its finishing stages, Mrs. Schirm continues to uncover more fascinating information regarding the father she loves and misses so much.

"I know so much more now about what happened to our relatives, but I still don't know why," Mrs. Schirm added. "I don't think we will ever understand totally the 'why' of that evil time, but we can learn from it."

"Adventurers Against Their Will" is available for purchase on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, Books-A-Million, Powell's Books and Barnes and Noble.

For more information, visit www.joanieschirm.com.

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