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The Spigelmans: Saved From Auschwitz.

March 4, 2011

At the Sydney Jewish Museum this week.

After my talk on Levi, the museum presented me with a book called The Words to Remember It (Scribe, 2009), a book of the memoirs of child holocaust survivors. Mark Spigelman was born in southern Poland in November 1940 and survived because of the courage and love of his parents Majloch and Gustava. “I maintain that I survived because I had smart parents”, he writes.

His mother – who I was honoured to meet in the late 1970s – dyed her hair blond and had the advantage of blue eyes and an education in High German. She dressed her baby Mark as a girl so during the round-ups he would not have his pants pulled down and inspected for tell-tale circumcision. His daring mother would always travel in the compartment of the tram reserved for Germans, with her blond, blue eyed kid.

They were caught twice and survived because the German in charge looked at Mark and exclaimed, “Look at this lovely little girl! She reminds me of my little daughter.” A farm family took them in for hiding. Their motivation was that they had cooperated with the Germans and needed to protect a Jewish family for their post-war defence. Before, surviving in the local ghetto in a hollowed-out dirt hole, was a feat of sheer resilience on behalf of Mark’s socialist father. He believed none of the assurances of the Germans running the ghetto because fascists are always liars. They went into hiding before the ghetto was cleared and its other inmates transported to Auschwitz.

Mark with his parents. Note the armband torn out of the photo.

No matter how much I study the Holocaust I find disturbing new insights. The pictures in this book provide two. One shows Mark and his parents in late 1941. His mother has rolled down her armband with the yellow star with the word Jude, his father’s has been torn out of the picture. Here it is, a normal family photo, but they live on the edge of extinction because the occupying power is committed to murdering all who are Jewish.

Mark, grandfather Jacob and cousin Pucek. His grandfather and cousin died in Auschwitz a few months later.

Here is a photo of Mark Spigelman as a little girl from mid 1942 with his grandfather Jacob and his cousin Pucek. Within months of this photo both Jacob and Pucek died in Auschwitz. Look at Pucek’s fresh trusting face, the face of a six or seven year-old. A system of extermination was based self-consciously on the murder of children like this.

Mark’s younger brother Jim became the Chief Justice of New South Wales and Alan is a Professor of Surgery and Dean of the Clinical School at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.

In 1965, at my first political meeting at university I heard Jim Spigelman and Charlie Perkins speak about a freedom ride on behalf of Aboriginal rights in western NSW. Getting to know him in the Labor Party when we were both in our early 20s I had no idea that he carried the knowledge that his grandfather and cousin had been murdered; his mother and father through sheer willpower and skill had kept themselves and his older brother alive. After the war they found themselves living in Fitzgerald Avenue, Maroubra facing the sand hills and the scrub of the southern Sydney coastline. Launching this book, Jim Spigelman said:

I was born after the war and the stories I was able to piece together from my parent’s recollections and discussions were never complete, because it was difficult for them to talk about. The last member of my family of that generation is an aunt in New York. She emerged from Bergen-Belsen as a 16 year old girl suffering from typhoid. In terms of degrees of separation, Anne Frank died in the last week of the war from typhoid at Bergen-Belsen. There is a connection there that goes from Australia to Holland. My aunt will not talk about her experiences to this day. Others have been able to. My mother began to talk about it, because of the Holocaust survival group in Sydney when it emerged in the mid 80s.

 

2 Comments
  1. March 4, 2011 4:01 pm

    Bob, this is truly warming. I visited Auschwitz a couple of years ago, and continue to do things with Magen David Adom (Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross) and will show this to them. It would be great to regain contact with you.
    Chris

  2. March 10, 2011 9:28 pm

    Hi Bob, thanks for mentioning this book. I am not here to promote Booktopia… but you see my dad escaped from Germany and you will see a chapter from him in that book, his name is Peter Nash and is one of the guides at the Holocaust Museum. As you can imagine it is a very special book for our family. All the best, Tony Nash, CEO, Booktopia.com.au

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