Survivor STORY

Frank David Spiegel (born Franz) was born in Fuerth, Germany, in 1920. His father, Albert, was a partner in a baby clothes factory when Frank was small, then became a traveling salesman. Frank attended a private elementary school and then a public gymnasium until 1933 when his mother enrolled him in an orthodox Jewish school.

After the Nazi rise to power, Frank's parents became concerned about the safety of the family, and convinced a cousin in America to sign an affidavit paving the way for Frank to immigrate. Unfortunately, just as the paperwork went through, the cousin died of a sudden heart attack and the papers were invalidated. The Spiegels then contacted another cousin, who promised to initiate papers for Frank to come to the United States as soon as Frank turned eighteen. In October 1938, Frank got his passport in anticipation of receiving his visa. During Rosh Hashanah, the political situation became more threatening, and Frank's father told Frank to pick up his passport from the police station and to leave the city, which he did the next day. Frank travel to Cologne, where he caught a train to Holland. He stayed with friends for two days near the border, but it was unsafe, so he took the train into Rotterdam, where he went to the Jewish agency to find a room. The place they found was filthy, so Frank he ended up spending two nights on the street before leaving Holland on an American line ship.

After Frank arrived in America, he applied to get his family papers to join him. His father was arrested on Kristallnacht and sent to Dachau. He was eventually released, but spent a few months in a Jewish hospital getting better. The Spiegels finally received their visas eight months after Frank sent them the papers. They were scheduled to leave from Holland in May 1940, but the German invasion of Holland blocked that route of escape. After six more months they were able to have the visas renewed. The Spiegels had planned to travel through Russia to Japan, yet the Germans then attacked Russia and blocked the way once again. Finally, HIAS rented old boats to leave from Lisbon, Portugal, and Frank's family managed to get a special permit to travel from Berlin to Lisbon in 1941. The Spiegel family was among the last Jews to leave Europe legally.

The Spiegel family arrived in New York City on Labor Day 1941, then traveled to Atlanta, where Frank had already settled. With the assistance of the Jewish resettlement office, Frank had joined a NYA project in Monroe, Georgia, where he worked a farm in the morning and went to high school in the afternoons.

In 1943, Frank joined the U.S. Army and attended basic training in Texas. From there he spent a few months in Los Angeles, California, with an anti-aircraft division in. In 1944, he was deployed overseas to replace troops lost at the Battle of the Bulge. By early 1945, Frank found himself at the front in central France moving vehicles for the airborne division. They went from the Ruhr valley through Germany to Braunschweiger, where they met Russian troops. Frank became an interpreter facilitating communication with Jewish survivors of a small sub-camp of Ravensbruck. His unit was one of the last to leave Russian- occupied Germany. His company eventually left France for the far East, but on their way through the Panama Canal the armistice agreement between the U.S. and Japan was signed.

Frank spent the rest of his stint in the service in California, then returned to Atlanta. In March 1946 he married his wife, Helen, whom he had met while in basic training in Texas. He lived with his entire family in an apartment on Washington Street for a few years until he could afford a house on Boulevard. His parent lived with him and his wife for 27 years.

Leaving Europe

Actually I had a ship booked for October 1st, but that week was the Munich Conference with Chamberlain and Hitler and all that. And things were becoming very unstable in Germany, and everybody got very nervous about the possibility of a war. So I remember that on Rosh Hashanah 1938, I think it must have been the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah, 1938, my father called me out of synagogue and told me to go right now down to the police department and pick up my passport. I already had a passport, and a U.S. visa, but even after I got the U.S. visa I had to turn it back into the police for them to hold it till I leave. So he wanted me, because once they gave it to you, you had to leave immediately. So he wanted me to go down there to the police department and pick up my passport, which I did. And I left the day after Rosh Hashanah from Furth by train.

Making a Living in Atlanta

So I got this job about the end of October 'til Christmas to assemble fountain pens. And that worked all right. I was making maybe about eight or ten dollars a week and at least I could pay my room and board and do all that. However, after Christmas he laid everybody off, because who needs to give away fountain pens after Christmas. So I went to the Jewish Agencies, who had bulletin boards and all sorts of things, and as to where they might have a job that I could apply for. And he said, "New York is really a tough town right now to get jobs for young people." That was '38 or '39, because there was still depression, you know. "And we really don't have much. Would you leave New York if we sent you someplace else and pay your fare?" I says, "I'll go any place where I can try to make a living." He says, "Well, we're putting together in January a transport of 24 young men to go to Georgia to work on farms and learn English and work through the N.Y.A. project." The N.Y.A. project was the National Youth Administration, which was a Roosevelt New Deal thing in order to get young people off the street and teach them jobs. So I says, "Yeah, I'll be glad to go there." So they said, "Ok, so we're going to give you a bus ticket from New York to Atlanta, and once you're there we will see that you get five dollars a month so you can pay for your haircut and toothpaste and the little things that you'll need." So I agreed to come.

Racism and Race Relations

Well, let me tell you from one experience in the fifties. I was a salesman. At that time, in the fifties, I traveled only Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina; just those four states. I had a customer in Albany, Georgia. And one day, and we got along, whenever I came I got an order. And I came in, he says, "Didn't somebody tell me that you are Jewish?" "Yeah, sure I'm Jewish." He says, "Isn't that a terrible organization, that Zionist organization?" I says, "No, I'm a member of it." And I pulled out my pocket book and showed him my membership card. He says, "You are? Did you know I'm the clerk of the KKK right here in Albany?" I says, "No I didn't know, but it's interesting." He said, "Well, tell me something about the Zionists." So I told him my point of view of what's going on and all that. And he says, "Well that's very interesting, but I'm still the clerk for the KKK. But by the way, just on account of that, don't skip me on your next trip. I do need my materials, so please come and see me."

Frank Spiegel