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New novel brings together WWII, Holocaust, how Nazis used punchcards, and “Baby Scoop Era”

Counting Lost Stars author Kim van Alkemade is on The Spark

  • Scott LaMar

Airdate: September 12th, 2023


Historical fiction is one of the most popular genres of books Americans are reading today. Readers enjoy stories told with history in the background but most historical fiction readers like the history to be accurate.

With that in mind, author Kim van Alkemade’s latest novel Counting Lost Stars is inspired by her family history during World War II and the Holocaust, the Baby Scoop Era when more than a million pregnant women were coerced into giving babies up for adoption and touches on issues that are relevant today.

Appearing on The Spark Tuesday, van Alkemake said,”One of the things that really inspired me was learning that punch card computers were used to organize the Holocaust, and that’s not something I discovered. Edwin Black wrote a book in the 80s called IBM in the Holocaust. But it was interesting to me as a device for creating a story that would bridge two time periods. So I have in the 1960s in New York, Rita Klein, who’s a young woman working as a computer programmer who’s become pregnant, and she’s not married and she’s coerced into giving up her baby for adoption. In 1940s, Netherlands, another young woman, Cornelia Vogel, who’s working for the Ministry of Information, which is a fictional version of a real ministry where they are using computers to conduct a census of the population in Holland that will help them identify every Jewish person under the Nazi regime. And the two stories come together when Rita Klein meets Jacob Nassy, who is a Dutch Holocaust survivor on the observation deck of the Empire State Building and trying to help him find the information he’s looking for about his lost mother brings her to the 1940 story about Cornelia Vogel during the Holocaust.”

Part of van Alkemade’s own family story helped inspire the story. Her mother was from the Netherlands where his home city Rotterdam was bombed by the Germans during World War II and she describes her mother as a “Jewish girl from Brooklyn.”

The “Baby Scoop Era” after WWII is a unique story line in the book,”There was a lot of shame around unwed pregnancy and mothers, and yet there was a lot more sexual activity. Birth control was illegal unless you were already married. And so the result was many young women becoming pregnant and having no real options. And the Baby Scoop Era is a time when a system of adoption agencies came into place so that it really seemed for many young women that their only option was to — it was called going away. You’d go away maybe “to visit a sick aunt.” You would say, “come back six months later and pretend it never happened.” Adoptions were closed. Nobody ever knew what happened with the babies. And, when it’s a choice that you make, fantastic, great. But it was often not presented to the young woman as a choice, but more as something her family was so ashamed of. They wouldn’t give her any support. And it was really a pretty coercive system in some place, in some cases.”

Van Alkemade will discuss Counting Lost Stars and the issues it raises Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Great Room at the Stern Center on the campus of Dickinson College. It’s part of the Clarke Center for Contemporary Issues. Van Alkemade also has a book event scheduled Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Shippensburg University.




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