Karen Kirsten, Class of 1982

The movie Schindler’s List changed many lives, in many ways; but for Karen Kirsten it was the beginning of a thirty-year journey, to share her grandmother’s story.

In 2023 Karen published her first book, Irena’s Gift, an incredible tale that explores pre-war Poland, post-war Germany, and refugee life in Australia.

“When I was nine years old my mother received a letter from a stranger, explaining that as a baby she was smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto and rescued by a Nazi SS Officer. She kept it secret from me.

“It was only as a teenager I became aware of the letter and found out that the grandparents I adored were in fact not biologically mine,” Karen said.

“When I sat with my grandmother after watching Schindler’s List, she opened up and agreed to be interviewed, surprised that people might be interested in what she had to say.

“It was then I promised her I would tell her story.

“In 2012 I travelled to Poland to find the people who had rescued my mother during WWII. Later that year, I returned to reunite them with my mother, who flew from Australia.

“I documented the journey on a blog that became the beginnings of a book. It then took me ten, long years to research and write Irena’s Gift,” she said.

“In Irena’s Gift, I braided together a mystery and deeply researched history so fiction and non-fiction readers could connect with my grandparents and mother’s resilience, while also experiencing the acts of betrayal and subsequent love and kindness that saved my mother’s life,” Karen explained.

“Importantly the book also details the choices people make during and after war to survive, particularly what happens when immigrant families don’t talk about the past,” she said.

Karen’s time at Luther could not have prepared her for such a rollercoaster ride, but it’s with fondness she recalls her time as a student and the role her time here played in shaping her.

“I loved singing in the school productions (Fiddler on the Roof and The King and I), as well as travelling to perform with the school choir at various events.

“Visiting other schools to compete for Luther’s table tennis team was also a highlight, so much so, I called my cats ‘Ping’ and ‘Pong,” she laughed.

Karen’s life after Luther has been jam-packed with adventures, from working with horses in Canada and Switzerland, to travelling to Africa and trekking the Himalayas. After meeting her husband, she completed an MBA, secured a working visa and moved to the USA.

“Mr Jaench, my Geography teacher inspired my love and desire to travel and experience other cultures,” Karen said.

Karen currently lives in Massachusetts and spends time lecturing around the world on hate and reconciliation

Irena’s Gift I Holocaust memoir book (karenkirsten.com)