Regina Gutman was born on May 12, 1926, in Radom, Poland, to Kadysh and Brandla Kreps Gutman. She had five older siblings: Motek; Rozia, born 1917; Hanka, born 1919; Abram, born 1921; and Cela, born 1923. Kadysh was born in 1886 and Brandla in 1888, both in Radom. Kadysh was a leather cutter for a large shoe factory, then had a shop with partners. Brandla was a dressmaker before becoming a homemaker. The family was very loving and closeknit. They kept kosher and attended shul. Regina attended a public school and then Hebrew school at night. In 1935, Brandla’s brother Samuel Kreps, who lived in New York, sent Kadysh papers to come to the US, but he would not leave his wife and children.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Motek was in England and did not return. Rozia and her husband Leon Gelblat moved to Leon’s hometown, Pionki. Germans occupied Radom on September 8 and Jews were targets of attacks and many were killed. Businesses and items of value were taken. Jewish children could no longer attend schools. Jews had to wear white armbands with blue stars to mark them as outcasts. Kadysh lost his job and stayed indoors because Jewish males were taken from the street for forced labor. Samuel Kreps had sent them $300 and that kept them fed for a while. After that, Regina’s sister Rozia, a dentist, supported the family. Food was scarce and rationed and Jews got half as much as non-Jews. Regina, 13, the youngest, was sent to stand in the breadline. Polish children who identified Jews for the SS pointed out Regina and she was tossed out of line and beaten.
In April 1941, the family was forced into the ghetto. It was severely overcrowded because of 1000s of refugees and there was even less food. The family shared one small room. At the end of the year, Regina’s parents decided to smuggle her to Pionki to live with Rozia, although she did not want to go. The guard at the ghetto gate accepted a bribe to let Regina leave. She went by train to Pionki, where she took care of Rozia’s son Samek while Rozia worked. Pionki had the largest ammunition factory in Poland and a labor camp was set up to supply workers. After the ghetto was formed in Pionki, a non-Jewish friend of Rozia’s told her she had to find work for Regina, because not working made her conspicuous. He suggested the factory labor camp that was being formed and forged Regina’s paperwork to make her 16, the legal working age. Rozia paid a non-Jewish friend to take Samek and Rozia, Regina, and Leon took factory jobs. Regina worked with Polish civilians and cleaned windows. They left at night and returned to the ghetto. In August 1942, they were not allowed to leave the camp. They learned that the ghetto residents had been sent away on trains. Rozia was taken to the Gestapo because the Polish woman had turned in Samek and named Rozia as his mother. Regina and Leon were told later by a witness that Rozia had tried to escape with 18 month old Samek, rather than go to the trains, and both were shot. The Germans decided Regina had too much contact with Polish civilians and changed her job to unloading trains. Regina met and fell in love with 20 year old Shmuel Szpigel, who had left Kozienice in September 1942 to work in Pionki labor camp.
Around September 1944, the camp inmates were loaded on cattle cars and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Half the transport died before arrival. Shmuel and Regina agreed to meet in Kozienice if they survived. Men and women were separated during unloading. Regina was shaved, tattooed with prisoner number A14641, and given a striped uniform. They got very little food and had to stand outside for roll call for hours. She had to carry bricks back and forth. After six weeks, she was transported to Bomlitz slave labor camp, an underground munitions factory. She worked with dangerous gases that turned her hands yellow and cleaned volatile German anti-tank weapons. Failure to properly clean the weapons was considered sabotage and resulted in death. They were given underwear and sweaters to wear under their uniforms. There were Dutch civilian laborers in the Wehrmacht factory, and one man brought Regina an apple and bread daily. On October 15, they were transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She was not assigned to work in the camp. It was filthy, with no sanitary facilities, and many people died every day from disease and starvation. After a short time, Regina was sent to Elsnig slave labor camp to work in the munitions factory. On April 13, 1945, Elsnig was evacuated and the inmates were put on cattle cars. On April 20, the SS told them they would be receiving an extra piece of bread for Hitler’s birthday. Shortly after the announcement, the train was bombed by Allied forces. Regina was injured, but not severely. She escaped into the woods with several others. Regina encountered a Soviet colonel, who told her she was liberated and Germany was defeated.
Regina and 14 other survivors went back to Poland, avoiding Soviet soldiers, and hiding in barns at night. In Radom, Regina waited for her family, until learning that her mother, brother, sisters, and brother-in-law had been sent to Treblinka killing center when the ghetto was liquidated. Her father had remained on a work detail in the ghetto, but was eventually sent to Treblinka. She was told that Shmuel was alive and he sent a horse and buggy to bring her to Kozienice. After they heard that Jews were being killed and attacked in many parts of Poland, they decided to leave and illegally entered Czechoslovakia. They went to Prague, then Germany, where they lived in Foehrenwald displaced persons camp in Waldram. Regina became ill and was hospitalized. She met a doctor who found her uncle Samuel in New York. Samuel sent papers signed by J. Edgar Hoover allowing her to come to the US. Samuel was Hoover’s tailor. They had to wait until their Polish quota number came up to emigrate. Regina learned that her brother Motek had illegally emigrated to the US, changed his name to Max, and joined the US Army. She delayed her wedding to Shmuel until he could attend. Regina and Shmuel married on May 21, 1946, in Foehrenwald. In October 1947, they sailed to New York. Shmuel changed his name to Samuel Spiegel. They settled in Washington, DC. Samuel worked with sheet metal and established his own business. Regina worked as a seamstress until she had children. They had three daughters. Regina and Samuel have shared their experiences for many years with community and school groups. For Regina, it is a way to keep her promise, to those who did not make it, to remember.
Shmuel Szpigel was born on August 23, 1922, in Kozienice, Poland, to Moses and Sara Eiger Szpigel. Shmuel had a brother, Wolf, born in 1924. Moses was born in 1898 to Chaim and Rywka Szpigel. He had two sisters who left for the United States by 1928, and a brother and a sister who lived in Kozienice. Sara was born in 1900 in Lodz to Shama and Miriam Eiger. In 1926, Sara died. Moses married Mania Szer in 1928. They had three daughters: Luba, born 1929, Chana, born 1931, and Rozia, born 1934. Moses owned a successful shoe factory and was active in Zionist organizations. The town grew increasingly hostile to Jews during the 1930s and passed laws to restrict their businesses. Shmuel attended a Catholic school and faced anti-Jewish slurs from the students and principal. He attended Hebrew school three days a week.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and that day, a bomb fell on Shmuel’s home. The family was not inside, but lost most of their belongings and moved in with Shmuel’s grandmother. German forces marched in on September 8. Jews were violently persecuted and many were killed. Moses’s shoe factory was taken away, and schools were closed. Moses had hidden some valuables and sold them for necessities. In October, the Judenrat (Jewish Council) was formed. Shmuel worked for the Labor Department, and tracked those selected daily by the German for forced labor details. The ghetto was sealed with barbed wire around December 1941. Shmuel and his family lived in one room and had very little to eat. Because of his job, Shmuel received food coupons and had a pass to leave the ghetto to try to buy or barter for food. The ghetto was overcrowded, diseases spread rapidly, and many people died of starvation. When Shmuel got typhus, they kept it secret, afraid that he would be killed if it was known. In September 1942, an SS officer asked Shmuel if he wanted to go to the nearby Pionki labor camp. Shmuel agreed because he was did not want to continue working for the Judenrat. On September 28, the officer told Shmuel that everyone in the ghetto had been sent east the day before.
Pionki had a large munitions factory for which the camp supplied slave labor. Shmuel was distantly related to the Jewish family running the internal operations of the camp, and they assigned him to a small barracks with only a few occupants. He worked repairing buildings damaged from the frequent gunpowder explosions. There were frequent beatings and inmates were often shot for minor infractions by the Ukrainian guards. But the guards did not often enter the camp itself. In 1942, Shmuel fell in love with another inmate, 16 year old Regina Gutman. Regina had fled Radom to live with her sister in Pionki and then was conscripted into the labor camp. In late 1943, a man arrived who said he had escaped from Treblinka where the Germans were killing and burning Jews, but they did not believe him.
Around September 1944, the prisoners were loaded on cattle cars and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Half the transport died before arrival. Shmuel and Regina agreed to meet in Kozienice if they survived. The men and women were separated at Birkenau. Shmuel’s head was shaved, he was tattooed with prisoner number B927, and given a striped uniform. After three days, he was selected for transfer to Gleiwitz I, having said he was a skilled sheet metal worker, though his skills were basic. He worked in a large train repair factory. They had to march four miles from the barracks to the factory, and music was played as they entered and left the camp. Rations were a loaf of bread split among 6-8 men and tea water. Those who were ill, weak, or poor workers were sent back to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Shmuel was made a shift leader because he could read and write, and earned rewards, such as tobacco and extra bread, which he gave to his men. He received extra soup from their German barracks leader because he snuck letters to the man’s Polish girlfriend in the factory. Shmuel stole discarded copper from the trains and made ash trays and plates to trade for food with the Polish civilians in the factory. He was caught with copper and thought he would be so executed, but he told the camp leader that he had been making him a Christmas gift and was not punished. Sundays were judgment days, when those who did not look so good were sent to be killed.
On January 18, 1945, Gleiwitz I was evacuated due to approaching Allied forces. The prisoners marched for miles through the snow and many people died or were shot. They stopped in Blechhammer labor camp and were put in barracks for the night. Shmuel dreamed that his mother told him to stay where he was. The prisoners awoke when Allied troops began firing on the camp. Remembering his dream, Shmuel decided to stay and convinced his friend to stay, too. They ran to the back of the camp, crawled through a hole blown in a wall, rolled down a ravine, and escaped into the woods. They lived on snow and stolen potatoes in the woods for over a week, when they were liberated by Soviet troops near Buchberg, who gave them no assistance and told them to go home.
Shmuel walked back to Kozienice with a small group of survivors. He learned that his parents, siblings, and grandmothers had been killed in Treblinka. Only one cousin was still alive. In March 1945, Shmuel opened a flour mill and built a house. On May 7, Germany surrendered. Later that month, Shmuel learned that Regina was alive and in Radom and he sent someone to get her. After he heard of pogroms in the area, Shmuel made plans for them to illegally enter Czechoslovakia. They traveled to the Czech border by train, then crawled under the train to the other side when it was stopped for officials to check papers. The couple went to Prague but could not stay. They tried unsuccessfully to go to Palestine with the Haganah. In 1946, they traveled to Germany and settled in Foehrenwald displaced persons camp in Wolfratshausen. Shmuel worked for the United Nation Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the Joint Distribution Committee. Regina and Shmuel had a civil marriage in Munich and a religious ceremony in Foehrenwald on May 21, 1946. They moved to Stuttgart to be near Regina’s only surviving sibling, her brother Max, who was in the US military. Regina’s uncle, Samuel Kreps, sponsored their emigration to the United States. They arrived in New York on October 2, 1947. Shmuel changed his name to Samuel Spiegel. They settled in Washington, D.C. and had three daughters. Samuel opened a sheet metal business. Samuel and Regina have shared their experiences with many community and school groups, because people should know what happened.