Luna Kaufman, awarded an honorary doctorate by Seton Hall University last spring for her work in interfaith Holocaust education, was teaching about the Holocaust in an inner-city school in Newark, N.J. when one of the children asked “Why don’t you write a book?” Their teacher said, “These kids, who have never held a book in their hands,” thought she should memorialize her experiences in a book! That was 20 years ago, and now the book is out: Luna’s Life.
Kaufman was born in Poland in 1926 to a fourth-generation Krakow Jewish family. She, her parents and her older sister were interned in the Krakow Ghetto, then Plaszow, Hasag-Skarzysko and Leipzig concentration camps. Her father and sister were deported to Auschwitz, and were murdered in the camps along with 70 other family members; Luna and her mother managed to spend the war years together. Despite her horrific experiences — or, she writes, because of them — Kaufman has been drawn to efforts to create intergroup understanding; she’s is the chair emerita of Seton Hall’s Sister Rose Thering Endowment for Jewish-Christian and Holocaust Studies.
Photographer Joan Roth first met Kaufman when a Holocaust exhibition needed “someone to do a mitzvah” — to pick up from Kaufman her prison dress from Hasag, the work camp site for the German munitions company. Kaufman said that when she’d been given the dress she had to give up her prized possession — the “remodeled suit” she had created from a school coat.
“She was so cherubic, her hair wrapped up in a braid, emanating a certain kind of joy.” When Roth noticed her necklace, a design ncorporating both a cross and a Star of David, Kaufman told Roth that she always felt that people with differences should be able to live together. The necklace, it turns out, is a replica of one the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem had commissioned for Sister Rose (1920–2006), whose mission, Kaufman said, was to “root out anti-Semitism wherever it exists. Holocaust education was her lasting legacy.” In that tradition, Kaufman is now writing a children’s book featuring the coat that she changed into a suit.