“To save your life you would do anything […] we never were thinking of changing to be anything else but Jewish. […] Me being here today is a miracle […] sheer luck” -Arthur Spielman
Nazi Headquarters or Polish Royalty ?
In Krakow, Poland, September, 1939, the Nazi flag was raised at the Wawel castle marking a German victory, the invasion of Poland, and the beginning of World War II. The Germans declared Krakow as the designated capital of the General government. Hans Frank was appointed Governor General and established his headquarters in the Wawel Castle, former home to Poland’s royalty. At first, the ambitions of the Nazi officials was to remove Jews from the rest of the Polish society. After December, 1939, Jews living in ghettos were required to wear identifying badges or armbands and a decree was issued requiring Jews to perform forced labor for the German Reich. Krakow was occupied in four days. Arthur Spielman, a young boy at the time, remembers being afraid to walk in the streets in fear of deportation. Krakow gained recognition for Oskar Schindler’s efforts to save Jewish lives through his German Enamelware Factory as seen in “Schindler’s List.”
Anti-Semitism and the Nazi process of extermination were gradually carried out in Poland soon after the process of ghettoization. Ghettos were used to contain Jews by establishing isolated Jewish communities and separating them from the greater non-Jewish population. According to Arthur, his family moved to Krakow because they wanted to be closer to their extended family and thought they would be safer in a sheltered Jewish community.
“In 1938 a lot of German Jews who were not German citizens were sent out of Germany a few hundred of them were sent out into Krakow they stayed by the synagogues, they stayed by us my mother fed them. They were telling about all the horrors that were going on in Germany.”
Arthur’s neighborhood in Kazimierz, Krakow consisted primarily of Jews, where 80% of the people living there were Jewish. While living in Krakow, Arthur’s experienced first-hand accounts of anti-Semitism:
“I was mostly busy in school from morning to late afternoon, sometimes we were playing in the streets soccer… non Jewish friends a couple from the street but not really. They were not very friendly, they used to holler at us and curse at us it was a really uncomfortable situation…we were called names, it depends some were nice some were very hostile to us.”
Arthur Spielman was born on December 10th, 1928 in Krakow, Poland. He grew up in an orthodox Jewish family with his father, Simon Spielman, mother, Czarna Spielman, and two sisters, Helen and Barbara. Although his family was not required to move into the Krakow ghetto because his father, Simon, was an international diplomat, the Spielman family chose to move to live closer to their extended family. Arthur Spielman’s family briefly lived in the Krakow ghetto before the liquidation process in the ghetto began, they moved to a secluded house outside of Krakow. In 1943 the Spielman family separated and were smuggled out of Poland to Slovakia and eventually to Hungary.
Living in Krakow
Within the Krakow ghetto Arthur Spielman lived in a single apartment with his parents, sisters and grandparents. His father, in the shoe business, and grandfather, who sold fish, both ran their businesses out of the apartment. In 1942 the Gestapo entered the ghetto and took Spielman’s grandparents. Arthur never saw them again. Many of Spielman’s relatives were brutally murdered in the ghetto including his uncle who had been shot because he wouldn’t give his children to the Gestapo. Due to the escalating violence, Spielman’s father moved the family to a secluded house outside of the ghetto. Soon after, the Spielman family was given a tip that life was going to get worse in Krakow, so they decided to leave.
The Fight to Live
Arthur’s father had paid a man to take him and his sister Helen out of the ghetto into Slovakia and then Hungary, where they were placed in different orphanages. Later, his parents and youngest sister, Barbara, also fled to Hungary, where they reunited while visiting him in the orphanage. Arthur describes the moment he reunited with his parents “I never thought I would see my parents again when I left Poland. […] I was happy to see them, we were happy to see each other.” Arthur’s father got word that the Nazi’s would be liquidating the orphanages, it took a few months but he sent a polish officer to get Arthur and his sister Helen out. The officer approached Arthur and told him, “follow me. Don’t talk, don’t say anything, just follow me.” His parents had papers as Christians, so he went to a polish ministerial , said he was roman catholic to get his papers going by the name of Nieczkowski in order to receive them. From Budapest they went to Miskolc, another city in Hungary and lived there as Gentiles for about a year. “We moved to an apartment in Mishkolc where my father had a job and I got a job in steel factory making bicycles and locks.”Arthur considered the “whole thing a miracle” that they were there.
Arthur recalls significant personal moments during World War II
“April 1944 Nazis marched into Hungary, everything was happening very fast. We had some jewish friends we warned them to do something go into hiding or runaway, a lot of them did not believe the stories we were telling them about what happened in Poland, they didn’t think what happened to the Polish Jews would happen to them. Between April and September most of Hungarian Jews were sent into camps. We saw people walking carrying their belongings, we ourselves went into hiding. We were afraid so we didn’t go out of the house. There were bombardments of city in Mishkolc, bombarding of the factory. The Americans were bombarding the factory. For a couple of weeks, every morning at like 10 o’clock in the morning sirens blew and there were planes over the city bombing the factory.”
Arthur recalls hiding out and his mother sends him out to the market place to buy bread. “We lived across from a market place which was huge. They mistook the town market for an army camp and dropped the bombs on the town market and a lot of people were killed. We spoke with our neighbors they didn’t know we were Jews. Had they known, we wouldn’t of made it. There were Hungarian Nazi’s living next door to us. We were lucky that the Hungarians don’t recognize Jews like the Pollocks do.”
“Towards the end of the war before the Russians came in, we were hiding in the wine cellars, most people were hiding in wine cellars in Mishkolc. There were bombs going back and forth. We didn’t have much food then. I was standing online by a bakery that was supposed to open at a certain time time to get some bread. A bomb hit a few people got killed next to me I slid int a basement, I don’t know how I wound up there and I was saved by just a scratch. That was the only time I came close to being killed. We stayed in the wine cellar for about 6 weeks, from October until we were liberated. We slept between barrels, big barrels thousands of liters of wine. A lot of times we had no water to drink [so] we drank fresh wine. My mother cooked on a little furnace,gas stove, whatever she could make, soup blette, vegetables, fruit, meat, fish occasionally. We were very luck in the city of Mishkolc. We were hearing news from other people, papers propaganda.While we were in the wine cellar we heard cannons, shooting, then it quieted down. People walked out to see what was going on then I walked out. Few hours later first patrol, then half an hour later Russian soldiers on horses, then trucks and boogies filled with soldiers. They were coming by the thousands and then we realized we were liberated. They left the cellar and went back to their apartment a few days later and he describes the Hungarian neighbors reactions as when they found out we were jews they were very surprised. When the Russians marched in it was no picnic, the women had to go into hiding including my mother it was a free for all they were raping the women. A week later Russian officer moved into our apartment, he was Jewish. He was our protector didn’t allow anything to happen to us, his name Yefimowitzh. He was captain of the railroads, in charge of them. The Russian soldiers moving quickly towards Budapest, bitter fights in Miskolc. A little later me and my father went to Krakow to Poland, by train. We walked part of the way over the mountains, went to see if there was any survivors.”
Arthur describes going back to Poland as horrifying, because wherever he went people exclaimed “oh, your alive!” After the war died down, Arthur and his family no longer stayed in Germany. His father, Simon, had family in the United States, so the Spielmans were able to move there.
Arthur continues to share his story in hopes of preserving the significance of the Holocaust, to encourage meaningful conversations and to teach respect and appreciation to younger generations.The message he has for the younger generation is
For further research, consult the following sources
Arthur Spielman Testimony. USC Shoah Foundation, Sep. 14. 1997.
Bogner, Nahum. “The Rescue of Jewish Children in Polish Convents During the Holocaust.” Yadvashem.org. Shoah Resource Center. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.
Chwalba, Andrzej. “The Ethnic Panorama of Nazi-Occupied Krakow.” Polin 23 (2010): 349-56.
Friedlander, Saul. Nazi Germany and the Jews. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.
Friedman, Jonathan C. The Routledge History of the Holocaust. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2011.
Graf, Malvina. The Krakow Ghetto and the Plaszow Camp Remembered. Talahassee, Florida: Florida State University Press, 1989.
Hogman, Flora. “Displaced Jewish Children During WWII: How They Coped.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 23.1 (1983): 51-66. SAGE Journals. Journal of Humanistic Psychology. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.
“Hungary after the German Occupation” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 20 June 2014. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
Karsai, László. “Photographs Documenting the Holocaust in Hungary.” Holocaust-history.org. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
Offen, Bernard, and Norman G. Jacobs. My Hometown Concentration Camp: A Survivor’s Account of Life in the Kraków Ghetto and Płaszów Concentration Camp. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2008.
Paldiel, Mordecai. The Path of the Righteous: Gentile Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. Hoboken, N.J.: Ktav, 1993. Print.
Preil, Joseph J. Holocaust Testimonies: European Survivors and American Liberators in New Jersey. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2001.
Rosdolsky, Román. 2010. “The Jewish Orphanage in Kraków.” Polin 23, 357-359. Historical Abstracts, EBSCOhost
Rosenberg, Maxine B. Hiding to Survive: Stories of Jewish Children Rescued from the Holocaust. New York: Clarion, 1994. Print.
Shapiro, Michael. 2013. “Women and Hidden Jews Under Fascist Rule: Roberto Bassi’s Evidence” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 31, no. 3: 103- 114. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost
Sliwa, Joanna. “Coping with Distorted Reality: Children in the Krakow Ghetto.” Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture and History 16 (2015): 177-202.
Spielman, Arthur. Interview. Visual history Archive. USC Shoah Foundation. Staten Island: 1997. September 14, 1997.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed April 20, 2015. http://www.ushmm.org/.
Vromen, Suzanne. Hidden Children of the Holocaust: Belgian Nuns and Their Daring Rescue of Young Jews from the Nazis. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.