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Survivor (BGU benefactor) Tells Circumstances of Entire Family Living through Shoah

Survivor (BGU benefactor) Tells Circumstances of Entire Family Living through Shoah

April 16, 2010

Social Sciences & Humanities

ESCONDIDO, California — I am sitting next to Doris Martin (nee Dora Szpringer) in her home north of San Diego. She is a Holocaust survivor and author of Kiss Every Step, a harrowing narrative of her family’s odyssey through Eastern Europe to escape the Nazi war machine. I look at Doris as she speaks and realize that her diminutive height belies her inner strength and courage.

Doris was just a pre-teen when Hitler’s army invaded Poland. She lived in Bendzin (pronounced ben-jeen), with her family—mother, father, three older brothers (Isaak, Moishe, and Yossel), and a younger sister Laya. They lived an average life by Eastern European standards, and Judaism pervaded her part of town.

The Nazi soldiers, who arrived first in Bendzin, gave chocolate to the children. “How bad could they be?,” Doris thought to herself. Four days later, additional soldiers round up two hundred Jewish men, locked them in the main synagogue, and burned the synagogue to the ground. What could a twelve-year old know of the Nazi menace? What could any Jew have known? Doris tells me that overnight people changed. Friends changed. Relatives changed. The very government elected to protect its citizens, now turns on them. Except for immediate family, the word trust is out of the dictionary. In a matter of a few short weeks reality changes from living a care-free childhood to one of surviving day-to-day.

At the demand of the Nazis, Jews gather at the great outdoor sports stadium. There a Nazi commander separates families. Some are marked for death, others for slave labor and some are sent home. The Szpringers, who are sent home, are the only family not separated! This is the first of many such incidents. Her brother Isaac is beaten by German soldiers on his way to the Russian border for having a German name. No Jew should have a German name, the German soldiers tell him. Nonetheless, they escort him to the border, and he is safe.

For a while, brothers Moishe and Yossel find work with Alfred Rossner, who did all he could to help Jews survive. On many occasions the entire family escapes detection by roving bands of Nazi soldiers. Is it mazel or God? Doris tells me that she is less religious than she was as a child, “but how can she be angry with God? He saved my family.” There is a long pause, and I watch her thinking; remembering back. “Why my family?,” she asks soulfully. It’s an answer she has sought for over sixty years.

In the fall of 1942, the Judenrat, the Jewish council under the control of the Nazis, comes for Doris. But the family hides her, an unacceptable response. They take Perla, Doris’ mother, to the police station as a hostage. They want Doris. The next day, Doris knows what she must do. She walks full of dread and fear, almost catatonically, to the police station. The swap is made and they take Doris to an old orphanage, expropriated by the Nazis. A few hours later, they move her to Auschwitz, a short distance from Bendzin.

“No one knew it was there, or what was its ultimate purpose,” she says. But Auschwitz was not her final stop. She was marked for work, not death. Was this another example of the family’s luck, or the hand of God? Doris’ final destination was Ludwigsdorf, one of about sixty sub-camps of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp.

Doris, now a young teenager, was assigned to the mine factory, where she spent her days measuring the green-powder explosive for land mines. Each morning after the head count, she drinks some ersatz coffee and a piece of bread and is marched up a steep hill with other inmates to the factory. At the end of the day, the green dust covers her clothes, skin, and hair. She marches back down the hill feeling the dust in her lungs. The more immediate concern, however, is the possibility that the unstable explosive could detonate at any time.

Because of an incident that occurred in the mine factory when a top Nazi official was at the camp, she and several other girls were pulled aside for discipline. Doris was sure that she had seen her last day on Earth, and prayed to God all the way back to the barracks. However, the commandant showed them mercy. Instead of death, they were to be beaten nearly to death with rubber clubs. What a relief.

Further proof that for Doris and her fellow Jews that the world had been turned upside down, Doris tells me that once, as she stood by the barbed-wire fence, she saw a deer running through the forest. Oh how jealous she was. The deer was free and she was in a cage. So what kept Doris alive all those years at Ludwigsdorf? Hope, she says. Hope that she would be reunited with her family.

The Russians freed the inmates of Ludwigsdorf in 1945. After a few days, Doris returned home to Bendzin. But for Doris, it was no longer home. The city she loved as a little girl was no longer the same. Her home was not her home. Her friends were nowhere to be found. The shops were owned by others. She no longer felt the Jewishness that once pervaded her community. Doris had no idea of the fate of her family. Homecoming brought abject sadness; not joy. She left word with the Jewish Committee, and returned, ironically, to the Ludwigsdorf Concentration Camp.

The family did reunite and eventually fled to the Americans in Berlin, where they stayed in various DP camps. In 1950, Doris and her family made their way to America.

Doris has had a good life with her second husband, Ralph, who constantly supports her through her sadness, depression, and even nightmares. Doris knows she is getting up in years, and recognizing her own finitude, wrote Kiss Every Step to tell the world the unbelievable story that the seven members of her immediate family survived Hitler’s death machine, and to tell the personal account of the evil that took place in many so-called civilized countries of Europe.

Doris and Ralph have done more than just author a book together. In 2000, the pair founded the Martin-Springer Institute for Applying the Lessons of the Holocaust to Promote Altruism, Moral Courage, and Tolerance at Northern Arizona University. In 2007, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev changed the name of its Center for Conflict Studies and Negotiations to Martin-Springer Center for Conflict Studies and Negotiations. In addition, Doris speaks about the Holocaust to public school children, college students, and adults.

Doris asks me if I know of another family that survived the Holocaust intact. I sadly respond, no. She worries now, in the twilight of her courageous life, that the next generation will forget about the Holocaust, and that the story of her family’s tortuous journey during World War II, as told in Kiss Every Step, will be unread and forgotten. The Jewish people have a long history and a long memory. It will be remembered that the Szpringer family was the family that defeated Hitler’s plan, called the “final solution.”


Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. He is the author of From Inception to Integration; Ancient Secrets of Creation: Sepher Yetzira, the Book that Started Kabbalah, Revealed; and Reclaiming the Messiah.