“Ninety-nine percent of our survival was sheer luck,” she said. “A little tiny bit of it was hanging on to dignity. Once you lost that, you didn’t have a chance.”
Sperling’s next move was to Buchenwald, a men’s work camp that produced weapons for the German military.
“We were needed and as long as we could work, we were safe,” Sperling said. “If you couldn’t work, you went to Bergen-Belsen and that was it.”
Sperling and her fellow prisoners were able to help sabotage the German war effort. The women would regularly make defective shells while their overseers were occupied with other tasks. These small acts of revenge, Sperling remembered, helped maintain her spirit.
This came with serious consequences though. When a guard caught Sperling sabotaging the artillery, he beat her and later tormented her with a lack of food upon her return to work.
The prisoners were eventually evacuated. Sperling said, “We walked and we walked and we walked … if you fell down they would kill you.”
An end did finally come, she recalled.
“From out of nowhere there were tanks, big, beautiful, American tanks,” Sperling said. “As far as I was concerned, the war was over and I collapsed.”
Sperling spent the next three years in a hospital, recovering from kidney cancer and malnutrition, but was reunited with her younger brother, who had also survived the camps.
When Sperling and her brother were released from the hospital, they ended up in a displaced=person camp for another three years.
“The Jews did not have a place to go, there were very few takers,” Sperling said.
Eventually the two were able to emigrate to America. There she married her husband of 50 years. He was also a Holocaust survivor.
Sperling was not able to bear her own children, so the couple, who settled in Utica, adopted two.