Holocaust survivor reminds students of their freedom
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 20, 2007

Weldon B. Johnson

Sam Kreisberger is a man of science but he credits being alive today to three miracles that happened more than 60 years ago.

Kreisberger, 79, is a survivor of the Holocaust. Growing up in Romania, he saw his town subjected to oppressive rule in the years leading up to and during World War II.

There were several instances during that time when his life and the lives of his family were in danger, but each time they managed to survive. He shared his experiences Tuesday with eighth-grade students, teachers and some parents at Kyrene del Pueblo Middle School in Chandler.

"I do this because I want them to understand that you can't let what happened then happen again," Kreisberger said. "You can't let what's happening now in Darfur, happen. If you dehumanize one person or a group of people, you dehumanize yourself. I do this because I want them to understand the freedom that they have."

Kreisberger, a retired engineer, visited the school at the invitation of teacher Robert Walker. Walker made contact with Kreisberger last year when his class had more questions after he taught a unit on World War II and the Holocaust.

In 1939 when the Soviet Union occupied his town, the family of a Romanian army officer who lived in the apartment above the Kreisbergers was displaced. A Russian colonel's family took the apartment. Before the Russian family's belongings arrived, Kreisberger's mother befriended them, offering food and bedding to help them get settled.

That officer allowed the Kreisbergers to register as working-class citizens when in fact the family owned a small textile factory. That saved them from being sent to Siberia or to work in the coal mines.

The second miracle occurred after Romania, allies of the Nazis, had regained control of the town. At that time the Kreisbergers were confined to the Jewish ghetto and many people were being deported and killed.

The Kreisberger's textile factory had been confiscated but the government official who now owned it had no idea how to run it effectively.

"He found my father in the ghetto and said he'd give him an offer he couldn't refuse," Kreisberger said. "He said, 'I'm going to give you nothing for it. I'm going to pay you nothing. The only thing I'll give you is your life and the lives of your family.' "

The third miracle was connected to the first. In 1944, as the tide in the war had turned, the Soviets had reoccupied the town. At that time all males over the age of 16 were being rounded up and used to clear minefields and other dangerous tasks for the Russian army.

Kreisberger was picked up on the street but was able to get word to his mother, who showed up with the documents the family had been given by the Russian colonel. Because of a typographical error those documents listed Kreisberger as having been born in 1929 instead of 1928, making him too young to be pressed into service.

Shortly after, his family fled and eventually found their way to Paris.

Kreisberger also spoke to the students about the value of education and how they should never take their freedom for granted.

"I thought it was really good that he came to speak to us," said student Joseph Calhoun. "He wanted to remind us of what we have and what happened. It's important that we don't forget."