Manassas Journal Messenger | Witness to history

Sam and Regina Spiegel’s survival through one of the darkest periods of modern history is a story of death marches, premonitions and Nazi atrocities. Improbably, it’s also a love story.

Sam, 84, and Regina, 80, will tell their story on Tuesday at the Woodbridge campus of the Northern Virginia Community College.

The Spiegels, who now live in Rockville, Md., met doing forced labor in a munitions factory in Pionki, Poland. Regina was originally from Radom, a city with a population of about 130,000 people, and Sam was originally from Kozienice. Regina’s parents smuggled her into Pionki; Sam had been assigned work there. With the exception of Regina’s oldest brother (who, unbeknownst to her had smuggled himself into America) and oldest sister (with whom she was living), both never saw their families again.

“We had 500,000 Jews in our town,” said Sam. “Maybe 250 survived.”

In 1943 Regina’s sister, R?zia, and her baby, were shot while trying to run away from the deportation cattle cars.

“I felt like I lost another mother,” said Regina. “I thought that my life was over.”

In the fall of 1944 Sam and Regina were deported to Auschwitz, a concentration camp located 37 miles west of Krakow, Poland. Regina said that the ride was supposed to have taken six hours. Instead, it was three days without food or water, crammed into cattle cars.

Once there, men were sent to the left and women to the right.

“Regina, if we get out of here, meet me in my home town,” said Sam, as the couple was separated.

“Why your hometown and not mine?” said Regina, bewildered by the shouting in German and barking dogs.

From there, separately, they had their heads shaved and were issued a striped uniform, blanket and metal bowl. They also had a number tattooed in their forearm.

“It’s worse than being an animal,” said Sam of his time in Auschwitz.

Regina said a double-electric barbed wire fence, as well as SS soldiers with machine guns in guard towers surrounded the camp. Every day, she said, if someone didn’t look or feel good, they were taken away.

As people were being dragged away to their death, Regina said she recalls them saying, “Remember us.”

“It really was hell,” said Regina of the camp, where she spent about six weeks before being deported to another camp.

Against all odds, the couple survived, at points living in the woods for days at a time. At one point, a dream Sam had about his mother instructed him where to go – and saved his life in the process.

Sam and Regina were reunited after the war and married on May 21, 1946, in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany. Regina’s only surviving brother, Max Goodman, attended the wedding. Later the couple moved to America.

Today they have three children and nine grandchildren.

For a long time, the Spiegels were silent about what they had witnessed. Then, in 1975, the United Jewish Appeal, at the time the communal fundraising arm of the Jewish community, approached them to go on a mission to Poland and Israel.

Back for the first time, Regina saw the chimneys at Auschwitz again.

“I said to myself, ‘My goodness, I remember when people asked us to remember,’ ” she said. “We have to talk about it.”

To this day they talk about their experiences on army bases, in classrooms and on the March of the Living, a two-week trip for Jewish teenagers to Poland and Israel. They also volunteer at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Alicia Grodsky, a professor of psychology at NVCC, is sponsoring their discussion at the college.

“They have a beautiful outlook on life,” said Grodsky. “This is their mission, to teach about prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination? this can be a once in a lifetime experience.”

Regina said the lessons of the Holocaust are still applicable, especially considering the genocide in Darfur.

“They’re killing them by the thousands,” added Sam. “How can a man who burns people in a crematorium come home and play with his children?”

But the Spiegels said they hope their story inspires respect and kindness.

“I stress kindness because during the war, people were kind to me and it helped me survive,” said Regina. “We think of heroes as someone with a gun, but to me, kind people are heroes because you can make a difference in someone’s life.”

This past summer the Spiegels spoke to inner-city students in Washington D.C., and were overwhelmed by the response. One of the students drew a picture of Regina’s sister, from one of the few photographs remaining of her family in Poland.

“It gives me faith that maybe one of these days, maybe we’ll make a better world,” said Regina.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at (703) 878-8072.


* A discussion with Holocaust survivors Sam and Regina Spiegel

* 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday

* Northern Virginia Community College, 15200 Neabsco Mills Road, Woodbridge

* Free and open to the public; free parking in the B lot.

* (703) 878-5636 or

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