Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Beyond State Borders: Preserving the story of a Holocaust survivor

By Ellen Robison

Our collections at the Tennessee State Library and Archives are a treasure trove of unexpected finds. The Library and Archives houses documents from all corners of the world that have found a home within our walls. These items are a reminder of Tennessee’s presence in the world and how the influence of her people can stretch beyond state borders. One example comes from a seemingly simple letter by Kurt Anspacher dated Nov. 10, 1945, found in the Sadie Warner Frazer Papers. This unassuming letter recounts a detailed story of trauma and adversity in the life of a 20-year-old German Jew who survived 10 different Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Transportation map of Germany. 1938, Sadie Warner Frazer Papers. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Anspacher was born on May 1, 1925, in the small village of Achim, near Bremen, Germany. He and 12 family members were arrested on Nov. 17, 1941 and taken to a ghetto in Minsk, Russia (present-day Belarus). By July of 1942, only five people in his family remained alive. On Sept. 1943, Anspacher was taken to the first of 10 concentration camps and separated from his last living relative. He would never see any of his family again. Over the next 20 months, Anspacher was forced to work in the factories and mines at camps across Russia, Poland, Austria and Germany. His final imprisonment was at the dreaded Dachau concentration camp.

Pages 1 and 2 of letter from Kurt Anspacher regarding his Holocaust experience. Nov. 10, 1945, Sadie Warner Frazer Papers. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

After his arrival at Dachau on March 16, 1945, Anspacher fell deathly ill with typhus, which was running rampant through the camp. In his letter he states, “On March 18 I collapsed and was with high fever and unconscious…. After four Days the fever subsided without medication. The Russian Nurse, a great anti-semite, had geiven [sic] me no tablets… because he saw marked on my plate-name “Jew” with a question mark.” One month later, Anspacher was among the 17,000 Dachau prisoners forced to march more than 40 miles across the snowy countryside of Germany. Thousands died during the journey. They marched for three days before the German guards abandoned the remaining 800 prisoners in the mountains near Tegernsee. In his letter, Anspacher states: “I must have slpet [sic] there almost four days until May 3... The Americans had occupied the village on May 1. Thus I was liberated on May 1, my birthday.”

Pages 3 of letter from Kurt Anspacher regarding his Holocaust experience. November 10, 1945, Sadie Warner Frazer Papers. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Five days after Anspacher awoke to his liberation by the American troops, Germany surrendered and the war in Europe was officially over, but the challenges in his life would continue. He was one of thousands of people who had lost their homes and families. He spent several weeks in two displaced persons camps before returning to Achim. Even after the war in Germany had ended, Nazi followers were still causing havoc in the village. He wrote: “The Nazis are still carrying on as they will…. Had twenty Nazis in Achim arrested by the F.S.S. but the Military Government released them immediately.”

Page 4 of letter from Kurt Anspacher regarding his Holocaust experience. November 10, 1945, Sadie Warner Frazer Papers. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

How did a letter from a Holocaust survivor find its way to the Library and Archives? It is not exactly clear, but Anspacher may have been connected to the family of George Preston Frazer, who served as an officer in the 2nd Armored Division. The 2nd Armored Division participated in battles across Germany and his unit remained for some time as occupation troops after war’s end. Frazer wrote to his family: “…they have told us that there are between 7 and 8 million people in Germany who don’t belong there and we are to help get them into camps and homes as soon as possible.” Or maybe Anspacher's connection was through Jean Anderson, a close friend of the Frazer family who served in the Red Cross’s Civilian War Relief, often within combat zones in western Europe. In one letter to the Frazer family, she states, “We work… on the problems of the many thousands of ‘displaced persons,’ refugees of every nationality under the sun...”

Through research of immigration records, the Library and Archives staff discovered the Anspacher family attempted to leave Germany in 1941. A woman in New York, who had already emigrated from Germany earlier in the war, provided money as a depositor for the family’s travel expenses in March of that year. However, one year later she was refunded the deposit because it had not been used. Naturalization records show Anspacher immigrated to the United States only a few years after writing his letter. He spent time in New York City and Nashville before settling in Chicago under the name of Curt Parker. In 1996 he was interviewed by the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, an organization founded by Steven Spielberg to preserve the stories of Holocaust survivors. Anspacher died in 2011, but the unique story of his life and perseverance lives on halfway around the world here at the Library and Archives.

For more information on interviews conducted by the Shoah Foundation, visit http://sfi.usc.edu/.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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