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Category Archives: Memoirs & History

T is for Temptation #AtoZChallenge #AtoZchat

Image from Coach Stacy's Healthy U

Image from Coach Stacy’s Healthy U

Potato Chips.

Chocolate Cake.

Milk Shake.

Many of our temptations are food associated, and doctors may say we’re risking our lives, but Irene’s food temptation (Iron Curtain Memoirs) involved flying bullets. Same temptation taken to a whole other level.

The mission was to find her father, search for him across the border in West Germany. What makes her dare the border patrols again is food for her family, for Mama, brothers Ortwin and Hartmut, and baby Christine.

Near the village of Stockheim I saw a woman in front of a farmhouse washing milk cans. I approached her. After explaining my needs, she faced me, put her hands on her hips and looked me up and down for a full minute. Then she said, “Come in the house.

I followed her.

“I am a war widow. I have a sizable farm and my foreign help has gone home. I grow produce and it is hard to get help….No one will work for so little money.” She poured me a glass of fresh milk then sat down and watched me drink it.

She looked very serious and said, “How about you? Are you interested in work?”

“I’ll have to think about it….I need food more than money.”

“I would let you go home every second weekend or so.”

“But how can I go back and forth safely?”

“I know a forest master well, he may be able to help you.”

“I don’t see how it could work, I mean, to help you on a continuous basis.”

“I’ll give you as much food as you can carry.”

Image from Picture-Alliance/dpa of post-war German refugee camp

Image from Picture-Alliance/dpa of post-war German refugee camp

To get food to Mama was a real temptation. To risk my life crossing the border again was another matter.

I hesitated, then said, “I’ll help for a while. Let me think about coming back after I try crossing the border again. It is very dangerous on the other side.” She nodded, saying she knew the border well.

I hesitated again, then took the plunge. “I must tell you something you don’t know. I am a girl.”

Her eyes widened and she looked at me more closely.

[Returning home after 2 weeks work] ….Everybody cried with joy….

“I looked and looked for Papa and I couldn’t find him.” I was out of breath and very tired. “Mama, I’ll go back to the farm where I worked and bring lots of good food home.”

“It’s too dangerous, I’m afraid you’ll be killed!”

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 1.32.46 PMI knew we could use the food. Everyone look so thin and hungry. With great pleasure, I watched their faces when we opened the knapsack and then the suitcase. A large piece of ham, and so much bacon. They had not seen this much meat since before the war.

Late in April I convinced Mama that I should try once more to cross the border….She hugged me as I left, saying, “God be with you Irene. Be careful.” Tears streaked her thin worried face. [Excerpts from Survive Little Buddy: Iron Curtain Memoirs Books 1, 2, and 3 in one volume. Copyright Irene Kucholick 1996. All rights reserved.]

Temptation. More meat than they’d seen since years before, since World War 2 began. Part of me can dimly understand while another part cannot imagine the risks. For A to Z “X” you’ll see one of her border crossings.

Jump forward with me to Nurse Irene times…U is for Uranium Mine Punishment.

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Kristin King is an author and the publisher of Irene Kucholick’s Iron Curtain Memoirs. Baked goods, savory and sweet, are Kristin’s biggest temptations…and maybe one more round of Cookie Jam (think Candy Crush with baked goods).  Living in Holland, Kristin says the food temptations lean toward stroop waffle cookies, fries, and Dutch pancakes.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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S is for Spy Accusations #AtoZChallenge Historical Treasure

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 11.53.24 AMGrowing up in the 80’s, the Berlin Wall was to me a structure seemingly as permanent as the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China. I knew it separated The East from the The West, keeping those who lived under enforced communism away from freedom and choice.

What I didn’t know and somehow missed in my history classes was that The Wall was a quite recent edifice. Prior to its erection in August of 1961 (and excepting Soviet blockade times), people traveled back and forth between the Berlins for work and pleasure (see Iron Curtain Memoirs Book 3).

At first there was no sanctuary in West Berlin for those with identity cards from the east. Many who tried to stay in the west were returned or kidnapped and brought back. Guards were only posted on the eastern side, and some trams continued to run their route across the border and back.

Such was the time in which Irene Kucholick, my A to Z Historical Treasure writer, lived.

I began riding the electric U-Bahn. Although controlled entirely by East Germany, the U-Bahn traveled from Potsdam, through West Berlin, and into East Berlin again. Each time I rode the U-Bahn I watched and learned.

Many people got off the U-Bahn in West Berlin. At all train stops on the East side, people were spot checked by armed Russian border guards….After Russian guard separated out suspected persons for further checking, the German police mustered them into a large room….

Persons in possession of forbidden Western items were transferred to another police station in the city. Each case was punished according to the degree of the offense. Even foodstuff and soaps were forbidden. We had such bad soap powder that it could only be called sand. Western soaps of any kind were welcomed articles for the black market.

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 12.04.07 PMConfiscated items were sold in a store run by the government in Potsdam….Few people could afford them. The exchange rate was still five East Mark to one West Mark and four West Mark to one American dollar. That gives one an idea of how little East German marks were worth. Next to nothing.

Persons caught trying to escape…were usually sentenced for ten to twenty years at hard labor.

….This time I was stopped….Suddenly I remembered the Western literature. Ice cold fear gripped my body. There was no place to discard my borrowed material.

…[A scuffle broke out], I threw my magazines to the floor hoping no one would see where they came from.

Too many police and Russians were watching. Everyone saw me!

….I was immediately labeled a dangerous spy, as the papers were considered propaganda material from the West. [Excerpts from Survive Little Buddy. Copyright Irene Kucholick 1996. All rights reserved.]

One of many great images collected on Stacy Andersen's "Berlin Wall" Pinterest page

One of many great images collected on Stacy Andersen’s “Berlin Wall” Pinterest page

Can you imagine being able to cross the border, see the relative prosperity, soak in freedom for a couple hours before having to return? It’s no wonder Irene’s longing to break free from the Soviet communism strangling her homeland was so strong.

I have a short but powerful video of Irene talking about this incident that I hope to have ready for V is for Videos You Requested.

Coming next…T is for Temptation

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Kristin King is an indie author and sole-proprietor of Three Kings Publishing, which released Irene Kucholick’s Iron Curtain Memoirs in 2013, and released the digital edition as Survive Little Buddy in 2015. Irene reminds Kristin of her own grandmother whose strength and convictions have endured from harder times.

 

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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R is for Russian Accordion

A beautiful Russian accordion

A beautiful Russian accordion

Do you enjoy learning some new, random bit of knowledge? Maybe you enjoy playing Quiz Up or it’s more ancient predecessor, Trivial Pursuit. Those sort of entertainments are up my alley, so when I discover nuggets in a book like Survive Little Buddy I’m all together hooked. Here’s one for you from my A to Z Historical Treasure:

One day while singing and playing in the waiting room at the Riesa railroad station, the Russian patrol came so quickly we could not escape. shouting in Russian that we had committed a crime, they arrested us.

“We have been looking for you two a long time,” said one of the patrol. “You have broken the law. No entertainment is allowed in railroad stations.”

They yanked my accordion from me, forcing us outside and into a truck. It was evening when they took us into the military police headquarters.

….”You broke the law and you will be punished,” was what they repeated over and over….They took our ID cards, the contents of my pockets and Krista’s handbag….They made fun of me for all the girl stuff I had in my pockets, but I did not reveal myself and would not dare, since I always used my brother Ortwin’s ID.

….With nothing left but our clothing…we were forced…through the building….They opened a door and pushed us down another flight of stairs….They pushed us in [a totally black room] and I stumbled and fell down a step I could not see. The door banged shut and someone helped me stand up. My hands were we and we were standing in ankle-deep water….

….My eyes adjusted….The cold water looked very dirty and the odor of urine grew stronger….

Krista grabbed my hand and whispered loudly, “They’ve put us in here until they kill us or send us to Siberia!”

….I touched the wall. It was slippery and wet. Hours passed.

“How long can we stand like this?” Krista asked. “My knees ache and my feet are numb.”

I didn’t answer. We held each other and cried quietly….We counted the hours by the chimes of a church clock we could hear ever so faintly through our prison walls.

[Later]….We were taken through the same passage….A different officer was there now. With much gesturing he said, “You will be put away for good if you are caught in a railroad station again.”

….When I saw our things I knew we were going to be released. I could not see my accordion and asked the officer for it….

“You didn’t even have a an accordion, you little liar,” he bellowed. “If you don’t shut up and get out of here we’ll arrest you again and never let you go!”

….Though we stood all the way home, the train felt very comfortable after the sleepless night standing in water.

….With no accordion there was no way to make money and we had no articles to trade for food in the black market. A few days later, Mama, carrying a large bag of rutabagas for that family, made a visit to Zschopauer Strasse to ask Herr Hillebrandt to make a trip to the Musik and Toy Towns Klingenthal and Zwothal to find a new accordion for me.

….In Zwothal we walked to the factories where they made accordions and other small instruments and wooden articles. “We are not making instruments for the German population, only for Russian needs,” was the disheartening information we received.

Seeing my fallen expression, one of the workers in another factory thrust an accordion at me saying, “The Russians have a different musical scale. Here, try it. You cannot play it.”

….I reached for the instrument and found it difficult to play. The notes didn’t sound right.

….Herr Hillebrandt had heard me play my old accordion….”You want it? Think you can learn to play this one?”

“I’ll learn no matter what,” I promised.

“Okay. You got it.” He turned to the factory representative and said, “Sell it to me. The Russians took her accordion.”

He peeled some money off a roll he carried and with a wink at the factory people I now owned a new accordion. I put it in its brand new case and said a silent prayer of thanks to God. [Excerpt from Survive Little Buddy, copyright Irene Kucholick 1996. All right reserved.]

The Russians have a different musical scale? Really? I love discovering a bit like that. I wonder what their do-re-mi sounds like. I should ask a friend. One of the ladies in my book club might know, and one of them pointed out that the airman taken prisoner by the Russians in the movie “Bridge of Spies” was also put in a cell with standing water. Living in Holland, I can tell you that the Dutch could not abide a room with even a puddle, they are so determined to control every drip of water.

What pluck and determination Irene had as a young teen. Honestly, she is still like that today. A credit to Herr Hillebrandt’s kindness (K is for Kindnesses), she did learn to play that instrument and was soon riding the rails with Krista again. Her next adventure was near the Reisa black market.

Our next A to Z Challenge bring us to S. S is for….oops. Well, not really. But I used my S topic for M, M is for Music to Survive. I’ll dig up another S for you in a flash.Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 9.42.40 AM

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Kristin King is an author and publisher of Irene Kucholick’s Iron Curtain Memoirs which include Books 1, 2, and 3; My World War 2 Childhood, My Years Hidden As a Boy, My Escape to Freedom. All three books are contained in Survive Little Buddy along with photos, a historical time line, and maps not available in the stand alone books.

 

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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Q is for Questions from Readers

2nd Edition mockup cover of My World War 2 Childhood (Book 1)

2nd Edition mockup cover of My World War 2 Childhood (Book 1)

Most readers have questions for Irene after reading her memoirs. When I accompanied her to a book club (largest I’ve ever been to with 20+ people), I took notes of their questions and her answers. You can leave a comment with your questions and we’ll try to get answers for you before A to Z Historical Treasure ends. (Q&A from notes–not transcription or video.)

Q. How and when did you begin writing?

A. Around 1980 I began. People think only Jewish people died, but that’s not true. A lot of Germans died in concentration camps. I had friends sent to Mauthausen.

Q. Was it hard or helpful to write it?

A. Very hard to write and then 9 years later I felt so much better with it written down. (Like is had been an albatross around the neck)

Q. It sounds harder under Stalin. To hear that 1st hand, well…we don’t usually get that. We hear a lot about soldiers, but to hear about a regular girl…

Working on 2nd edition cover of My Years Hidden As a Boy (Book 2)

Working on 2nd edition cover of My Years Hidden As a Boy  (Book 2)

 

A. Mama said you go as a boy or not at all.

Q. How long till you came to the USA?

A. (Escape was in 1953). 1959 we moved to Ft. Sill Oklahoma. “I’m in the wild west here,” I said. And my mother said “Oh no. Get out. Get out now!” I brought my hospital reference books in German.

…We were 3 years in Ethiopia then in Paris. So many French people spoke German. At market I tried English and the man at the stand said, “You are German. Speak German to us.”

Q. (People expressed interest in Irene’s German-American Club)

A. We meet in the Lutheran church. We speak German and English. Saxony was Lutheran. At club each told their story and people had a much harder time than I did.

The Hunger Days came up and a women’s mother was visiting. She said, “We were never hungry.”

“Well,” I said, “They were Nazis.”

Q. What was scariest?

A. When we went to Grandmother’s and artillery came in. It goes everywhere. And I thought when my knapsack got hit with a bullet.

We had to take the drugs to make sure the patient was getting the right pharmaceutical. Had to know by taste.

Q. How long were you in the mines?

A. Months. After that I would have died.

Q. What diseases did the miners have?

A. Lungs and for women uterus. I had to have mine removed. And I told my husband and he said, “It’s okay. We’ll adopt, after we get out of the army.” (They never did.)

Irene's World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin) Books 1, 2, and 3 in one volume.

Irene’s World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin) Books 1, 2, and 3 in one volume.

Q. When you escaped and that Doctor unlocked the window for you, did you ever have contact with him again?

A. No. I didn’t want to get them in trouble. I would have liked to contact the land lady but I was afraid to.

Q. Besides what you wrote, did informants in your building do other things?

One family…he checked if everybody was gone and reported people not in the basement (i.e. bomb shelter). And he said “They went to the roof and sent signals.”

Q. Did you have any writer support?

A. Walter (i.e. husband) pushed me. You have to have someone to push you to write this.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A. People see what happened to me, but other people…like my friend from Luxembourg had a much harder time.

When my local book club read Irene’s book, a couple people had a hard time believing so much happened to one person. Yet, Irene emphasizes repeatedly that hers is only a small portion compared to so many other people who had it worse. She has such respect for these survivors and for being as accurate as she could in her memory. Anne Frank is often held up as the example, to represent the Jewish struggle during the holocaust. Irene Kucholick’s memoirs serve as tribute to other peoples so affected and to the many she knows personally.

Remember to send in your own questions and add Survive Little Buddy to your Want To Read list.

Meanwhile…up next is R is for Russian Accordion.

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Kristin King is the publisher of Survive Little Buddy, Irene Kucholick’s Iron Curtain Memoirs. When not doing this A to Z theme, Kristin blogs about life as an expat in Holland, reading, soulful Sundays, and recently began Foodie Fridays.The Best Practices for Blogs say to focus one subject….

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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P is for Publishing Unexpectedly

If  you are blogging, you are publishing. On a regular basis you are putting content out there for the world to find (or not) and read or peruse. You are both writer and publisher. That’s how our books started out as well. My husband and I finished our first novels, sought agents, pitched, and found out our books were not marketable enough for the investment of a big traditional publisher. So we became the publishers ourselves.

Publishing other people’s’ work was not part of the plan. Rather, our stated mission is to encourage others to write and take the road we have. Get your stuff out there! As a reader and bibliophile, thinking of finished stories languishing in a box, on a drive or floating inaccessible on a cloud creates a strange ache in my chest. With millions upon millions of readers, some of them are waiting for you story, your book, your voice to reach them.

Irene’s manuscript was actually the first that came to me while I was wearing my publisher hat. I published an anthology for my youth writers group as a charitable project called Living WaterWorks. One of my students told me her grandmother’s best friend wrote a book. Would I take a look at it? Well, of course. How could I say no to one of my mentees?

If you’ve been reading the A to Z excerpts, you have glimpsed a small part of what drove me to publish, to take on someone else’s works and bring their story to you. It was unexpected, this must-do urge that came over me when reading Irene’s memoirs. I could not let myself be just one of a handful that got to read her amazing World War 2 childhood, the way she hid as a boy for 3 years traveling East Germany and sneaking across the border to provide for her family, how her nursing career came to be and operated under Soviet communism, how she narrowly escaped to freedom.

Publishing Unexpectedly.  Now Irene has readers, though not nearly enough IMO. Such testimony should be heard far and wide, spoken of beside other non-fiction must-reads of the era.

Do you have questions for Irene or me about the times? Others who’ve read her books certainly have. Are you or someone you know sitting on a book? Get it out there!

Coming next….Q is for Questions from Readers

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Kristin King finds more questions every time she reads Irene’s books. Her biggest question though is will she get to see Irene again, do a book signing together, eat another Applebee’s special. Holland is a long way from Maryland, but she sincerely hopes so.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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O is for On Vacation Soviet Style

Gral Muritz resort today

Gral Mueritz resort today

Summer is on its way, and a couple hours ago I confirmed with my husband which weeks this summer from which I could choose to take our family to Spain for the first time. We work within limits, mainly schedules, and go where we please, for the most part.

You will see vacations behind the Iron Curtain were a bit different. We continue to follow the A to Z adventures of Irene Kucholick with excerpts from her Iron Curtain Memoirs. (All rights reserved.)

My first vacation provided by the State was not to a place where I really wanted to go, but I had to go where I was told. I was sent to Gral Mueritz, a beach resort on the northern shore of East Germany.

….My new vacation clothes, which were hard to come by, consisted of a bathrobe suitable for beach wear and a two piece beige dress trimmed with brown that felt suspiciously like paper.

….Our trip should not have taken more than six hours but instead it took us one entire day and one entire night. We knew that many times the whole train was delayed on dead railroad tracks to let more important trains pass. At the end of our journey, with our luggage in hand, we stood in line for lodging in hotels or boarding houses, now all owned by the State. In a vacation house I was assigned to a room with four beds in it. After I plunked down on one of the beds two more girls that I did not know arrived.

….I wanted to see the Baltic Sea as soon as possible, so I left the house and ran down to the dunes….The air was invigorating and rushed through my hair as I ran…into the cold water that flushed around my ankles.

“This is life! This is freedom!”

….Our food was the same as what I ate at home, except eel was served more frequently. Ever since I knew that eel feed on dead humans, I did not care much for it. But in a time when food was rationed, I ate it…

….The important thing for me was the sea. Once I walked along the beach the whole day, forgetting both lunch and dinner. I walked where there were no people–just myself and the sea. It seemed so free and it breathed in rhythmic swells and continually roared a song of freedom. I sang back to it as I walked along its shore.

Irene's World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin)

Irene’s World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin)

[First verse of song, finished in German and English in book]….My thoughts they are free, no one can ever guess them. They flee away, like shadows in the night. No human can know, no hunter can shoot, I declare to the sea, my thoughts are free!

….Out of nowhere stepped an armed guard. suddenly I was back in the real world of an armed police state.

“Where are you going, Fraulein? Turn around! Turn around! What are you doing out here? Waiting for a boat that will take you to Denmark, eh?”

“Don’t get excited, I am going.” Everything is guarded, I thought….It was so depressing…I lengthened my stride to put distance between myself and the guard.

[Next an old German folk song, Nun Adieu Du Mein Lieb’ Heimatland]

….One day we returned from an outing only to find that the…dining room was closed…the few things [in town] were on ration cards. So that day was without provision….

Suddenly a voice over the loudspeaker filled the air. “All persons not employed by Wismut A.G. must leave the resort.” We learned some vacationers had secretly rented some boats in the hope of getting to Denmark. Silently I prayed that those people with children in their boat would reach the safe shores of Denmark and freedom.

….I washed my new dress. It turned out to be paper–more disappointment. I had paid half a month’s salary for this paper dress.

[Excerpts from Book 3 of Iron Curtain Memoirs, in Survive Little Buddy]

The mention of eel, called “paling” here in Holland, doesn’t make my stomach turn as much as it used to. When Irene references their carrion eating ways, though, I can’t help picturing the dead soldiers in the tide in those first 20 minutes of the movie Saving Private Ryan. I think I’ll steer clear of eel on our vacation to Spain.

Next up, P is for Publishing Unexpectedly.

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Kristin King is an author, NGO co-founder, and currently living as an expat in The Netherlands, where smoked eel is very popular. Bought whole from the fish monger across the street from her grocery, you twist the head and pull down to skin the eel from end to end. A couple of her sons really like it. Luckily, they don’t read her blog.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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N is for Nursing With the Comrades #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2Z

Irene's World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin)

Irene’s World War 2 Childhood, (teen)Years Hidden As a Boy, and Escape to Freedom (East to West Berlin)

You can see here how Irene’s childhood during World War 2 inspired her nursing career. She wanted to help those who were suffering. As a young adult living under the thumb of the Soviets, she fell in love for the first time and achieved her nursing dream. Life was precarious even in the hospital where any misstep might lead to being punished or disappeared.

Our political teachers [at the hospital] called venereal diseases the capitalistic diseases. Everything they disliked was labeled “capitalistic.” On the other hand, all technical achievements were invented by the Russians.We secretly laughed about those foolish claims.

The order came that we must meet once each week to learn how to become better Communists. One-fifth of the hospital personnel now wore party pins. They reminded me of the Nazi pins our school teachers wore. Once seated in a meeting, a list was sent around with instructions to “sign your name.” Party authorities checked those who came to the meetings and reprimanded those who did not attend.

….When I returned to work [after vacation] I found more people had joined the Communist Party to put themselves in better employment situations. Even Herr Viehstig, a custodian who only had an elementary education at the time, was advanced to be our second Culture Director.

….It was important to be respectful toward the Culture Directors, and we had two of them. They had the power to send people away for severe punishment and they did. Sister Wally, an RN, and her husband were arrested after her husband was accused of having done some work for the West. Authorities felt Sister Wally must have known about his activities, so she was also arrested…We never heard how many years people were sentenced to serve, and I never saw her again.

How strange life can be. When Sister Wally was arrested some people spoke in whispers about what had happened. They tried to look the other way. Sadly, some of these same people got arrested only a few years later. The heavy hand of communism snatched people from our midst just as the Nazis had taken our Jewish neighbors. [Excerpted from Survive Little Buddy, Book 3, Escape to Freedom. All rights reserved.]

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Kristin King is the publisher of Irene Kucholick’s memoirs. She is looking forward to the next time she is able to visit Irene in Maryland.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2016 in Memoirs & History

 

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