By David Taube, Glens Falls Post Star
Unbeknownst to Fred Spiegel, a Jewish boy living in Germany during World War II, a train that Germans were forcing him and about 70 other people onto was headed for Sobibór, Poland, a death camp.
He started screaming, “I don’t want to get on this train. I don’t want to get on this train.”
His cousin, who was a year older and who was also being pressed onboard, heard him, and added to the shouting.
The German officials held the pair back because they were making so much noise, said Spiegel, now 79. He recounted his story Wednesday to hundreds of Hudson Falls high school students as part of a Day of Remembrance, at which he was one of several speakers.
“If I and my cousin Alfred hadn’t made that commotion, I wouldn’t be standing here today,” he said.
Spiegel spoke for about an hour to hundreds of people in the school auditorium, emphasizing how kismet kept him off the wrong trains and on the right ones.
Despite the 6 million Jews killed during World War II, he wasn’t one of the 1.5 million children the Nazi Party slaughtered in extermination camps.
He was unaware of the train’s true destination until after the war, he said. The extermination camps were called resettlement or work camps.
“People never in their wildest mind thought there were death camps,” he said.
Although Spiegel published his autobiographical and family memoir, “Once the Acacias Bloomed,” in 2004, he learned more about his story four years ago because of a Hudson Falls teacher.
Social studies teacher Matt Rozell, while working on a World War II project with his class, received photos from a soldier who had taken part in liberating a trainload of Jewish prisoners near Magdeburg, Germany.
The class put together a website – the World War II Living History Project – and posted the photos.
The photos showed U.S. forces liberating prisoners from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, one of whom was Spiegel, from an abandoned train near the River Elbe.
Spiegel contacted Rozell and, in 2007, he and two other survivors from the train, were reunited at the school with one of their liberators – Carrol Walsh, a retired state judge.
The World War II Living History Project website has since discovered 200 more people who are survivors from that train and Rozell is leaving Monday for a trip to Israel, where he will speak before dozens of the survivors and their families.
Rozell will also meet in Israel with Frank Towers, a U.S. soldier who was one of the liberators; and the U.S. ambassador to Israel. The district has continued Holocaust remembrance efforts, seeking to hold an event every year, Rozell said, and Spiegel has visited several times.
A crowd of dozens of students surrounded Spiegel after his speech on Wednesday, seeking his autograph and posing for photos with
David Fish, a sophomore, said the event was optional, but students all decided to attend because of the event’s importance. Some of his friends bought Spiegel’s book, he said.
Two other trains that left Magdeburg were also stopped by Allied troops, Spiegel said, but days later, which made food scarce for passengers.
He also said, of about 30,000 people sent to Sobibór from Magdeburg [correction: Westerbork], 19 returned home.
“So, everything is luck,” he said, ending his speech. “OK? Thank you.”
NOTE: You can stream Fred’s talk at Hudson Falls by hitting the link below:
Credit: Post Star May 12, 2011 http://poststar.com/news/local/article_c2ea27d2-7c4a-11e0-909f-001cc4c002e0.html