Solomon Spierer, who was born in Poland and survived World War II in Siberia, decided it was time to chronicle the dramatic events that ripped his life and family apart.
The resident of the Lester Senior Housing Community in Whippany has written Shloimi’s Life Story, which covers the years from his birth in 1923 to 1949, when he came to the United States. He plans to self-publish the book.
Spierer’s family endured upheaval and tragedy in the years leading up to and through the war. His father, who was a Zionist, was jailed by the Russians in 1938, and the family never saw him again. Spierer, his mother, and sister were deported to a Siberian work camp for the duration of the war.
“I spent six years cutting lumber by hand and later studied automobile engineering in Russia, which was helpful to me when I came to the States,” said Spierer.
With Eastern Europe’s shifting borders and wartime occupations, residents commonly spoke several languages, and Spierer was no exception.
“Polish was our native language, and my mother spoke German, which we used in the home,” Spierer explained. “The school my father sent us to taught entirely in Hebrew, and because we were in an area that bordered and later became part of Ukraine, Ukrainian was commonly used in local stores, including the one my parents had owned. I learned Russian during the occupation as well.” He also speaks Yiddish.
After the war Spierer planned to return to his hometown in Poland — which by then was in Ukraine — but went instead to the German town of Shtetin, which the Poles had taken during the war. Unable to enter Palestine or the United States, where the family had relatives, the Spierers went to Austria, where the job he found was tinged with tragic irony. “I was hired to dismantle an oven that had been used in a concentration camp to burn Jews and rebuild it for a bread bakery,” he said.
When Spierer came to the States alone, he spoke no English but his multilingual and mechanical abilities served him well, and he eventually found employment at a Jewish-owned gas station. He eventually bought his own station and mechanic shop, which he later sold. He bought a card store in Stony Brook, Long Island, where he and his wife, Rosalie, raised their family. “I wanted something I could develop for myself, without the smell and grime of the car grease,” he said.
The Spierers retired to Florida about 20 years ago, but moved to the Lester community — which is owned and managed by the Jewish Community Housing Corporation of Metropolitan New Jersey — in 2013 to be near their sons and grandchildren, who live in West Orange.
Spierer takes part in the community’s discussion groups, and he and Rosalie attend movie screenings there. He works on his computer — on which he wrote his memoir — and they both enjoy computer games. Rosalie has found a friend to play Scrabble with and, Spierer said, he is “looking for a good poker game.”