Nancy Sprowell Geise

Writer • Author • Speaker

Nominated for 3 Awards

Auschwitz 34207 is a finalist for three incredible awards by the CIPA-EVVY Awards in the categories of: Biography, History and Cover Design! The winners will be announced in Denver on Sunday August 22nd. I am so incredibly honored to be in such tremendous company!

Marsha Dubrow's (DC Art Travel Examiner) wonderful article in

July 21, 2015 4:12 PM MST 

Young Joe Rubinstein. 'Auschwitz #34207 The Joe Rubinstein Story'. Courtesy of author Nancy S. Geise, used with permission 

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'Auschwitz #34207 The Joe Rubinstein Story' by Nancy Sprowell Geise. Cover image courtesy of Nancy Sprowell Geise, used with permission

Two things that Rubinstein had kept hidden for 70 years until agreeing to the book: he was forced to work as a Sonderkommando (Special commando/death brigade), moving bodies from Auschwitz's gas chambers to open pits, and was sexually assaulted repeatedly by a fellow inmate, a capo whom even the SS guards feared, author Nancy Sprowell Geise said. 

The author had offered to leave out those two most gruesome of all the indignities. But Rubinstein told her, “'The story is not complete without them. This needs to be told.’” Although extremely worried about his family’s reactions, after the book came out in April, Rubinstein's grandson told him, “'I never loved you more.’”

Rubinstein's story began before dawn on a frigid morning in one of Radom, Poland’s Jewish ghettos, when German soldiers with machine-guns forced 21-year-old Joe, wearing only a thin undershirt, pajama bottoms and no shoes, into a crowded open truck. “'But I haven’t done anything wrong,’” he kept saying. Overnight, several of the captured men froze to death. That was just the first of many “miraculous, improbable escapes from death” during more than two years at several camps, Geise told the rapt audience.

He arrived at Auschwitz, the most notorious Nazi death camp, on April 30, 1942. He was made a Sonderkommando (Special commando/death brigade), moving thousands of corpses. “He prayed for their souls and prayed that his family would not be among them,” the author said. Rubinstein’s entire family was killed in the Holocaust, including his widowed mother, his identical twin, and three other siblings. (They were among the 380,000 Jews from Poland's Radom District who lost their lives during the time of the German occupation, according to the Radom Regional Commission.) 

When Joe was transferred to a coal mining sub-camp of Auschwitz, he thought the worst was over. But there, he was repeatedly sexually abused.

In the book, written in Joe’s voice, he says, “Death would have been easier than spending the rest of my life trying to forget and forgive myself" for the sexual attacks. "The only thing that kept me from taking my life was the realization that my death would have been the final victory of evil, taking every last morsel of my being and that of my family.” He adds, “Every day, I chose life.”

And how did he manage to continue choosing life day after day, camp after camp, until being liberated when he was perilously near death from TB and starvation?

“He never gave up on life, on love, or God,” the author noted. “He’s amazing. He says, ‘Tell everyone life is precious, love life, love God.’”

Knowing that no one he had loved was alive, he never returned to Poland. He and a fellow freed inmate, a German Jew, went to Germany. There, he fell in love with a Catholic woman, Irene -- and they've been married for 68 years. They emigrated to the United States in 1950. 

In New York, this man who had been barefoot when seized by the Nazis, and whose feet were bloodied by the wooden clogs he wore in Auschwitz (Joe explains "If my feet became infected, I would not be able to work and I would be shot.") -- became one of America’s leading shoe designers.

His shoe sketches got him hired by Beth Levine, the designer (and wife) of Herbert Levine Shoes -- so esteemed that it had a retrospective at New York's Metropolitan Museum in 1976, a year after the manufacturer closed. Rubinstein became the lead designer for Nina Shoes.

Later, in yet another improbable life event, he and Irene moved to the Midwest, to a retirement home managed by Geise. Noticing part of his usually covered tattoo #34207, Geise eventually asked whether her daughter might interview him for a school project. “'Never,’” Rubinstein responded.

Geise never mentioned it again, but after they became well acquainted, he asked her to write his story. “Joe realized that when he dies, everything would die with him. His (current) family and the family he lost deserved for his story to get out,” she explained.

“I'm the most unlikely person to do this. I’m not Jewish. I’m not a Holocaust scholar.” She thanked the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) repeatedly for their extensive research and additional help, and "for their dedication to helping us all never forget."

“I crawled into a cave, a very dark cave, for three years to write it.” She published the book on, and it shot to #1 in Amazon's Holocaust memoir section, and remains at the top of the list. It's also on BlueInk Review's Best Books of 2015.Among the many very positive write-ups, the prestigious "Kirkus Reviews" termed it "A riveting, well-documented account of survival that’s harrowing, inspiring and unforgettable."

Geise's other book, “The Eighth Sea,” which she describes as “historical Christian fiction,” also has done very well. Initially, she had no confidence in it, and stashed it away in a drawer for 23 years.

So the author encouraged everyone to “Follow your dream; don’t give in to fear.”

And regarding the Holocaust, “The most important thing we can all do is make sure that people never, never, never forget.” The museum presented her with its Coin of Excellence.

"This book is dedicated to the millions of Holocaust victims who did not live to share their stories."

For more info:  Auschwitz #34207 The Joe Rubinstein Story," by Nancy Sprowell Geise, who will speak at the Library of Congress in October. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, S.W., near the Washington Monument on the National Mall, Washington, D.C. 202-488-0400.


Many thanks to the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum!

It was truly one of the greatest honors of my life to share Joe's remarkable story with the staff and volunteers of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. in July. What an incredible audience and experience! Thanks to all the staff of the Museum who helped make this possible and to Marsha Dubrow for covering the event so beautifully in the link below.

#1 on Amazon!

We are so pleased to announce that for the last several days, Auschwitz 34207 - The Joe Rubinstein Story has been ranked #1  on Amazon in the category of Best Sellers Holocaust Memoirs. Thank you all for help making this possible and spreading the word about this remarkable Holocaust survivor!

70 Years Ago Today Joe Walked Out to Freedom!

After spending several years of his life in various Nazi concentration camps, including over two years at Auschwitz, Joe Rubinstein walked out of the Theresienstadt ghetto/camp 70 years ago today, May 6, 1945. Though he was more dead than alive, he was alive! I praise God that the life of this remarkable man was spared. I'm so grateful Joe (now 94) decided to share his incredible story in Auschwitz 34207, so that the miracle of what he overcame and the lives of his lost family and so many others will never be forgotten.

Over 200 people gathered to celebrate the book launch of Auschwitz 34207

Thanks for all of you who were able to come (and those who were only able to be with us in thought) in celebrating the launch of Auschwitz 34207 about remarkable holocaust survivor, Joe Rubinstein and helping make this day such a tremendous occasion. As some of you know, the release of this book was the result of two and a half years of research, interviews and writing, but it was so much more than that, as for the first time since the day he was liberated over 70 years ago... Joe was willing to finally share his experiences, and what experiences they were! There were times when re-living them caused Joe unimaginable pain and yet, somehow doing so was a release for him in some ways, and a tremendous gift to all of us. I was especially grateful Joe, Irene and their family were able to join us for the launch. A presentation about the book was followed by 94 year-old Joe and his wife Irene being introduced to a rousing, standing ovation. Joe's comments to the crowd about how we must all love life, love God and love one another were so powerful. After he was liberated from a Nazi concentration camp, Joe tried to cope with his sorrow by,  "Dancing it away." After the war, several nights a week, Joe and his young bride, Irene, would go dancing, with the Waltz being their favorite. At the celebration, pianist Lucretia Sprowell, played "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" as Joe and Irene danced. Unprompted, the room broke into song. Needless to say, there were very few dry eyes in the room! To cap off the presentation, singer Amy Davis sang a beautiful song inspired by words found etched into a wall at Auschwitz...the words discovered were: I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining. I believe in love, even when I can't feel it. I believe in God, even when He's silent. Such sentiments were how I believe Joe survived and how he was able to rebuild from the ashes of his life, with joy.

Below are a few photos of the wonderful launch. More will be coming soon along with a video of the event. Thanks to everyone who helped bring the story of this amazing man to the world, including many incredibly talented people: editor and publisher Donna Mazzitelli (Merry Dissonance Press); layout and cover designer Nick Zelinger (NZ Graphics); renown photographer (cover photo) Nicholas DeSciose; Susie Scott and her i25production team for their awesome promotional video; photographer and web designer Crystal Geise; Hallie and Natalie Geise for content editing; retired high school English teacher, John Forssman and his wife Sharon; my parents Bob and Lucretia for everything; Judith Briles (Author U); Mark Coker (Smashwords), Justine Schofield (Pubslush), Joan Stewart (The Publicity Hound); Georgia McCabe (Social Media Sensei); Penny Sansevieri (Author Marketing Experts); John Kremer (Open Horizons); Amy Collins (Newshelves); Daniel Hall (Daniel Hall Combined Enterprises); and so many family and friends who helped throughout this process and with the launch including Andrew Merrill, Gregory Whitsell, Sally Robinson, Janet Flax, Erika Nossokoff, Jane Goding, Jane Penoyer, Jim and Clare Sprowell; early draft readers Sara Hunt, Charlotte Bates, Sybil Wiegman, Jenny Bergstrom; Sheryl McCarthy; Betsy McDermott, Leis Doran, Dale and Carolyn Geise, Sue Fackler; Jane Goble; Jamie Meyer; Carol Frayley; Dave and Tom Sprowell; Cheryl Davis; Ethlyn Irwin, Connie and Bruce Berman; numerous holocaust professionals at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum including Dr. Peter Black and resource coordinator Miclean Lowy Amir; Dr. David Silberklang (editor Yad Vashem, Israel); Dr. Michael Berenbaum (Director. Sigi Institute and Professor American Jewish University), Katharine Teacher (Adult Program Director Aaron Family Jewish Community Center in Dallas); and foremost my life editor, Doran. I have no words to thank you all for your tremendous help and heart for this project! 

Prairie Dog – An Author's Best Friend, A Memoir

For those who spend their days writing, sometimes find that it can be a bit lonely, especially for those of who are social by nature. This is true for me. Yet, throughout the writing of both my books: The Eighth Sea and Auschwitz 34207, my loneliness was tempered by one very loving Golden Retriever named, “Prairie” or more affectionately known as, “Prairie Dog.” Prairie stayed by my side (often sitting on my feet) through every word written of both books. She died at age fourteen, the day after I completed writing the Auschwitz 34207 manuscript. I think some part of her knew she had to wait until we finished this together. I'm not sure I could have completed the book without her, for at times, the journey of writing of this remarkable Holocaust survivor took to me to some very dark places.

When Prairie was twelve-years-old, she came with us on a trip to Florida. I took so many photos of Prairie on the beach that the trip forever became known as, “The Prairie Dog photo-shoot vacation.” This photo is my favorite of her from that trip. For although she was quite elderly at the time, she still had that “puppy look.” I will forever treasure such precious memories.

Can You Help Joe Find a Photo of His Family?

At the age of 21, Joe was taken by force from his home by the Nazis. He never again saw his widowed mother and his four siblings, including his identical twin. They were all believed to have been killed at the Treblinka Nazi death camp. In addition to losing everyone he knew and loved, Joe lost his home, his country and every possession he had. He does not have even one photo of his beloved family. He yearns to see the face of his mother again. One of my great hopes and dreams in publishing Joe's story is that someone out there will recognize Joe's family names and will realize they have a photo of his family from Radom, Poland. Finding such a photo would be the greatest gift anyone could give this lovely and kind ninety-four-year-old.

Joe came from a large family that had lived for generations in the Radom area. I am convinced that somewhere out there a photo of Joe’s family exists. On the Timeline below, you will find the names and birthdates of some of his family. If you have any information about such a photo, please contact me!

Joe's grandparents on his father's side of the family: Chaim Rubinsztejn and Chaja Fyrman.

Joe's grandparents on his mother's side of the family: Mendel Kierszenblat and Ruchla Wajcman (Their family may have lived at some point in Tomaszow, Poland.)

Joe's parents: Ruwin Rubinsztejn and Reska Kierszenblat were married in Radom, Poland, February 24, 1910. Reska went by “Rachel.”Their first born son, Solomon Rubinsztein died sometime before 1920 at approximately the age of 12.

Joe’s brother: Dawid Anszel Rubinsztein went by the name “Anszel” was born in Radom, Poland May 30, 1919.

Joe's identical twin brother: Chaim Rubinsztejn.

Joe's name at birth: “Icek Jakub Rubinsztejn.” Joe's birth certificate shows that he was born September 16, 1920. But growing up, Joe and his brother believed their birthdays to be October 15, 1922.

Note: During the war Joe’s name was spelled “Juzek Rubinsztein.” After the war his name was changed to “Jozef ‘Joe’ Rubinstein,” and later, once in America, it became Joseph “Joe” Rubinstein.

Joe’s brother, Abram “Abe” Rubinsztejn was born in Radom, August 26, 1923.

Joe’s sister, Laja Rubinsztejn born in Radom, March 15, 1926.

Joe’s father, Ruwin Rubinsztejn passed away approximately December 1926 (although the exact year of his death is unknown).

Joe's mother Reska “Rachael” Kierszenblat and siblings Dawid Anszel Rubinsztein, Chaim Rubinsztejn, Abram Rubinsztejn, and Laja Rubinsztejn were all believed to have been murdered at the Treblinka Death Camp in August 1942.

Extended Family: Joe's father Ruwin had a sister named Geitel. She married Bernard Ackerman who, at one point, resided in Stuttgart, Germany.

Joe's mother, Reska Kierszenblat “Rachel” had two brothers who moved to the United States many years before the war. One passed away before the end of the war and the other, Elliot Kierszenblat, lived in New York City and married a woman named Norma. They had three sons, one named Solomon “Sol” who befriended Joe after the war.

Joe recalls his mother sending photos of their family to New York prior to the war, but after the war, the family in New York did not know anything about such photos. It is uncertain whether they ever arrived.

March 21st Official Launch Celebration of Auschwitz 34207

Join us in celebrating the launch of the newest book by author Nancy Sprowell Geise. 

Come and meet remarkable Holocaust survivor, Joe Rubinstein, and his wife Irene and enjoy complimentary refreshments.

Joe-Irene Rubinstein

Event Details:

Auschwitz 34207 – The Joe Rubinstein Story
Saturday, March 21
3:00 P.M.

Location: The Lodge at  MacKenzie Place
4751 Pleasant Oak Drive
Fort Collins, Colorado

Not Forgotten

May 2015, marks the 70th Anniversary of the day that Joe Rubinstein walked out of the Thereienstadt (a Nazi ghetto/concentration camp in Czechoslovakia). Until now, the remarkable story of how Joe survived has remained hidden from the world.

Interview of Author Nancy Geise, by Andrea Costantine

Every few years, though, I would dust it off and rewrite it but then would set it aside. The nagging sense of it not being done haunted me. I began dreaming about the characters…as if they were saying, ‘Finish us!
— Nancy Sprowell Geise

[AC] How did you get started writing your book? Or what inspired your book?

[NG] In 1979, I was a senior in high school and my English teacher, Grace Bauske (Ames High, Ames, Iowa) made an off-handed remark that I “should be writing.” That comment stayed with me.  I had always been interested in writing historical fiction. One day, I decided to make it happen. I thought about all the things I love in a story—seeking and finding…perseverance against all odds…and the idea that people can be bound together forever. As soon as I made the decision to begin, the story just came to me…in total. Many years later, that story, The Eighth Sea, may be in be in the running for taking the longest time ever to be written! I actually wrote the first draft 25 years ago. I then spent nearly three years doing extensive research—set in the 1700s, this historical fiction unfolds in three different parts of the world (St. Christopher, West Indies, Bath and Bristol, England and finally Charleston, SC). My life then got busy with raising three daughters, careers, etc. I always knew I would finish the book, but I could never see fit to muster the creative energy to do so. Every few years, though, I would dust it off and rewrite it but then would set it aside. The nagging sense of it not being done haunted me. I began dreaming about the characters…as if they were saying, “Finish us!” The characters were/are so real to me; they feel like family. When I was in Charleston doing research, I went to an old cemetery and found myself half expecting to see their markers!

A year ago, my husband’s job took us to Topeka, Kansas. Not having any connections there turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise, because I was able to completely focus. I basically lived in hibernation for the past last year, spending about 10-12 hours a day rewriting and rewriting. The end result was a novel ready for publication.

[AC] What was the hardest part about completing your book?

[NG] The hardest part was letting go. After keeping this story so close to my heart for so long, it was difficult to release…and to be content (and secure) enough to let it have its wings…faults and all. I have had to force myself to remember that as parents, when the kids “leave the nest,” they do so with imperfections and all. Launching a novel is very much like nudging a child from the nest. The ability to let go of something intimate and as private as a novel, and have it go public, is very exciting but also very difficult emotionally.

[AC] Did you learn any lessons in the book creation process, if so what where they?

[NG] I guess my greatest lesson is that I never considered myself a perfectionist…until it came to this book, and I’ve since learned how damaging that desire to be “perfect” can be. Fairly recently, I realized what was holding me back from finishing it was that I did not want it to be read until it was “perfect,” which of course was not realistic. Once I realized that fear was holding me back, I knew I could not let that stop me. Until I wrote this book, I always thought I was fairly brave. I know now this is not entirely true, so I’ve found the process very humbling. And while I still struggle with the desire to “improve it,” I have been blessed by feedback from people who have read it and have shared the profound impact this story has had on them. So this process has been such a great reminder that each of us can make a difference in the lives of others…regardless of our “imperfections.”

It’s odd too, that in a sense, I’ve learned a lot from my characters. Sometimes when I’m down about something, I find myself wondering how Brenna (the heroine in my book) would respond. And I realize that she would not give in to defeat, nor should I.

Brenna never gave up on her dream of finding her place in the world…her eighth sea, so to speak…her way home. Writing this book has taught me the power of never giving up on my own dreams.

[AC] What tips or advice do you have for aspiring authors?

[NG]Write about what you love, don’t give up and don’t let your desire for something to be “perfect” stop you from moving your book forward. And whatever you do, don’t give up on your dream.

[AC] What else would you like to share about you or your book?

[NG] Something unexpected happened in the process…and that was the creation of a theme song. It’s an odd but true story. Whenever I worked on my book, I found find myself humming this little melody. It was driving me crazy, so one day—several years ago—I decided to see if I could play it on the piano. (I barely play the piano, so this was a task!) When my husband came home that night, I played it for him. He said, “That sounds like your book. You should put words to it.” A light bulb went off….so I got a poem I had written for my character Emily. I had never been able to find a place for the poem in the book. The poem basically dropped into the music. I then gathered a group of musicians and we went into a recording studio and made the CD.

The book is about a family journeying by ship from England to America in 1769. There is a terrible ship wreck and they think they’ve lost their infant daughter Brenna at sea (when in fact, she was rescued and raised on the island of St. Christopher—now called St. Kitts). The book then skips 19 years later to Brenna’s life. The song is written from Emily’s perspective (Brenna’s mother).  Emily is never able to come to terms with the loss of her daughter, always sensing that something was not right. The song is about her willing her thoughts, through the wind and over the sea, to her lost daughter.  The painting on the cover is of Brenna, standing on a faraway shore, listening.

How can people find out more about your book?
To order:
The Eighth Sea on Amazon
Song link and the Painting Demonstration

Copyright Nancy Sprowell Geise © 2019. All Rights Reserved.