Ijssel, her son
and Rabbi Allan
Freehling at her
"(Diesel) gives us
reason to believe
we can learn
our paths," said
George returned to Eng-
land. Depressed, lonely
and burdened by the
dark secrets she hid, sui-
cide again seemed to
Liesel like the easiest so-
But after a second
botched attempt, Liesel
stumbled upon a three-
day seminar on emo-
tional healing and
transformation in 1986.
One of the speakers was
Rachel, the daughter of
Holocaust survivors. She
poured out her frustra-
tion about her parents'
obsession with the past.
"How could I forget?
It's a sin for me to feel
good, to enjoy my work,
to date a man. I can't al-
low myself to be happy.
To me, my parents are
the Nazis!" she said ve-
Suddenly Liesel was
on her feet. "No! Your
parents and you are the
victims!" And before she
knew what she was saying, she blurted out the entire sto-
ry of her sordid past to her predominantly Jewish audience.
"I was as shocked as they were," Ms. Appel said. "I ex-
pected everybody to hiss and be very hateful. I looked at
Rachel and I saw the sheer hate I thought I deserved blaz-
ing in her eyes."
But something unexpected happened. The Jews converged
upon Liesel, showering her with love, hugs, kisses and un-
derstanding. They even walked her to her car and made
sure she was all right before they let her drive away.
"It was the first time I ever allowed people to touch me
like that," Ms. Appel said. "I never hugged anyone. I always
kept everyone at bay because I didn't feel I deserved to be
loved. Not even by my children."
Rachel and Liesel became friends. And slowly, Liesel be-
gan to confront the painful memories buried deep inside
her. She reclaimed her German names. And she traveled
to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles to uncov-
er the truth about her parents' involvement in the Holo-
caust. As far as she could tell, the Steffens had been strong
supporters of the regime. But they were not directly
responsible for the barbaric camps and ghettos.
"That doesn't excuse them," Ms. Appel said. "It was ter-
rible for me to have it all confirmed."
She also discovered the identity of the Jewish stranger:
Willi Meyer. Although Ms. Appel believes he is dead, she is
still searching for his American son with the same name.
Recently she contacted one of the neighbors who helped
hide Willi during the war.
"There's still a lot of anti-Semitism in Germany," Ms. Ap-
pel said. "She kept telling me I was lucky I got away. She
lives like an outcast because she helped the Jews."
Liesel's new Jewish friends urged her to visit her mother
to make her healing complete. The two spoke several times
on the phone, but Else Steffens died before Liesel made
up her mind to see her.
"One of the last things she said to me was, 'You've always
been a good person,' " Ms. Appel said softly. "I cried for a
whole day. I believe she admitted that I had done the right
thing and she had done the wrong thing. I think I would
have forgiven her if she had said that sooner."
Encouraged by people's reactions at the seminar, Liesel
published a short autobiography in the Los Angeles Times.
For weeks hundreds of people called the newspaper office
and her home to offer support and tell their own tales of sur-
vival. And for the first time, her children learned part of the
truth about her.
"I always knew there was something about my mother
that was very closed in," said Hugh Scotland, 30. "I was very
surprised, but I was also very glad she got it out. She was
more at peace with herself, and things really came around
for us as a family."
There were negative calls, too — hate messages and
threats from neo-Nazis who insisted the Holocaust had nev-
er happened. Someone even found out Liesel did not have
a green card and tried to have her deported. But those re-
sponses were few and far between.
In 1989 Liesel enrolled in an introductory Judaism course.
She wanted to understand the religion that helped people
survive the concentration camps. A year later she converted
at the University Synagogue in Los Angeles.
"It was like a revelation for me," she said. "I felt like I was
That same year Liesel married Don Appel, a retired in-
surance agency owner, and returned to South Florida.
Ms. Appel's brother, Fritz, who still lives in Germany,
brushed off her conversion as a "phase." They rarely speak.
But her eyes brighten as she describes her favorite parts of
"I love the way women are treated. I love all the cere-
monies and traditions. I love Shabbat. I love the strong sense
of identity. I love being God's chosen people but still having
to work hard for the betterment of everyone," she gushed.
`My Life Is Not My Own Anymore'
wo years ago Ms. Appel briefly returned to Germany
with her husband. She was surprised by how little
things had changed.
"They all still remembered my family," she said. "But I
felt like a stranger there. I feel no attachment to Germany."
She is writing a book about her experiences and spent
nine months drafting an autobiographical screenplay that
was optioned by Warner Brothers. She lectures in the com-
munity about "The Other Side of Holocaust" and encour-
ages Jews to let go of their hate for her country
"I am not suggesting we should forget. But if we look for
revenge, we are no better than Hitler himself," she said.
"The only way to ensure there will never be another Hitler
is to teach our children love."
Rabbi Allan Freehling, who officiated at Ms. Appel's con-
version ceremony and second marriage, calls his former
"Judaism is part of Liesel's very fiber," he said. "It's there
in her energy, her intellect, her wonderful sense of spiritu-
ality. She gives us all reason to believe we can learn from
our experiences and overcome anything in our paths."
"My life is not my own anymore," she said. "I have no am-
bition to be famous. But when I see what it does to people
when I tell them my story, I have to tell it again, even though
it is hard for me. This is the intimate story of a family that
was destroyed," she continued. "It also shows how my gen-
eration feels. We are also victims of our parents. And there
are many, many more stateless, homeless wanderers like
me out there." 0