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Remembering Barry Spanjaard, Joseph Wysocki on May 1

From A to Zowie
Remembering Barry Spanjaard, Joseph Wysocki on May 1
By Richard Zowie
I’d like to talk about two men whose stories I had the privilege of hearing many years ago.

First, Barry Spanjaard.

Mr. Spanjaard, pronounced “Span-yard”, spoke at my high school in 1988. He was an American-born Dutch Jew of Spanish descent and one of the only known American citizens incarcerated in the Nazi death camps during World War II. His father was one of the millions of Jews who died in the Holocaust.

Second, Joseph Wysocki.

Around 2002, when I worked as a staff writer for a newspaper at Randolph Air Force Base outside San Antonio, Mr. Wysocki came to speak. A retired longtime businessman, he was a Polish Jew whose entire family had been wiped out in the death camps. He survived, but none of the other Jews from his hometown did.

The extermination of an entire family of Jews is bad enough, but an entire town?

Both Spanjaard and Wysocki gave their stories to do what they could ensure that the Holocaust would never be repeated again and would remain a hideous scar on twentieth century world history. Mr. Spanjaard traveled across America telling his story and even wrote a book titled Don’t Fence Me In, while Mr. Wysocki chose late in life to finally tell his story.

Sadly, both men have passed away.

Barry Spanjaard died in 1998 while Joseph Wysocki died about a week after speaking at Randolph.

I thought about these men a few years ago while watching Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List and again while watching Quentin Tarantino’s World War II fantasy Inglourious @#!*% , where American Jewish soldiers fight back against Nazis to try to stop the onslaught of their people. More recently, I thought of them again as I read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Will people remember their stories? How often do Americans visit Holocaust museums and ask questions?

One Holocaust story I also remember is one from a book by Israeli-born KISS rocker Gene Simmons. Born Chaim Witz, Simmons is the son of Hungarian Jews. His mother, Flora, is a Holocaust survivor. Simmons wrote that his mother had been a hairdresser and was kept alive by the camp’s commandant since his wife liked how Flora did her hair. Flora’s family was not as fortunate, as her mother and grandmother died in the gassed showers. Though not scheduled for execution that day, Flora’s mother chose to go in because she didn’t want her own mother to have to die alone.

I don’t cry often, but I found it difficult not to when reading that story. Simmons would grow up and never understand what it was like to have grandparents.

It is more important than ever to ask questions and learn their stories. Hutton Gibson, actor/director Mel Gibson’s father, famously has questioned whether the Holocaust happened or whether the estimated six million victims is accurate. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questions whether the Holocaust took place. For me, the somber stories and faded green tattooed numbers are far more convincing than these two kooks could ever possibly be.

When I look at Jewish friends of mine, such as David Rubini, along with past Jewish acquaintances such as Sylvia Hackett, Milton Glueck, Michelle Ehrlich and Alex Moss, I often wonder how many of them had family members who survived the horrors of the Holocaust. How many died needlessly simply because of being Jewish?

May 1 is Holocaust Remembrance Day. As we reflect on that day, we pray the Holocaust never happens again. And as long as complacency is kept in check, God willing, it never will.
Richard Zowie is a reporter and columnist. He owns a copy of Spanjaard’s book. Visit Richard’s blog at www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com or e-mail him at fromatozowie@gmail.com. 

  1. marie brady
    July 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    I met Mr Spanjaard once when he came to our high school also in 1988. All of us were floored especially when some of my friends told me afterwards that their relatives also died in Poland during the holocaust. I didn’t realize he passed away in 1998. He made quite an impression on my laugh and obviously countless others.

  2. michelle
    August 18, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    oh my gosh!
    I treasure my book signed by Barry Spanjaard, I have moved dozens of times in my life, but will never let go of his book.
    I too, saw him at my school in 1988!
    not sure if you will even get this, please e-mail me…if you can!

  3. James Brown
    February 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    I met Barry Spanjaard at my school and talked to him, and had many questions for him afterwards, had a personal copy of his book. Its sad that he is gone. My 9 year old step daughter has yaken a huge intrest in Anne Frank, and I was hoping he was still alive and visiting schools. His story was amazing and sad, I read that book many times. This is the first time I have heard any of my kids talk about the holocaust. Im going to show them as much as I can including the horrible stuff, so that they can understand why it should never be forgotten. As we have gotten more complacent we tend to forget and still need to be reminded.

  4. May 30, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    I too remember Barry Spanjaard! I graduated from high school in 1982 and he had spoken at my high school history class either in 1981 or 1982, I never forgot him or his story. Later in my life working in the medical field I had scheduled an appointment for him and remembered him. I had mentioned to the doctor that I was working for that this man had been a holocaust survivor, my boss thought I was out of my mind. During Mr. Spanjaard’s history intake the doctor had mentioned to him that I remembered him talking to me in my high school history class and he confirmed to my boss that he in fact had, and that he’d written a book about his life. I was so touched to have had the opportunity to have him speak to me and comment that he not only couldn’t believe that I’d remembered him, but that any high school student had actually listened to what he had to say. It was an honor to have briefly known such a man.

    I’ve always instilled tolerance into my daily life, into the up bringing of my children and hope that they will do the same to insure that these events will cease in their life times.

  5. Laura branch
    October 11, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    I saw Barry spanjaard speak in 1984 at my junior high. He made quite an impression and I will never forget him nor his story. I am glad I was able to partake in his legacy and because of him, I have visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. I also made sure to take a history of the Holocaust in college. His signed book was one of my prized possessions until my house burned down in a fire storm a few years back. I miss his book but I will never lose the knowledge he embedded in me.

  6. kim
    February 27, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    I have a love letter he wrote in 1952.

  7. Crystal
    March 19, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Barry Spanjaard spoke at my elementary school in the 1980’s. I have a signed copy of his book “Don’t Fence Me In.” The talk and the book affected me deeply, and still does. I read the book every now and then and it never ceases to leave me in awe and horrified by the despicable acts carried out during WWII. Thank you for this remembrance of him.

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