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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:             HELEN WASSERMAN SPIEGEL

INTERVIEWER:        BARBARA SCHNEIDER


LOCATION:              ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                       1993 & 1995

Transcript (1993) & Transcript (1995)

BIOGRAPHY

Helen was born in Nuremberg, Germany on July 19,1923, the daughter of Hans and Selma Wasserman. In 1938, Helen, her younger sister, and their parents immigrated to the United States and settled in Boston, Massachusetts. After finishing high school, Helen went to work in Galveston, Texas for a family friend. There she met another German immigrant, Frank Spiegel. Frank and Helen married in 1946 and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where they lived with Frank’s parents and raised three children. Helen was active in the Atlanta Jewish community, where her activities ranged from an early supporter of the Hebrew Academy; founding member of a new synagogue, Beth El; chapter and regional president of Hadassah; board member of the Jewish Home; and organizer of a homeless shelter for women. Helen eagerly shared her story with school groups all over Atlanta. In 1996, Helen was honored for her services to the community as a runner for the Olympic torch. Helen died in 2017.

Scope of Interview:

Helen introduces her family and explains how their lives began to change when Hitler came to power in the 1930’s. She recollects how Jews in her hometown of Nuremberg bore the initial brunt of the Nazi party’s antisemitism. Helen recalls the philanthropic family that helped her family immigrate to the United States. She recounts the events of Kristallnacht and the difficulty her entire family faced as they tried to leave Germany.  Helen describes how her family settled into their new lives in America, how she ended up in Galveston, Texas, and met her husband. She details her involvement in various Jewish organizations in Atlanta, Georgia and interactions with other leaders of the Jewish community. Helen describes her family life, social activities, and the neighborhood she raised her children in. She reflects on the racism she encountered in the South. Helen talks about how politics, demographics, and social organizations changed over time. The interview concludes with Helen’s descriptions of Galveston, Texas in the 1940’s.

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