Florabel Kinsler dies at 83; social worker aided Holocaust survivors

After World War II, social workers typically urged Holocaust survivors to forget their horrific wartime experiences and get on with their lives.

That struck Florabel Kinsler as a foolish and impossible order. During a decades-long career, the Los Angeles social worker and psychologist encouraged survivors to speak up about their traumatic experiences.

"Flo would never moralize or tell people how they should feel," said Sarah Moskovitz, a Cal State Northridge professor emeritus who collaborated with Kinsler. "By her compassion … she created an atmosphere of acceptance."

A pioneer in the treatment of Holocaust survivors and their offspring, Kinsler died Jan. 26 of congestive heart failure at a convalescent care center in Santa Monica, said her son, Warren Kinsler. A longtime resident of Brentwood, she was 83.

A New York native who moved with her husband to California in 1954, Kinsler received her master's of social work from UCLA. For her thesis, she researched the effects on American soldiers of incarceration in prisoner-of-war camps during World War II. She observed increased levels of alcoholism and symptoms of severe mental problems that would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder.

While working at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, she noticed that a disproportionate number of older Holocaust survivors were struggling with broken marriages, alcoholism, and psychiatric and emotional problems. Kinsler became a compassionate sounding board for their stories of unimaginable wartime horrors. She counseled them to explore new adventures, travel or volunteer.

She also treated so-called child survivors — individuals who as children in Nazi-occupied Europe had been sent to concentration camps or had remained hidden or wandered forests to avoid detection. In addition, she treated the children of Holocaust survivors.

Kinsler shared her work at conferences worldwide and helped train generations of new therapists. "She has an amazing legacy," said Susie Forer-Dehrey, chief operating officer of Jewish Family Service.

In the early 1980s, Kinsler sought out Moskovitz after reading her book "Love Despite Hate: Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Their Adult Lives." Together they organized a meeting for child survivors at the University of Judaism (now known as American Jewish University).

With Jewish Family Service's support, Kinsler initiated regular group sessions for child survivors to share their experiences and bond with one another. "We found that people who had sat next to each other in high school never knew they were both survivors," Moskovitz said. The child survivors group that Kinsler helped start in Los Angeles became a model internationally.

Florabel Pincus was born June 2, 1929, in the Bronx, N.Y. Her Russia-born father, Julius, owned a kosher butcher shop in Harlem. Her mother, Ella, known as Alice, was a homemaker.

She received her bachelor's degree in social work and psychology in 1949 from New York University, where she became steeped in the social liberalism of Greenwich Village and Washington Square Park.

On a family summer vacation to a Long Island beach, she met Martin Kinsler, an engineer. They married in August 1949 and moved to Cleveland, where she attended Western Reserve University.

They came to California so Martin could work for North American Aviation, first on experimental aircraft and later on the Apollo program.

She worked briefly for Jewish Family Service before the birth of her son and her daughter, Sandra. After several years as a homemaker, Kinsler resumed working full time at Jewish Family Service.

In 1986, Kinsler received a doctorate in clinical psychology from International College in Los Angeles. At a conference in 1988, a colleague told Kinsler about Cafe Europa, a social club for older Holocaust survivors that was thriving in Sweden. Kinsler brought the idea to Los Angeles. The group still holds weekly meetings in the Fairfax neighborhood and the San Fernando Valley.

In recent years, Kinsler traveled throughout Europe. Although not an observant Jew, she visited synagogues and concentration camps. "She searched for Jews [and] connected them to one another," her daughter said.

Despite failing health, Kinsler worked until last June.

Kinsler's husband died in 2007. In addition to her son, Warren, of Arcadia and her daughter, Sandra, of Ventura, Kinsler is survived by two grandsons.


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