At the age of 93, Holocaust survivor Helen Sperling is still sharing the darkest moments of her life.
Why? So that history does not repeats itself and so people won’t ignore what is happening around them.
“Do not become a bystander,” she said. “We must build a better world.”
Sperling said the inspiration to recount her own life to others came when her daughter returned home from school one day in tears because another child had called her a “dirty Jew.”
“It brought me right back in time,” she said.
In World War II during the Nazi occupation of Poland, Sperling was forced to endure life in the concentration camps at Ravenbruck and Buchenwald.
As she told about her personal journey in front of Cooperstown middle and high school students on Friday, she held up two photos — one of her mother and the other of her father.
“These are not numbers,” she said. “These are mine. And I miss them terribly.”
Her parents were sent to death camps, where, like 6 million other Jews, they perished at the hands of the fanatical Nazi regime.
“We should have known what was coming, we did not want to believe it,” she said.
At the beginning of the war, Sperling was a college student. She was born to a middle=class family in a small town outside of Warsaw, and was home on school vacation when the Germans invaded.
“I remember the boots, the ugly, black, shiny boots,” Sperling said of the German soldiers who came in and demanded that all the Jews register and wear armbands to identify themselves.
Sperling referred to herself as a spoiled, inquisitive child, always asking questions. She said when Nazi soldiers stormed into her house to look for valuables, “One of them sat in my father’s chair, thrust his boots near my mother’s face, threw our fine linens at her and barked. ‘Polish them!’ And as she began to do it, I didn’t ask why and I didn’t say no. That was the beginning of six years of helplessness, humiliation and degradation.”