This is Your Life TV story is retold by child of survivors

It was mid-winter 1943. Suddenly the power shut down. The inmates at the Westerbork concentration camp in Holland were forced to light candles. Miracle? It was also the second night of Chanukah.

Julie Kohner, 42, related this incident while telling the gripping love story about the survival of her parents, Walter and Hanna Kohner, titled "Voices of the Generations."

"This story is one of the very few of the Holocaust that has a happy ending," said Kohner, who recently spoke to Peninsula Temple Beth El congregants and b'nai mitzvah families in San Mateo.

"It means a lot every time I'm able to tell it."

Kohner, who lives in Los Angeles, travels around the country speaking at synagogues, churches and schools. She has been teaching for 22 years and is an educational counselor.

She showed a videotape of the May 27, 1953 show "This Is Your Life, Hanna Kohner," hosted by the late Ralph Edwards. It was the first time a Holocaust story was told on TV and that a non-celebrity was featured on the popular "This Is Your Life" series. Edwards learned about Hanna through her husband's brother, who worked in the L.A. entertainment industry.

Because of the nature of this story, all commercials were canceled.

In the show, many people from Hanna's early life appeared, including other survivors of the concentration camps where she was interred and one of the American soldiers who rescued her. The highlight, however, was the appearance of her brother, Friedl, from Israel, whom she had not seen in 15 years.

Hanna received a gift from "This Is Your Life" — a bracelet with charms representing her life story — including a map of her native Czechoslovakia, a mountain house, suitcase, Jeep, sergeant's hat, Star of David, Statue of Liberty, and the flags of Luxembourg and the United States.

The show ended with the sponsor presenting a check to the United Jewish Appeal in honor of Hanna. Host Edwards urged the viewing audience to make a contribution to the UJA as well, to help other victims of the Holocaust.

Kohner said her parents, both born in Czechoslovakia, met in 1935 when Hanna was 15 and Walter 20. They fell in love but were separated by the war.

Walter, who had two brothers in the United States, was granted a visa in 1938. When he left Hanna, he promised to send for her. But because of strict immigrant quotas, this effort came to naught.

Hanna went to Amsterdam thinking it was easier to emigrate from there. She found employment and eventually married another man when she saw no hope of leaving the country.

Two years later, she and her husband were arrested and transported to Westerbork. Later they were separated and Hanna was sent to three more camps, ending up at Auschwitz. She never again saw her husband or parents, who later died.

Kohner said, "My mother survived the camps by luck, moral support from friends and strangers, and her steadfast faith."

Walter, meanwhile, became a sergeant in the U.S. Army and was eventually sent to Luxembourg, where he broadcast news in different languages. At the war's end, he set out to find Hanna.

In Prague, by chance he ran into Friedl, who suggested he look in Amsterdam. Through Walter's great determination the two were reunited.

Shortly thereafter they were married in Luxembourg.

"My mother never lost faith or her feelings for Judaism throughout her ordeal," Kohner said. "I was so fortunate that my parents raised me to understand their life experience in a very loving way. My mother asked me to become her voice to future generations."

Hanna died in 1990, Walter in 1996.

The Kohners' saga is told in a book they wrote with Frederick Kohner, titled "Hanna and Walter." The book was published in 1984 and went into its second publication in 1997. It is widely available in bookstores.