KATONAH N.Y. - Seventy-five years ago, Marc Spieler’s immigrant father was an American GI in Europe, fighting the evil his family had fled and apparently helping to liberate the infamous Dachau concentration camp.
Now, Marc Spieler is working from his Katonah home to document the uncommon role Arthur Spieler played in World War II.
Much of the story had been left untold by his tight-lipped father, who died in 1975. “He never really talked much about what happened,” Marc says.
But the IBM cybersecurity professional is starting to learn, thanks in part to being housebound these days with his wife, Debbie, and their three children. “I guess everyone’s working from home,” he shrugs.
Working since 2017 at the computer giant’s world headquarters has been a welcome change for Marc. “For the past 20 years,” he says, “I’ve had an office in the city. Most of the time I would do traveling all over the place for customer-facing things.”
Then, Marc says, “an opportunity came up to work in Armonk, doing security internally for IBM...It’s been a very nice three years.”
And his coronavirus-induced home confinement has provided an opportunity to explore the contents of a locked metal box his father left behind. “It’s been an interesting little adventure,” he says of the discoveries. “We still have more documents to go through, more stuff to try and piece together.”
Still, new and intriguing details have already unfolded on those papers from a distant past. They spill from the kind of box children often inherit, one stuffed with the documents, notes, photos and memorabilia that offer up the outlines of a loved one’s life. “I wish I knew more of it,” Marc says of his father’s wartime story.
The story he has shared so far with officials at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum contains, among other things, his Jewish family’s flight from Nazi terror and at least one episode of his father as a daring, motorcycle-riding spy. It also contains not a few blanks. So, Marc is working with museum curators to fill in those blanks in his family’s story as well as helping the museum to further document the Holocaust’s indelible stain on mankind’s story.
As they do in so many heartbreaking tales of Hitler, jackboots provide a drumbeat connecting disparate episodes unearthed in Arthur Spieler’s story.
At 17, as the Nazi shadow enveloped Austria, Arthur was forced to abandon his comfortable life in Vienna. Boarding the Queen Mary, he sailed, alone, to the safe harbor of America. Landing in New York in February 1939, he went to live with relatives in Philadelphia. His mother, Theresa, joined him there months later.
His father, Moritz, however, had to flee to the Netherlands. The exile wound up in Westerbork, a Dutch resettlement camp for displaced Jews. But after Germany occupied the Netherlands, Westerbork became a Nazi transit camp, dispatching its residents—Anne Frank among them—to their doom in Auschwitz.
In July 1942, Moritz Spieler was one of the first to be “deported.” Fortunately, the train transporting him to the murder machinery in Poland derailed, possibly through sabotage or allied bombing. The derailment was violent enough to throw Moritz and some fellow prisoners, one of them a priest, clear of their confinement.
Traveling together, Moritz and the priest evaded German soldiers and found shelter. Eventually, Marc’s grandfather made his way to Amsterdam.
Meanwhile, the United States had gone to war. Arthur Spieler, not yet a citizen, was turned down when he tried to enlist in the fight. But a year later, the draft sought him.
At Fort Knox, Ky., where he became a naturalized citizen, Arthur learned to shoot and salute. But while Uncle Sam trained him in electronics as well as to fire pistols, rifles and machine guns, the Army prized Arthur more for his tongue than his arms. Born and raised in Austria, he spoke fluent German, a priceless asset in both interrogation and undercover espionage.
And that earned him a ticket to Camp Ritchie.
Tucked away in a remote part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, near the Pennsylvania line, the top-secret military installation trained World War II interrogators and interpreters, many of them natives of the European lands where battles then were raging. The Ritchie Boys, as they came to be known, fanned out after graduation, some 20,000 wartime operatives filling military intelligence slots throughout the Army.
“So, he goes through all this training,” Marc learns from his father’s papers, “and winds up shipping back to Europe...in December 1944.”
Army records show Marc’s father came out of Ritchie with a rank of T/3, or technician third class, the equivalent of a sergeant in the noncommissioned-officer ranks. But he did not wear any stripes on his sleeve.
“I remember seeing pictures of my dad in uniform and he never has any insignia or rank,” Marc recalls. “I asked him once about it and he said, well, part of his job was interrogating people, and a German colonel would not talk to an enlisted man. There was a pecking order.”
Not all of Arthur’s time in Europe was spent in interrogations, family lore suggests. “Part of my dad’s job was to interact with resistance forces,” Marc says, recalling a dicey incident related by his sister. On the eve of Amsterdam’s liberation, as Allied Forces gathered outside the German-held city, Arthur was assigned to collect firsthand intelligence on the streets of the Dutch capital itself.
Under darkness and dressed as a civilian, the 6-foot, 3-inch Spieler, astride a motorcycle driven by a resistance member, motored into the city. Expecting to spy on enemy positions, he found instead “the Germans running around, trying to get the heck out of there before the Allies came,” Marc says.
After Allied Forces drove out the last of the German troops, Arthur joined the victors rolling into the city.
“The story goes that when the forces came in to liberate Amsterdam, my father managed to get himself onto one of the tanks,”
Marc relates. “Sitting on top of it, he’s looking for his father. He doesn’t see him. But my grandfather actually sees his son...and they were reunited shortly thereafter. That’s the story that’s been told to my siblings and me.”
Arthur, bound for the invasion of Germany, had only limited time to spend with Moritz, who would go on the next year to join his family in Philadelphia.
The Allies pushed German forces back across the Rhine. On April 29, 1945, a week short of the final, unconditional surrender in Europe, Dachau’s prisoners went free. Photos show Arthur Spieler among the U.S. troops trying to absorb the camp’s horror.
So far, however, Marc says he has no details of what role his father played at Dachau. Another photo suggests he also visited the former Buchenwald concentration camp, more than 200 miles away, but, again, there are no specifics.
Marc knows only that his father remained in Europe after the war, a civilian federal employee. While in Europe, he met and married Gertrude Lockner, the Austrian woman who would give birth in the states to Marc and his two older sisters, Evelyn and Sylvia. All grew up in Philadelphia.
Marc plans to continue his quest for more details of his father’s exploits. Working from home, reaching out for any help he can find, Marc says Google has become a key ally. Still, facing multiple blanks in a narrative three-quarters of a century old, he concedes, “I don’t know if we’ll ever find out the true extent of his movements.”
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