‘Arthur and Lilly: The Girl and The Holocaust Survivor’
Photo: Courtesy Lilly Maier
“Arthur and Lilly: The Girl and the Holocaust Survivor” is available on Amazon.

Across-the-seas connections over decades bring author Lilly Maier to Texas

By Deb Silverthorn

When “Arthur and Lilly: The Girl and the Holocaust Survivor” author Lilly Maier, who lives in Munich, Germany, arrived in Texas in early December, she wasn’t sure what to expect. Landing in Houston for the first time, then spending two days in Lufkin and Nacogdoches for two of 60 stops, in 10 states in 40 days, she left a lasting imprint.

While Maier’s journeys included visits to Holocaust museums, synagogues, bookstores, JCCs and university classrooms, her visit to Texas will always remain special as the request came from an eighth grade student and his family.

It was the luck of the draw that Hudson Middle School student Peyton Durham pulled Arthur Kern’s name as a survivor of the Holocaust for him to study. His first research attempts came up short but an online search led him to Maier.

“My sixth grade teacher Mrs. (Tina) Poage gave us the assignment and I was the last person to pick a name. Mr. Kern looked like a nice man; there was something interesting about him,” said Durham. “My dad helped me online and we found and contacted Miss Lilly, who had written a book about Mr. Kern but it was in German so I couldn’t read it. We had a Zoom call and then we did another with my class in Texas, Mr. Kern’s family around the United States and Miss Lilly in Germany.”

At the request of Durham’s parents, Vanessa and Gregg, Maier promised to come to Texas if the book were ever published in English. She visited more than 250 students of Hudson Middle and High schools, held a private home meeting and appeared on KICK 105 radio.

“Most of my audiences are filled with Jews and those familiar with stories of the Holocaust,” said Maier. “In East Texas, I only met a few Jews but everyone I talked to was open and interested in learning. They welcomed me, they cared and I believe I left them aware.”

“Mr. Kern grew up in very tough times, but he always had a positive attitude and he was always kind,” said Durham, who gives the book a 10 out of 10 and is proud to have both the English and German versions. “I learned a lot about the Holocaust, but I think even more about how to live.”

Maier’s meeting with a student in Texas could be foretold with the same odds as the friendship she made with Arthur Kern, of blessed memory. When Maier, who is not Jewish, was just 11, Kern and his wife, Trudie, then living in California, came to her childhood home in Vienna, Austria — his home more than 65 years earlier.

Finding the turn-of-the-century apartment similar to when he’d left, Kern gave Maier a gift of a mini-piano. As he toured the unit, he realized her room had been his family’s piano room. Their meeting led to the discovery of a long-lost package of Kern’s parents’ belongings.

Their friendship lasted until he died in 2015; the relationship shaped her professional path and life’s work. Maier, the only child of Sabine and Wolfgang, pursued and earned a master’s degree in Jewish history from the University of Munich and a second master’s in magazine journalism from New York University, where she studied as a Fulbright scholar.

A museum guide for the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, Maier has also written a biography of Austrian educator Ernst Papanek, who rescued hundreds of children during World War II (Kern was among those rescued). She is now completing her doctorate, with a thesis about Jewish women who rescued other Jews during the war.

Sent by his parents in 1939, when he was just 10, first to France and then to the United States on the Kindertransport, Kern was the only survivor of his family after the war. He met his wife, Trudie, at City College of New York and raised a family of three sons. The family now includes four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“I’m so proud of Lilly, who we’ve thought of as a granddaughter since we met,” said Trudie from her home in Northridge, California, still relishing Maier’s recent Thanksgiving visit. “I came to the U.S. when I was 8 and Arthur when he was 10. While we lived blocks apart, we didn’t know each other in Vienna. He lost his family; my sister and I were separated from our parents for 10 years while we lived with an aunt until our parents and another child, my brother, all came.

“Lilly did so much research. She is really an incredible historian and she learned things we never knew,” said Trudie, who, not for lack of trying, was never able to gain entrance to her childhood home.

In addition to the schools, Maier spoke at the home of Dr. Flora Farago, associate professor of human development and family studies and faculty advisor to the campus’ Hillel at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. Farago, the daughter of Zsusza Garai and Andras Farago, was raised at Temple Shalom and graduated from J.J. Pearce High School. She couldn’t say no when told of Maier’s availability.

“My grandparents survived but my great-grandparents did not. This is my family’s story as it is that of so many,” said Farago, whose mother is a docent at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum. “The topic is close to my heart and I’m so grateful for Lilly’s visit. It was a beautiful evening, everyone bought the book and she definitely left a meaningful impression.”

For Peyton Durham, the assignment he wasn’t sure how to approach became an education he’ll never forget.

“If we don’t know about something, it can repeat and we can’t let that happen,” Durham said. “I will keep the poster I made for the rest of my life. If I meet people who don’t know, or our schools ever stop teaching the subject, I will teach it myself. I promise these are lessons I will teach my children.”

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