My Dear Boy


My Dear Boy

A World War II Story of Escape, Exile, and Revelation

Joanie Holzer Schirm

352 pages
19 photographs, 7 illustrations, 2 maps, index


March 2019


$34.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

March 2019


$22.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

March 2019


$22.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

After the death of Joanie Holzer Schirm’s parents in 2000, she found hundreds of letters, held together by rusted paperclips and stamped with censor marks, sent from Czechoslovakia, Great Britain, China, and South and North America, along with journals, vintage film, taped interviews, and photographs. In working through these various materials documenting the life of her father, Oswald “Valdik” Holzer, she learned of her family history through his remarkable experiences of exile and loss, resilience and hope.

In this posthumous memoir, Schirm elegantly re-creates her father’s youthful voice as he comes of age as a Jew in interwar Prague, escapes from a Nazi-held army unit, practices medicine in China’s war-ravaged interior, and settles in the United States to start a family. Introducing us to a diverse cast of characters ranging from the humorous to the menacing, Holzer’s life story is an inspirational account of survival during wartime, a cinematic epic spanning multiple continents, and ultimately a tale with a twist—a book that will move readers for generations to come.

Author Bio

Joanie Holzer Schirm was the founding president of Geotechnical and Environmental Consultants, Inc., in Orlando, Florida, which she directed for seventeen years. She is now a full-time writer, speaker, and curator of the Holzer Collection, her father’s World War II legacy. Schirm is the author of Adventurers Against Their Will: Extraordinary World War II Stories of Survival, Escape, and Connection—Unlike Any Others, winner of the Global Ebook Award for best biography.


“A personal story of the triumph of the human spirit and the universal quest for peace, Joanie Holzer Schirm’s My Dear Boy takes us on a journey around much of the world, traversing history as well as geography. It is a timeless and moving World War II story told by the author through the words of her refugee father.”—Nina Streich, executive director, Global Peace Collaborative

“This stunning tribute to Schirm’s father’s legacy of service reminds us that our examination of the human heart as individual characters should lead us to protect the dignity of all others, no matter the friction of our differences.”—Buddy Dyer, mayor of Orlando

“Funny, sad, poignant, insightful, and spiritual, My Dear Boy is simply captivating and lovingly told by his daughter, a rare English-speaking writer who really seems to understand Bohemia. I could not put it down.”—P. R. Pinard, PhD, American historian working in Prague since 1993

“Soul-searching, real, and human. . . . By sharing her father’s story and the four hundred letters he left behind, Joanie has given him immortality.”—Moying Li, award-winning author of Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China during the Cultural Revolution

“Educators will find no better book than My Dear Boy to provide the sweeping context of pre– and World War II multi-continental events during the late 1930s and early 1940s.”—William “Bill” Younglove, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Fellow

“We learn from My Dear Boy how refugees and survivors in World War II were thrown into the midst of historical events and how they acted. There is enormous educational potential in the story of Dr. Oswald Holzer. We meet a man with values who never lost his empathy towards the ‘other.’ We learn that trauma often is overcome by resilience. Holzer’s life can teach future generations about history and humanity.”—Susanne Urban, PhD, former head of Historical Research and Education at the International Tracing Service, Germany

“A fascinating and very poignant story of professionalism, dedication, and survival! I understand Joanie Schirm’s efforts to preserve the details of her father’s saga.”—Lee R. Hiltzik, PhD, assistant director and head of donor relations and collection development at the Rockefeller Archive Center, New York

 “Out of the emotional landscape of her father’s experiences comes an extraordinary story of hope, passionately written . . . . At the heart of this book is the message in one letter that changed the way Dr. Holzer lived his life. This book is a labor of love for a daughter who tells a compelling story of a father who lived an exemplary life.”—Bill Nelson, U.S. senator, Florida

“Schirm’s power as a writer lies in her gift of crystalline focus. Her family story is one of grace in the face of universal struggle: full of awe, dappled synchronicities, and complicated life ‘happenings’ that touch one’s core. It is a gift for the next generation and the next.”—Pat Williams, senior vice president of the Orlando Magic and author of Coach Wooden’s Forgotten Teams

“I sometimes wonder what I would have done. . . . Would I have seen that the only real choice for survival was to leave the people I loved and everything I knew? Or would I have stayed, confident (wrongly so) that things would get better? Thank you for touching my heart and moving me to think about questions like that.”—Laurie Lee, former deputy director of Just Read, Florida! Florida Department of Education

Table of Contents

Preface: Valdik’s Flight (Valdik Holzer: March 1939)
Introduction: How Emptying Boxes Filled My Life (Joanie Holzer Schirm, 2018)
Valdik’s Story
1. A Gifted Life
2. Bohemian Recollections
3. A World at War
4. A House of Many Rooms
5. “Without books, history is silent.”
6. Proud Czechs First
7. As if Stopped Mid-Gesture: Cafe Mánes
8. In Service of a Doomed Country
9. Compassionate Strangers
10. The Long Route to China
11. China Pulls Me In
12. A World Apart
13. Snowdrifts, Machine Guns, and Prayers
14. Learning to Love Peking and Its Forbidden City
15. Outback of Nowhere—Pingting
16. Love Breathes Life into the Heart
17. Leaving China
18. From Freedom to Infamy
19. A New Life in a New World
20. The Letter That Changed Everything
21. Dealing with the Outcome

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