BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

A Holocaust Survivor's Search for the Truthicon for Recommended story

by jackyy

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

A picture of Jacky Young, taken by his adoptive parents when he was about six years old.

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Jacky Young
Location of story: 
England, Austria, Israel
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 September 2004

Thirty years ago a boy at school told me that I had been adopted. I was ten years old, and on the surface this was not very earth-shattering news. I didn't realise then that this revelation was only the beginning of a lot more drastic news to come, and that it was to be the beginning of a journey that has still not ended.

When I confronted my parents with what I had been told, they were speechless, and after a while, with tears in their eyes, confirmed that this news was true. I can remember quite clearly that seeing both my parents so upset in turn made me cry and we all cuddled each other. I said to them that it didn't matter and that I still loved them, but I cannot recall whether any other information was forthcoming.

What it means to be adopted

I gradually began to understand what being adopted meant, and it now became clear to me why I had always had a feeling of being different from other children. I could remember back to when I was five years old, playing with lots of boys and girls, and one day some of us were ushered forward to meet two people, a young man and woman. They wanted to take us out for a ride in the country. One day I was to go alone with these people to stay with them for a few days and obviously that visit was to lead to my being adopted.

Every so often I tried to question my parents. Where was I born, where were my real parents? But they usually fobbed me off with the statement that they loved me very much and that was all that mattered. In retrospect, my adopted parents were behaving in a protective way because they did not want me to be hurt, but I started to become increasingly frustrated.

I noticed that, if I were naughty at school, the teachers would tell me off in the nicest possible way and even apologise for hitting me. This seemed very strange and I quickly began to realise that I could get my own way with my parents, providing I didn't ask questions. Looking back I can see that I was thoroughly spoilt.

I was enrolled at the local synagogue to learn Hebrew, and for a while life carried on as usual, except for the fact that I had recurring dreams. One of them was about a big house which backed onto a racecourse, and there were lots of big pointed trees. Another dream was about a lovely view of green hills and pretty lights and I seemed to be very high up, looking down. One of the other dreams was frightening, there were giant waves coming towards me and lots of water everywhere. When I told my mother that I kept on having the same dream over and over again she said that everyone had dreams like that.

When I was 13 my name was changed by deed poll from Jacky Yanofsky to Jack Morris Young. The explanation for this was that Yanofsky was too long a name. I had been very busy studying for my barmitzvah, this means growing from boyhood to manhood, and my parents made a big celebration party for me and we all had a very happy time.

'You were born in Austria'

One afternoon I went to visit my grandmother. Usually I accompanied my father on these visits, but this time I went alone and it was on this occasion that she told me that I was not from England. So where am I from, I asked her? She told me that I had been born in Austria.

Armed with this information I went home and casually mentioned this to my mother. She immediately snapped back at me, "Who told you this?" Seeing her so angry I declined to inform her, as I didn't want to get my grandmother into trouble.

"Wait until your father gets home," she shouted. Later that evening my father verbally attacked me by repeating a list of names. He wanted to know which one of them was the culprit. My grandmother's name was not on this list, so I confidently said none of them. I was enjoying all the fuss. All I wanted to know was whether the information was true, but instead of telling me right away, both my parents were only interested in finding out who had told me, so if they kept on at me to tell them I was not going to.

My father was so angry; he said, "Whoever has told you is my worst enemy." Now I couldn't wait to tell him that it was his very own dear mother. He was flabbergasted to say the least. "Now," I said, "will you tell me, is it true, was I born in Austria?" He more or less admitted it and then hastily brushed it aside.

I was afraid to pursue the matter further. I had mixed feelings about my new-found information. I desperately wanted to know why I had been sent to England. Part of me wanted to cry and part of me wanted to laugh. I also felt extremely sorry for myself and then suddenly I began to feel as if I was somebody special. I must have been because every time I found out something about myself it caused such a commotion. I was treated as though I was special, although I was completed puzzled within myself.

For a time I settled down again. I belonged to a youth club and made lots of friends and involved myself in various activities.

Leaving school

At 15 I left school to become an apprentice hairdresser. I practised on my mother's hair and finally made it to being a fully-fledged hairdresser. After another few months I contracted very bad dermatitis and had to stop work for a few weeks. When my hands cleared up I went back to work only to get bad hands again. This time it was decided that I would have to give up hairdressing altogether.

It took six months to get my hands better again, and I had plenty of time to think. Before long I began wondering about my past again. I couldn't figure out why I should be in England. I spoke English without any accent, so I must have come when I was very young. Where were my real parents, where they alive or dead? I tried once again to question my adopted mother. As I was much older now maybe she would tell me, but no, as usual I got nowhere. She just kept on saying, "What are you trying to do to me, I am your mother." So once again I had to push everything into the background, and when my hands recovered I had to find another job.

I started work in an electrical retail shop, but soon got fed up with carrying televisions around all day. Then I got a job in a menswear shop as a sales assistant, but I was very unsettled and my father suggested that maybe I would like to learn about his business. He was a bookmaker and so he took me to the office to show me what he did. Before long we both found out that I was not cut out for figures.

Meeting Lita

It was at this time that I noticed a lovely looking girl at a dance, and I knew that she was the girl for me. I had been out with girls, but this particular girl was extra special and as luck would have it she turned out to be the sister of one of my friends. Before long I was going round to my friend's house every day, hoping that his sister would be at home. Gradually we got to know each other and fell in love. I was 19 at this time and she was 21 when we got engaged. I had to have a job and so it was decided that I would go on the Knowledge to become a London taxi driver. During our 18-month engagement, my fiancée helped me to learn the streets of London. Before long I told her about myself and she was very interested and understanding.

The paper trail to my birth

Three months before our marriage we had to go along to the Jewish Board of Deputies with relevant documents for them to sanction that our marriage could take place in the synagogue. Together with my adopted mother and my fiancée's mother we went to the offices, whereupon my mother handed over the deed poll papers showing the change of our name, and also a shortened version of my birth certificate.

The secretary said, "So, you were born in Austria." He then asked my mother and if she was also born there, and she said no. I could see that she was going to hide the fact that I was adopted, and so I said to her, "Why don't you tell the man the truth about me, that I am adopted."

"In that case," he said, "I must have proof that your natural mother was Jewish." My adopted mother assured him that she was, that the document was in the safe deposit box and asked whether he could just take her word for it.

"Certainly not," he said, "you will have to go and get it." He then turned to me and asked whether I was circumcised and barmitzvahed, and I answered yes to both these questions. My mother was arguing with the man and by now we were all becoming upset. My fiancée interrupted and said that we had had enough of all the hassle, it didn't matter, and we would get married in a Registry Office. But my mother wanted us to be married in the synagogue and she could see that she would have to produce the document for that to happen.

We all went to the safe deposit and I just could not wait to get my hands on those papers. I wanted to see what my mother was trying to hide. I begged her to let me look at them, but crying and shouting she held on to them. On returning to the office the secretary looked over the papers and told us they were in order. He appeared to be completely without compassion.

I snatched the papers away as he handed them back to my mother and, to my utter astonishment, saw that I had been in a concentration camp. My real name was Jona Jakob Spiegel and my mother's name had been Elsa Spiegel, born 1909 in Vienna. I had been brought to England on a bomber. We all stood there dumbfounded, and I became hysterical. I had heard about these terrible places and couldn't accept that I had been involved. My mother kept repeating that it was a very long time ago and that I was only a baby. I shouted at her, "Why couldn't you tell me before? I always find out from other people."

Absolutely shocked, we left the office and went home. Later in the day, when my father came home, he echoed my mother's words - that it all happened a long time ago, that I was only a baby and didn't know what was going on, that they both loved me more than if I was their own son so I should try and forget about it. I didn't know how I was going to forget about this revelation, and I took the opportunity to ask my father where he had adopted me from. Reluctantly he said from a place called Lingfield.

Weir Courteney at Lingfield

I knew that there was a racecourse called Lingfield and one of my recurring dreams had been about a racecourse. Maybe there was a link. So one afternoon, my fiancée and I went off to Lingfield. We found the local police station and I described the large house in my dreams. Lo and behold, we were told where to find it. Driving through the large gates and up the driveway my dream melted into reality. This house must have left a big impression on me. I could see the big pointed trees all the way down the large garden. We knocked on the front door and a young woman came out. When I explained to her why we had come she hastily invited us in and made us tea. She told us that the house was called Weir Courteney and that lots of children had been brought there in 1945.

It was this event, our going to Weir Courteney that day, which was to be the opening of a lot more information to come, but I was going to have to wait another 17 years to get it.

That same evening I told my parents where we had been, so thrilled with myself that I had managed to find this place through my dreams, but they were displeased. You may wonder why I told my parents knowing full well they would disapprove, but they had brought me up to always tell the truth and now that I was about to be married I thought that if I kept secrets from them I would become as inward-looking as they were.

Surely they realised that the curiosity about my early years was not going to go away. I wanted them to understand that whatever I found out, good or bad, I wanted to share it with them. I loved them just as much as they loved me, nothing could ever take away the fact that they had brought me up and that they were the only mother and father that I knew. But it was hopeless; they would not co-operate with me at all.

Soon after this I was reading in a newspaper about concentration camp survivors finding missing relatives, and how to go about getting compensation for lost possessions and suffering. Together with my fiancée we went to the United Restitution Office and there we found a very nice lady who listened to what I had to say. She said that, as I had been adopted, a search must have already been carried out to see whether there were any surviving relatives, but that she would get in touch with the Records offices in Vienna to make sure.

A few weeks later we were asked to go along to the United Restitution Office as they had some information for me. I was given a small slip of paper. On this paper was my mother's name, date of birth and the dates of our deportations, mine to Terezin and hers to Minsk, from where she never returned. She had been a milliner.

From the deportation dates we could work out that I had been taken away from her when I was five-and-a-half months old. She was deported immediately after this and I was deported three months later. As for any other relations, there were no records. An amount of £383 compensation was going to be paid to me. No amount of money could ever compensate for my loss, and I felt that the people who had done this terrible thing to me were brushing me aside with a pittance. When I finally received the money I felt that I wanted to tear it to shreds and throw it away. This money represented the mother I never knew and under the circumstances I couldn't use the money to enjoy myself, neither did my fiancée want it.

Getting married

I was standing under a canopy in the synagogue and I could see the reflection of the girl I was about to marry coming up the aisle. The rabbi leaned towards me and whispered that she looked very beautiful. We had a lovely wedding reception, went on honeymoon to Torremolinos and then settled down in a flat in Hampstead.

I was now equipped with my badge to drive a taxicab and off I went full of happiness, with my past safely tucked at the back of my mind.

Ten months later we had our first baby daughter and naturally we were overjoyed. Two years and nine months later our second baby daughter was born to complete our happy family. It was at this time that I had a deep desire to name this second child with my natural mother's name. This had occurred to me the first time around, but I thought it would cause trouble with my adopted parents. However, this time I told my parents of my intentions - after all I was a married man with responsibilities, surely I could do what I wanted. To put it in a nutshell, they objected very strongly and so I complied with their wishes, to a degree. My wife and I chose the name Elisa instead of Elsa and a second name Gabi, but when I went to register the birth, I added the name Elsa to the other two names. Now she would be called Elisa Gabi Elsa.

You could condemn my parents for their short-sightedness. Whilst I was eternally grateful for the good upbringing they had given me, they always made me feel that I was doing something wrong. But to my way of thinking, being a father now myself, it seemed perfectly logical and a very nice way of remembering the mother whom I never knew. She had died in the most tragic circumstances at the age of 32, and why should she be forgotten?

It was my adopted parents' attitude of never understanding me that rekindled an enormous urge to know more about my background. I had explained to my parents over and over again that nothing could ever change the love I had for them. They often recalled their past memories and yet I was supposed to drop the first five years of my life and forget about it.

I asked my mother, "If you had been my natural mother and the same tragedy had happened to you, would you have liked to be remembered or forgotten?"

She immediately replied, "Remembered."

Just for an instant she almost understood. Then she reverted back again, telling me that I had a good wife, two lovely children, lots of relations, that I was only a baby and it happened a long time ago. It was like talking to a brick wall, she just didn't want to understand.

Drawings from Terezin

A short while later, on reading an article in a newspaper, I saw that an exhibition of drawings and poetry from the Prague Museum was coming to the Swiss Cottage Library in London. These drawings had been preserved from Terezin. I visited the library together with my wife and children, and it was then that I found out that out of 15,000 children sent to Terezin, fewer than 100 survived. One of them was me!

We looked over the drawings and read the very sad poems over and over again. Most of the children were aged between 10 and 15 years and had been transported on to Auschwitz to perish. I was stirred up again. It was very difficult to come to terms with all these facts and figures and sometimes I felt completely alone in the whole world. I would look at different people and think to myself, I wonder if they could be a true relation of mine. Surely out of an entire family somebody else must have survived and could be around somewhere.

Around this time we added an Old English Sheepdog to our family and ten years went by very happily with nothing untoward happening, except for deep pangs inside myself every so often - I very much wanted to know my roots. Suddenly, something sparked me off that I must go to Vienna and satisfy my curiosity. I had been to several European countries on holiday, why on earth hadn't I thought of going to Vienna, where I was born? I suppose since the past was such a taboo subject this aspect had not occurred to me. I would have liked my wife to accompany me, but decided that I would only be gone for two days. Secretly I was worried that something bad may happen to us, and I would rather she stayed behind with our girls.

To Vienna

Equipped with my mother's last known address and very little knowledge of German, off I went. I found the address and stood outside a large block of flats, which had one central doorway. I felt rather miserable, but I also felt completely alien to my surroundings and after all this journey didn't even enquire further. Strangely enough all I did was take some photographs, and then I went to a very expensive shop and bought a big Russian-looking fur hat. My mother had been a milliner and so that is why I must have done this. Then I rushed back home to London to find my wife and children waiting at the airport to meet me. I did feel better for satisfying my curiosity, but there was a horrible feeling inside of me that would not go away.

Five years ago I lost my father. Despite his obstinate ways I loved him dearly and knew that he had loved me. At the time of mourning I felt I was mourning my natural parents at the same time. I had always had to suppress my past and maybe that is why I was muddled within my mind and had to keep on bringing it up to the surface every so often. I now know quite definitely that what I needed to do was grieve over my lost family.

Four years ago I was faced with a very irate mother waving a letter and shouting I would be the death of her. When we calmed her down we found out that she had been holding on to the letter for three months, but her conscience had got the better of her and she decided to give it to me. It was from two German ladies, who by some coincidence had heard about my visit to Weir Courteney 17 years earlier. Since they were told that I was interested in my past, they thought they should contact me in order to give me some photographs and to tell me about the year I had spent with them when I had come to England. As far as they knew from their own enquiries, they thought I was still a ladies' hairdresser and they searched the salons of London for six months trying to trace me. Finally, they had no option but to write to my adopted mother asking her to put us in touch.

Naturally, it took quite some time to persuade my mother that I wasn't going to run off and leave her for these two ladies. I told her I would have liked to take her with me to visit them.

Why couldn't she understand that I needed to fill in the gaps of my first five years of life, and be proud of the fact that she had been the one to adopt me? Her point of view was that they had no right whatsoever to contact me, but I argued that they only wanted to give me some photographs. After a lot more arguing she did a complete turnabout and said that she would come with me. By this time there was no way I would take her along. I couldn't take the chance that she would make things very uncomfortable for all concerned.

The two German ladies

I telephoned these ladies and that coming Sunday afternoon, together with my wife, two children and dog, went to Sussex to visit them. I was thrilled and delighted at what they had to tell me, namely that I had been a very inquisitive little boy, I spoke both German and Czech and that it was their task to teach me and the five other youngest children English before going on to join the older children at Weir Courteney. Apparently I was the eldest of these five children and there was a very close comradeship between us. These ladies didn't know much about us, only that we had been in Terezin, our behaviour was sometimes very erratic, we didn't know how to play with the toys that had been given to us by well-wishers and we looked after each other. For instance, if one of us was offered a sweet, until all the others also had one we would not eat it and if one of us had been naughty and was told off we would all cry. But very soon we all settled down to become 'normal', happy children.

Later that day the ladies took us to see a house called Bulldogs Bank, where we had stayed for one year. This house had been given over to us by a very kind titled Lady and, to my amazement, as soon as I set eyes on it, I could see that this house was the one with the lovely view from my dreams. Before leaving to go home I thanked the ladies very much for looking after me and also for getting in touch with me now and giving me the photographs and information.

When we returned home I was very excited. A lot of people take things like I had learned that day for granted, but I can't impress upon you enough how important and satisfying it was for me to see that I was a 'normal' looking child with lots of friends. The irony was that I had spoken German and for the last few years had been trying to pick up the language, but my concentration had not been too great. That night I slept with the photographs close at hand and kept on looking at them.

I tried to show the photographs to my adopted mother in the hope that she would be interested. She had been having trouble with her eyesight and this was put forward as an excuse - she said she couldn't see a thing. She became obstinate again and tried to convince me that I was doing something terrible to her, she had done her best for me and all I could do in return was upset her. This outburst was all over a few photographs of happy children playing in a beautiful garden. My wife tried for hours to explain to my mother how we all loved and respected her, she could visit us whenever she wanted to, as much as she wanted to, but she had to understand that I needed to know things about myself when I was little. Even now there were three and a half years that I would never know. My mother still would not give in and my wife lost her temper completely and had to leave the room.

This is your life

A few weeks later I was going out to work at 7pm when my wife said, wait just a minute and see who is on 'This Is Your Life' (a TV programme about people who have had an interesting and successful life). The camera finally rested on an elderly lady in the audience and I turned quite pale. I recognised her, but couldn't think where from. All was to be revealed during the next half hour.

This lady was the matron of Weir Courteney, where I had spent about six months before being adopted. Some of the older children, who were now grown up, were there to pay tribute to her and then one of the ladies who we had visited just a few weeks before was there. She must have known about this programme when we had seen her, but since it is top secret she hadn't told me about it. It was amazing that I had listened to my wife and waited to find out whose life it was going to be. I practically shot out of the house and went straight to the TV studio. I had to meet this lady. After the programme finished they had a party and showed a video of it.

I forced my way in and she recognised me immediately. "Hello Jacky," she said, "How did you get here"? Guess what, she lived just around the corner from my adopted mother. She had seen my mother from time to time and had enquired after me. My mother had always been polite to her, but very cagey as to my whereabouts.

After this episode I began to feel uneasy again. My past, which I wanted to know so badly, was finally catching up with me and it seemed very odd that everything fitted into place. Although I had a time of great excitement, it quickly turned to resentment. Why had such a thing happened to me? How could I lose an entire family? What I wanted so much was to meet someone who could tell me details about my natural mother and her background and I would love to have a picture of her. I had a terrible feeling of being totally lost. I felt a sense of guilt, strange as it may seem, that I should survive and 15,000 should perish.

My wife and children, all my close relations and in-laws have stood by me, giving me a tremendous amount of love and support before and during this time and without them I think I could easily have gone over the edge and into the depths of despair.

To Israel, to look for survivors

It was soon after this that I was to hear about a World Gathering of Holocaust Survivors Reunion, to take place in Israel in June 1981, and I felt that this was virtually my last and only chance left to go and seek out further information. There was going to be a central computer where everybody would be registered and people could find each other through it. The fee for this was £45 and I arranged this immediately, before even booking the trip.

Needless to say, my first stop when we arrived in Israel was to the computer. Can you imagine the tension and my utter frustration when the young girl fed all my details in and then told me that I had not been entered yet - what a huge disappointment. I couldn't understand it. If there was anybody there and they were seeking me out, how were they going find me?

Our next visit was to Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust, and there I was introduced to a fellow countryman from Vienna. I explained the predicament that I was in and he said when I returned to England, I should forward on to him as much information as possible and he would try help me. I told him the entire information was on a small piece of paper that I was holding. He looked amazed and laughed. He said, "How can I find anybody without names, dates and places?" I pointed out that he would have to do better than Sherlock Holmes! We shook hands and he promised to do his best. Deep down I realised that it was a hopeless task.

We met lots of survivors from all over the world and the majority of them were very friendly. It seemed impossible to believe that they had come through such horror. They looked a picture of health and happiness, dressed in their smart clothes, laughing in the sunshine with their friends and families.

We heard some fantastic stories of reunions which were taking place right there in Israel through the gathering, but not for me. I wanted at least to meet someone who had looked after me in Terezin, although I knew that these people were constantly being changed, as one lot after another were transported on to Auschwitz. Surprisingly enough we did meet some survivors who between themselves discriminated as to how bad one concentration camp was to another and when Terezin was mentioned, they said, "That was one of the good ones!"

I must tell you that I was becoming increasingly more uncomfortable - how was I going to be noticed? I approached several TV crews and asked whether they would be interested in interviewing one of the youngest survivors, but they were not. The whole theme was to pass the Holocaust down to the second generation and have discussions about preventing it ever happening again. I knew this aspect was extremely important, but apart from my name tag, which I wore bearing my real name, what was I going to do?

On the fourth day there was to be a closing ceremony in Jerusalem and the Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, was going to be there. This was the biggest gathering of people at any one time, about 6,000, and my frustration was mounting. Somebody there could possibly have known my family. I couldn't stand it any longer. We had already been seated for three hours whilst all the people came and settled themselves. Finally I got up from my seat and proceeded towards the stage where they were testing the sound equipment. This had been going on since we had got there. With trembling legs and a very shaky voice I virtually begged them to put out a short message. I said instead of saying, "One, two, three testing," could they please say, "Does anybody recognise the name Elsa Spiegel, from Vienna?" They said no, other people would want to do the same thing.

Then I had a brief encounter with a man who came up to me and questioned why I was on the stage, and with rather a scornful face he looked at my arm, searching for a number. I took this as an insult and I pointed out that my number was not on my arm, but in my heart. He quickly apologised. I was extremely distressed by this time and needless to say my short message was not put out. I returned to my seat and had the attention of the row in front and the row behind all trying to comfort me.

My wife had been telling them about me and one lady said to me that she would be my mother. They just didn't know what to say to me. By now my wife and children and several people were all weeping. We sat through the proceedings whilst six very large candles were lit to represent the six million people who had died. After each one there was a very long speech and a symbolic handing down of responsibility to the next generation that nobody should ever be allowed to forget the Holocaust.

The Terezin memorial

The next day, on looking through the folder which had been given to me, I found a letter inviting anybody who had been involved in Terezin to go to the kibbutz Givat Haim, where there was to be a meeting. We went there and found that a building had been built in memory of all the people who had died and passed through Terezin. A very nice gentleman came over to me and when I told him who I was he was very surprised. He said that he had been in charge of the transport after the liberation in 1945 and to his knowledge there were no young children. I began to wonder, not for the first time, whether there could possibly have been a mistake after all.

We went into a room where the records were kept and I gave the man my name and date of birth, and very quickly he found the registration card with the transport no. 1236 from Vienna on it. At this point I broke down. Now I believed it, there was no mistake. There was also a very large book and he found my name in that. I saw that there was several people called Spiegel and wondered whether any of them were anything to do with me. Without full names, dates and places, once again it was impossible to tell. The gentleman was very helpful and understanding and he gave me a chance to speak to the crowd of about 200 people.

I could hardly control my tears, but battled through with my message. Lots of people tried to help me and then one man in particular said he was from Vienna. He had been 14 at the time and he had lived in the same block of flats as my mother and maybe he could remember her. I gasped and almost collapsed. This was what I had been waiting for all my life, at last, I thought. But my hopes were soon to be dashed when he admitted that his memory was vague and he couldn't remember after all. My wife told me afterwards that she had experienced the most awful feeling when he claimed to know my mother, right away she sensed that this was not true.

I then met two young ladies from America. One of them was three months younger than me and was sent to Terezin with her grandmother, and the other young lady was seven years old when she was sent to Terezin with her mother and father. Fortunately they all survived, except for her very best friend who had shared a wooden bunk bed with her. She had been transported onto Auschwitz, where she was killed. This young woman had just looked up her friend in the records to find out what had happened to her and she was very upset. How the choices were made between who was to be transported and who was to stay, I have yet to find out. We exchanged names and addresses and had our photos taken together, and now I began to feel a little bit easier.

We spent another week in Israel and tried to relax and enjoy ourselves in the sunshine, but all the time I was secretly hoping that something would still turn up. It did for other people, why not for me? Alas this was not to be.

Another journey on the paper trail

When we arrived home there was a letter for me from Yad Vashem, in Israel, to say that they had been in touch with the records office in Vienna and that they would get in contact with me very soon. A few weeks later, to my delight, I received a letter from Vienna together with my birth certificate. This particular one had my mother's signature on it, and stated that I was born at 11.45am. They had also found my mother's birth certificate, on this there were two more names, that of my grandmother and grandfather. On looking at my grandparents' name, which was also Spiegel, I realised that my mother must have been unmarried or she would have had a different name.

You will appreciate that these documents were in German, but I could make out what they were. On showing them to a friend who could understand the language, he told me that in the corner of the certificate it said unmarried. This didn't altogether surprise me, but I wondered why nobody had mentioned this fact before. I had asked often enough and furthermore, why hadn't I been given my mother's birth certificate before now, when the United Restitution Office had carried out a search for me?

My wife rang up the lady at the Office and on telling her what we had found out she owned up and said she had known all the time, but she didn't want to hurt the poor boy's feelings. She had decided, together with someone else, to withhold this information. She added that she would very much like to see me again. It had been years since our visit and yet a soon as my wife had mentioned my first name, she knew immediately who I was.

We did go to see her soon after and asked whether she was hiding any more information. We now wondered how many other people there were who were doing the same thing. She said that she was not, and we assured her that whatever we found out, good or bad, it was all a bonus and was helping to fill in the gaps of my life.

At least I could see that I had belonged to a family. My grandmother's name was Emilie née Schwarz, and Leopold Spiegel was my grandfather's name. I did remember seeing these names in the record book in Israel and so I wrote a letter to the very kind gentleman there and asked him to check whether there was any connection. He wrote back to say there were three Leopold Spiegels and none of them had been on the same transport as myself. He had managed to find out the names of the other people on the same transport and he said there were 15 other children without parents and only I had survived. He could not say to whom, or to what we owed this miracle, and if I ever found out, or if he found out, to be sure and contact him as he was most interested.

I told my adopted mother about my latest information and she said, so you are still looking, why can't you forget it already? I was hoping that by now she would have come to terms with the fact that no way was I ever going to forget what had happened. What's more, even if I wanted to there was not a week that went by without some mention of Hitler, Nazis etc on the television or in the media - and anyway, this had to be remembered in the hope that there would never by another war. The one thing that hurts me so much is that there is a small fraction of present day youth who choose to believe that it never really happened. Here I am, after 40 years, still trying to piece together the story of my missing years.

I have one more task to perform and that is to go to Terezin and have a look around to see for myself what it was like. Funnily enough, the other day I had a delivery to make to an advertising firm in Bond Street. I ran up the stairs and delivered the package and on the way down came right outside the Czechoslovakian Booking Office. I felt that this was an omen, so I went inside and made enquiries.

When I got home I told my wife that I was feeling uneasy again and that I had to go to Terezin and couldn't wait any longer. I said I'd go alone, as I wanted her to look after our two girls. I was afraid that if something was to happen to the both of us then my girls would be left alone. Her mind went back to the time when I rushed off to Vienna on my own. "Not this time," she said, "I am coming with you. After all our daughters are nearly 18 and 15 and quite capable of looking after themselves for four days."

My wife is going to share my ups and downs just as she always has, and what's more, she is going to make me write down my feelings as we go along on our trip to Terezin. Maybe this will release the tension in me.

Read the rest of Jacky's story…

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Searching for the truth

Posted on: 19 January 2005 by Ron Goldstein

Hi Jacky
The trouble with this site is that you would need to be permanently on line to ensure that you havn't missed anything of importance.
Which leads me to your story.
I intend to copy and paste all of your articles into one Word document in order that I can read it from start to deserves all of my time and,like any good book, I know I will not want to put it down.
On behalf of myself and I'm sure many, many others, thank you so much for placing your story into the Public Domain.
With all best wishes


Message 2 - Searching for the truth

Posted on: 19 January 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


I concur entirely with Ron and I thank Frank Mee for drawing my attention to this valuable contribution.

Purely for the sake of those who may never have heard of 'Terzin' and may be puzzled, I would point out that this infamous camp is better known as Theresienstadt.

At page 355 of "The Holocaust - The Jewish Tragedy", Sir Martin Gilbert says:

"On June 2 [1942] there was a deportation of Jews from Vienna. They were taken to Minsk, and there, in the Minsk ghetto, shared the fate of tens of thousands of deportees to Minsk: starvation, sadistic cruelties, and mass executions. Among those deported on June 2 was a milliner, Elsa Speigel. It was three weeks before her thirty-third birthday. She was never heard of again. But in Vienna she left her tiny son, Jona Jakob Speigel, a baby of five and a half months.
Elsa Speigel's decision to leave her baby in Vienna saved his life. Three and a half months later he was deported from Vienna to Theresienstadt. By a miracle, he was still in Theresienstadt on the last day of the war, when the camp was liberated by the Red Army."

With best wishes,



Message 3 - Searching for the truth

Posted on: 12 May 2005 by jackieyoung

Ron you are right you really can miss what is being said out there,thank you for reading my story.Jackie PS I just this morning saw what you said about it.


Message 4 - Searching for the truth

Posted on: 12 May 2005 by jackieyoung

Peter thank you for reading my story ,and as you said if I would have gone with my mother I would not be here today.Jackie

Message 1 - ?

Posted on: 09 February 2005 by purdiful

What has changed since you were ten years of age?

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Childhood and Evacuation Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy