June 20, 2024
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Yavneh Academy Hears From Holocaust Survivor Al Sperber

On Wednesday, April 22, the day after Yom HaShoah, Yavneh Academy Zoom-hosted Al Sperber, a Holocaust survivor, to share his story.

Sperber, grandfather of the Siesser family children, joined the seventh and eighth grade students and their teachers in a Zoom presentation about his wartime experience.

Ronald Siesser, grandson of Sperber, spent time over Pesach with his grandfather and Rabbi Burstein, preparing the layout of the presentation. They practiced using the Zoom technology which was quickly absorbed by all involved. Sperber is a native of Vienna, Austria. His early childhood was happy, normal and pleasant, in school as well as at home. By the end of the 1930s, Sperber’s father saw the trouble coming for Jewish businesses and quickly decided the family should move to France. The family then moved to Paris, where they stayed until the German invasion of May 1940.

At that point, the family found it necessary to move again; this time to Toulouse in southern France. As Jews began being rounded up, Sperber was hidden in a monastery, through the help of a righteous Danish woman, a Quaker. There, he was protected as he learned to work the fields with the monks by day and learn by night.

Remarkably, he was taught Hebrew and Chumash by a righteous gentile, the abbot of the monastery. This gentleman had spent time in Palestine and learned to speak Hebrew fluently. He taught Sperber math, history and Torah.

Sperber spoke about his efforts to be a loyal Jew, and son of his God-fearing parents while he was living with his adopted/foster parents in wartime Switzerland. He was expected to work hard every day on the family fields.

He recounted one Shavuot when he told his foster parents that it was a two day “fast day” to commemorate the atrocities happening to the Jews of Europe and that he could not work since he’d have no calories or energy. This, they understood. He fasted the entire two days, and was permitted not to work on Shavuot of that year.

The entire nuclear family had the extraordinarily good fortune of surviving by trekking over the Alps illegally into Switzerland. His parents and young sister were in a Jewish refugee center there and Sperber was adopted by a Swiss family.

They reunited after the war and later moved to America. Sperber was blessed to raise a beautiful Jewish family spanning four generations.

Siesser created a wonderful power-point presentation to accompany his grandfather’s testimony. This included maps and images of wartime Austria, France and Switzerland, further enabling the students to understand, as well as follow, the events of the survivor’s thrilling story.

Although the Zoom format was unique, Sperber’s eloquence and love for Yiddishkeit resonated throughout the presentation. Yasher koach to Sperber, Siesser and Rabbi Burstein for bringing this program to Yavneh Academy and the school looks forward to hearing from Sperber in person in the near future.

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