Joseph Taler, a Jewish teen-ager in Poland during World War II, survived the Holocaust by ditching his Star of David armband, taking a Christian surname and hiding in a village far from his home.
Now he is Dr. Taler, 72, a retired family doctor who practiced medicine in an office on Aquahart Road in Glen Burnie for nearly 40 years and has written "In Search of Heroes." The 260-page autobiography is sprinkled with black-and-white photos of his family, copies of his false identification papers and hand-drawn maps.
He wrote about his boyhood in prewar Poland, his escape, his 21 months on the run from the Nazis and life as a Jew posing as a Catholic, never knowing if the slightest misstep would doom him.
He said he felt compelled to write the book to honor the Jews who died in the Holocaust and the Polish Catholics who helped many of them escape.
He didn't want to deny his Jewish heritage that night in June 1942, he said recently. But it "was how we survived the war."
Dr. Taler recalls vividly the night his escort from the Polish underground knocked on his door, his mother's tears as they said good-bye and the trip under cover of darkness to an apartment building courtyard where he pulled off the white armband with the blue Star of David that Jews were required to wear then and threw it into a corner. He took his false identity papers and crossed the street into the Christian sector, where he became Josef Skwarczynski, railroad worker.
"We suddenly moved from one world to another one. It was like Columbus discovering America," Dr. Taler said. "I suddenly had become this new person."
He went from Rozwadow to Lwow to Rzeszow, where he lived under his assumed name and eked out a back-bending living loading and unloading coal on railroad cars. His parents, both using false identity papers, eventually caught up with their only child in Rzeszow.
Dr. Taler started attending medical school in Russian-occu
pied Poland in 1944. In 1950, he graduated from the University of Marburg medical school in Germany and immigrated to the United States with his wife, Bronka, another Holocaust survivor, at the end of the year. They eventually settled in Glen Burnie, where he set up his practice.
Dr. Taler began writing his book soon after he retired in 1991. It was published earlier this year by Gateway Press in Baltimore.
He has scheduled a book-signing and discussion from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Annapolis and at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 14 at Bibelot in Pikesville.
Anna E. Greenberg and her husband, who live in Annapolis, have been friends of Dr. Taler's for 22 years.
Mrs. Greenberg said the couple had heard bits and pieces of Dr. Taler's early life, but the book provides more details. "I found it was a dramatic tale of his survival during the Holocaust under two occupiers during World War II," she said. "That was the twist to it. It wasn't just the Germans but the Russians, too. It was his adventure with life and death."
The Talers have moved from their place in Glen Burnie to a spacious house on a tree-lined street overlooking the Severn River near Annapolis.
Despite the harsh life of the Holocaust years, Dr. Taler said he bears no hard feelings.
"I don't have any bitterness toward anybody," he said. "I think the people were misled by their leaders. We had some sick people and sadists. But we have them today, too."