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Children from a Polish Jewish family gather for an outdoor photograph.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 64812

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    Children from a Polish Jewish family gather for an outdoor photograph.
    Children from a Polish Jewish family gather for an outdoor photograph.

Among those pictured is Mayer Spiro (far left).

    Overview

    Caption
    Children from a Polish Jewish family gather for an outdoor photograph.

    Among those pictured is Mayer Spiro (far left).
    Date
    1930 June 30
    Locale
    Nowy Sacz, [Krakow] Poland
    Variant Locale
    Neu Sandez
    Neu Sandec
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Miriam Spiro Innocenti

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Miriam Spiro Innocenti

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Biography
    Judah Mayer Spiro (later Mayer Spiro) was born on September 4, 1921 in Nowy Sacz, Poland to parents Leib and Cypora Rubin Spiro. Leib had one brother who was a hat maker. Cypora had two brothers, one an accountant and another who worked in the wine import business. Leib and Cypora owned a small grocery store, where they sold kosher butter and farmer’s cheese purchased from local Jewish farmers. They were also in the grain business, selling oats to horse owners and other grains to mills to grind for flour.

    Mayer had two older siblings: Blima, b. 1913 and Moses (Moishe), b. 1920. Their maternal grandmother, Miriam Ullman, also lived with the family. The family kept a kosher home, and attended shul on Friday evenings and Saturday. Mayer celebrated his bar mitzvah at thirteen.

    At age 5, Mayer began attending public school, in the same class as his brother, though they were a year apart in age. He attended until the sixth grade, when his father hired a private tutor who taught him German and stenography. At thirteen, he decided to quit school to learn a trade, and was apprenticed to a friend of his sister, who had a cabinet shop. Blima studied accountancy, but could not find work as a bookkeeper, so she took a sales job in a deli. Both Blima and the cabinet maker were members of the communist party, and had a large influence on Mayer. It was also Mayer’s job to go to the mills where his parents sold grain, in order to collect the payment. There, he was befriended by a man who, on learning that Mayer was apprenticed to be a carpenter or cabinet maker, offered to pay his way in architecture school. Due to the start of the war, this was not possible.

    WWII began on September 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland, and Nowy Sacz was under German occupation by September 6. Soon after, a rumor circulated that there was an order from the Polish government that all able-bodied men should leave for the eastern border of Poland. Mayer, his father, brother, and cousins started walking, though the border was some 300 miles away. Mayer’s father was caught by German soldiers, who attempted to rip his beard from his face, leaving him injured. Mayer and cousins were able to reunite with him some time later, though, finding him in a nearby small town. When the family group reached a point nearly 100 miles from home his father asked a German military patrol whether it was safe to go back to Nowy Sacz. He was told that it was, so they returned to their home.

    On their return to Nowy Sacz, Mayer and his family were sent by the Germans to forced labor. On October 19, they returned. Blima’s boyfriend Pinnuk had been badly beaten, and Mayer’s parents encouraged their children to try again to leave. Mayer’s mother sewed what money they had into Mayer’s jacket, and he again started toward the Russian border, this time accompanied by Blima and Pinnuk.

    When they reached the Russian border, they tried to hire smugglers to take them across, but the smugglers instead attempted to rob them. In the midst of this, they saw headlights on the road, and two German regular army officers in a car appeared. Mayer and his companions, then a group of ten or more, convinced the officers that the smugglers were trying to kill them, and the officers sent Mayer and his group back to a nearby town. Eventually, they were able to cross, though they had to cross through water and some of their companions drowned. Blima and a group of other women were able to cross via a bridge, after bribing SS guards. On the Russian side, Mayer and Pinnuck were housed in barracks, with no food or water. Those under the age of 20 were released. Pinnuck managed to escape by breaking a window. They joined Blima in a nearby town and from there were able to take a train to the nearest large city, Lvov, then part of Ukraine. They had no money or a place to stay, but found shelter in synagogues, sleeping on tables or the floor, subsisting off bread provided to them.

    There was initially no work to be found, but eventually Mayer’s skills in carpentry earned him a job in a nearby village. Sometime thereafter, a commission arrived in Lvov to register people with trades, so that they might be employed by the Russians in Central Asia, and Mayer was sent to work in Tajikistan. He soon missed his family, though, and decided to join Blima and Pinnuk, who had moved to Uzbekistan. There, they lived in a room with about ten other people, with no running water. Mayer worked as a carpenter, and occasionally earned extra money by reselling salt that he purchased at the Afghanistan border. Blima worked in the cotton fields. Though she was a professional bookkeeper, she did not know the language, so was forced to accept whatever job was available. Pinnuk worked as a printer.

    In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Mayer, having spent a brief time in the coal area of Dunbass, Russia, returned again to live with Blima and Pinnuk in Uzbekistan. He found a job in a theater building set scenery. To earn extra money he salvaged small pieces of wood to make into soles for women’s shoes, and somehow managed to survive. By 1942, Mayer began working with the Kiev Yiddish Theater, where he remained until 1944. When the actors left, Mayer and the other crewmembers found a way to follow on the train, though they had no money or documents. Mayer once again was able to earn money by acquiring bags of salt to sell, though it was illegal and risky.

    From Central Asia, Mayer traveled to Czernovitz, where there had been a Jewish theater. There, he met Jeannette Strainsky through her uncle Rudie, who built sets and created cloth scenery. They were married in the Czernovitz city hall on May 8, 1945 and, on leaving the building, were greeted with dancing in the streets celebrating the war’s end. Though the war was over, Mayer had lost many of his family members. His parents had been sent to a concentration camp, and did not survive. His brother Leib was shot and killed on the Nowy Sacz bridge. His grandmother was shot in her own home because she was disabled.

    Mayer and Jeannette left Czernovitz in August for Lodz, but did not stay long due to the hostility shown toward returning Jews. They headed west, ending up in an American-run displaced persons camp near Stuttgart called Schwaebisch Hall. Jeannette gave birth to twins, who died in infancy. In 1947, the Workman’s Circle helped relocate them to Boros, Sweden, where there was work for refugees. They eventually settled in Vetlanda, where their daughter, Anzita (Anita), was born in 1948 and their daughter, Mirjam (Miriam) was born in 1950. Jeannette became acquainted with Birgit Petersen, beginning a lifelong friendship between the two women and their families. In 1953, they emigrated to Brooklyn, New York. Their son, Leon, was born in 1958.

    Jeannette Strainsky (later Spiro) was born in Czernovitz, Romania (now Ukraine) on June 8, 1928, although her wartime identification papers indicate an official birthdate of June 8, 1924. She was the only child of Anna (Rudich) Strainsky (b. 1891 in Czernovitz) and Roman Strainsky, a soldier about whom little is known. Anna had a sister who was a doctor, and a brother Rudie. The family owned real estate, and was wealthy.

    WWII began on September 1, 1939, and in1940, the Soviet Army occupied the city of Czernovitz. In 1941, thirteen-year-old Jeannette, her mother, and her aunt were sent to a labor camp in Scazinetz, Transnistria. Her father, Roman, sent someone to the camp to try to get Jeannette out, but she refused to leave without her mother. Her mother later died in the camp of starvation. After her death, other prisoners urged Jeannette to take the dress from her mother’s body, in order to keep herself warm.

    Somehow, Jeannette managed to escape the camp with another girl, and became a servant to some local farmers. She learned to sew for them and, in time, they became very fond of her. After her time with the farmers, she went back to Czernovitz and was recruited as a "nurse" into the Russian army, caring for soldiers. She was married at 15 to a soldier, but lost both her husband and a baby boy, who died shortly after his birth.

    While still in Czernovitz, Jeannette performed in the Yiddish theater. It was there, through her uncle Rudie, that she met Mayer Spiro, who was constructing theater sets. They married in the Czernovitz city hall on May 8, 1945 and, on leaving the building, were greeted with dancing in the streets to celebrate the war’s end.

    Mayer and Jeannette left Czernovitz in August for Lodz, but did not stay long due to the hostility shown toward returning Jews. They headed west, ending up in an American-run displaced persons camp near Stuttgart called Schwaebisch Hall. Jeannette gave birth to twins, who died in infancy. In 1947, the Workman’s Circle helped relocate them to Boros, Sweden, where there was work for refugees. They eventually settled in Vetlanda, where their daughter, Anzita (Anita), was born in 1948 and their daughter, Mirjam (Miriam) was born in 1950. Jeannette became acquainted with Birgit Petersen, beginning a lifelong friendship between the two women and their families. In 1953, they emigrated to Brooklyn, New York. Their son, Leon, was born in 1958.
    Record last modified:
    2021-02-02 00:00:00
    This page:
    https:​/​/collections.ushmm.org​/search​/catalog​/pa1185393

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