William Sperber

"Always remember these times, and it is very important to stay Jewish."

Name at birth
Bela Sperber, people called me Shmuel Ber
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Beregovo, Czechoslovakia
Name of father, occupation
Joseph, Worked for Jewish Community Berehovo
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Fanny Rosner, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents, five brothers and three sisters. I was the middle child.
How many in entire extended family?
There were a total of 8 Aunts and Uncles, and maybe 15 or 16 first cousins
Who survived the Holocaust?
My father died before the war. Me and my two older sisters and two older brothers survived.
First, many rules and restrictions came to my town, including ‘confiscation’ where we had to give all of our valuables, even those from the synagogue to the Germans and the Hungarian Police.  Signs were posted at certain venues, “Jews, Dogs and Gypsies Not Allowed”.  They arrested all of the prominent people, the leaders in the town and they had to be ransomed. A ghetto was formed after a few weeks, and they brought Jews from the surrounding villages there, too. 
After about a month or so in the ghetto, we were loaded onto cattle trains and taken to Auschwitz. It took about three days to get there. We were lucky, because it was May, and not unbearable inside the train. When we were unloaded from the train a Jewish inmate, working at the unloading, told me in Yiddish to lie about my age, and not to go with my mother, but rather to stay with the men. My brother and I did this, and as we went through the selection process by Dr. Mengele, I was sent to one side, and my mother and the younger kids in my family were taken the other way. This was the last time that I saw them. One of my older brothers was with me most of the time in the camps.
In Auschwitz, I was placed in a three story brick barracks, and given my tattoo. Every day, we were called into the Appelplatz for roll call. After some time, we were taken to a work camp, called Jawisowich. From that camp, we were forced to work in a coal mine. Here, I was lucky, because I was not forced to actually work in the mine. I sorted the coal from the rock that was mixed in during mining. Because the coal mine also had civilians working, the factory served us one meal each day during our shift.
In fall of 1944, the Russians were closing in, and we did extra work digging tank trenches. In January of 1945, we were marched through the night, then forced to march all day until evening, placed on open freight trains, and taken to Buchenwald. I don’t remember how we were fed, or how we got water, but eventually we got there. 
We were put in the ‘small camp’, where all of the new arrivals were put. The main camp was very established, and had political prisoners and prisoners from other European countries. We were eventually moved to a children’s barracks in the main camp. We were lucky, since the political prisoners who were there a long time were convinced to save the children who only started coming to Buchenwald in 1944. 
They did not make us work, and really kept us separate from the other inmates. We also did not have to stand outside during the lengthy roll calls in the main Appelplatz. They counted us in front of our barracks.  
I remember the last day that I was in the camp in 1945. We had been told that we were to be marched out of our camp to another camp. We waited most of the day, but the American tanks showed up instead! On April 11, 1945 we were liberated by Patton’s Third Army.  
We were given the choice to go to other places in Europe, but we decided to go back home. We were put on buses to Prague, where we recovered in a sanatorium. After a while, we took trains to Budapest, and from there found our way back to our hometown. We quickly realized that most of our family and friends had died in the Holocaust, and that our country would soon become part of the Soviet Union. 
My two brothers left immediately but since I was very young my brother-in-law wanted me to wait with him for my sisters whom we did not hear from. I eventually escaped from the USSR a year later. I had to pay someone to get me through the mountains, over the border to Slovakia. It was a difficult trip, walking the whole way through the mountains. Eventually, I was able to get to America in November of 1947, on a student visa.
Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Where did you go after being liberated?
I went back to Berehovo for about a year, and the conditions weren’t too good there. My brothers had already left in the summer of 1945 when the borders were still open, but I was stuck there for another 16 months. I finally escaped by walking through the mountains with a guide.
When did you come to the United States?
I came to New York in 1947 on a student visa.
Where did you settle?
I lived in New York for a few years. Eventually, I made my way to Detroit to live with my sister.
Occupation after the war
Before I could attend college, I was drafted into the Army in 1952. After two years in the army, including a stretch in Japan during the Korean War, I finished school on the G.I. bill. I got my degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Michigan. I worked as an electrical engineer for Bendix and General Motors.
When and where were you married?
I got married in 1971 in Detroit.
Esther, Owned Sally's Design
Jennifer and Elliot.
What do you think helped you to survive?
Luck; a positive outlook; and determination.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Always remember these times, and it is very important to stay Jewish.
Charles Silow
Interview date:
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