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Irena's Gift Author, Karen Kirsten, WWII book

Karen Kirsten is the author of Irena's Gift. A former marketing executive, Karen is an Australian-American writer and Holocaust educator who speaks on the topics of hatred and reconciliation around the world. Her work explores the intersection of history, war, displacement, and identity. Karen’s essay “Searching for the Nazi Who Saved My Mother’s Life” was selected by Narratively as one of their Best Ever stories and nominated for The Best American Essays. Karen’s writing has also appeared in, The Week, The Jerusalem Post, WIĘŹ in Poland, Boston’s National Public Radio station, The Age (Melbourne), WA Today, The Brisbane Times and The Sydney Morning Herald


Raised in Australia by a Holocaust survivor mother and grandparents who silenced her questions about extermination camps, Karen lived among refugees who were hiding horrible secrets to reinvent themselves. After Karen discovered the grandmother she loved was in fact her mother’s aunt, she traveled the globe to uncover her family’s hidden past. She found the heroes who saved her mother and then facilitated awarding them Righteous Among The Nations medals. As an educator for Facing History, Karen recognizes the importance of discussing students’ most frequent question: “Was the SS officer who saved your mother a good Nazi?”​  


Karen’s biological grandfather’s surname is Przygoda, Polish for 'adventure.' True to her heritage, Karen has been kicked in the head after a kangaroo spooked her horse in Australia, cornered by a deadly snake in a tree-hide in Africa, and detained by police on the Zambian border. She’s shoveled horse-poo in Canada and Switzerland, trekked in the Himalayas, black-water-rafted cave diving with wetas in New Zealand, searched for her mother’s rescuers in Poland, and for a Nazi SS officer in Germany. Karen has lived in five countries across 3 continents and now calls MA, USA home.​

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