Doris Martin

Doris Martin, around 1947. No earlier photos exist of her.
Doris Martin, around 1947. No earlier photos exist of her.

Doris Martin, born 1926, was twelve years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and eventually forced the Jewish community into Będzin’s ghetto, called Kamionka. In 1942, Doris was deported to Auschwitz and later to a labor camp where she was imprisoned for the remainder of the Holocaust. Her parents, sister, and two of her brothers posed as Polish citizens and lived in hiding for most of the war, while her third brother fled to the Soviet Union at the onset of conflict. Miraculously, all seven members of the Szpringer family survived the Holocaust and were reunited at the end of the war.


Doris is the fourth of five siblings: older brothers Issa, Yossel, and Moishe, and younger sister Laya. Before the war, Doris and her family lived in a small apartment that was also the family business, a shoe shop. Their Jewish faith was a large part of their family life. Though Doris went to a public Polish school, at home she spoke Yiddish, the language of most Polish Jews. Doris remembers that antisemitic ideas were present among Poles; occasionally, the Jewish district of Będzin was subject to violence or looting. These attacks were rare and mild compared to what happened after the occupation by Nazi Germany. Doris describes her early life as simple but happy.


In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. Because Będzin was located near the border of the German Reich, it was immediately occupied. Doris initially fled the town with her mother, sister, and brother Yossel, but they eventually returned. During their absence, the Nazis had already organized the Judenrat (Jewish Council), whose first task it was to register all Jews in town and to implement food rations. The German occupiers began to commit atrocities against Będzin’s Jews. For example, on September 8, Doris’ father witnessed how Nazis forced 200 people into the town’s Great Synagogue and set the building on fire, killing everyone inside. Beatings and murders in the streets became commonplace.


Roundups and deportations soon began. Doris’ brother Issa fled to the Soviet Union to escape deportation, but the rest of the family endured horrific abuses. In August of 1942, the Nazis organized a massive roundup in the Będzin HaKoach sports stadium, at which time Doris and her family were nearly separated. By some miracle they were allowed to stay together. Afterwards, they began preparations to go into hiding. However, Nazis arrived one day to deport Doris. She hid for the first few days, but turned herself in when the Nazis took her mother in her place.


Doris was deported by train to Auschwitz, where she remained for several days. She was selected for slave labor and sent to a labor camp at Ludwigsdorf, which was under the administration of the concentration camp of Gross-Rosen. She was forced to manufacture explosives and electronics for the German war effort. The camp was surrounded on all sides by barbed wire fences and armed guard towers, making escape impossible. Prisoners wore ill-fitting uniforms with no coat to protect against the cold winter. They survived on only a bowl of watery soup, a piece of stale bread, and a cup of coffee per day. Digging through the garbage for food became a nightly ritual for Doris during her three years in the camp.


Doris mourned her separation from her family and struggled with the hardships of camp life. Yet, she kept her spirits up by making friends within the camp. The women in the camp often assisted each other and sang together. On one occasion, a young woman brought Doris the news of her family’s safety and a message from her brother asking her to escape. She knew she would not survive an escape attempt, so she decided to bide her time rather than risk death. Soon after, as the end of the war was nearing, the Nazis informed prisoners that they would evacuate the camp and begin a death march to retreat from the fast approaching Soviet army. The prisoners had heard of horrendous death marches and wondered whether they would survive. On the morning the death march was set to begin, Soviet soldiers rather than Nazis awakened the prisoners. The camp had been liberated—Doris was free.


Doris remained at the camp for several days before traveling back to Będzin to locate her family. Upon her return, she discovered that a Polish family was living in her old home. Her family’s shoe shop had been burned to the ground. Doris did not feel at home in Będzin anymore. She left word of her whereabouts among the few remaining Jews and returned to the former labor camp. Her father and brother soon located her there. They moved to a nearby town, where the whole family—including Issa—was reunited after six years of hardship. Follow her path across Europe after 1944.


Doris’ mother died of an unknown terminal illness shortly after her reunion with her family. Her three brothers chose to marry and remain in Europe while Doris, Laya, and their father immigrated to the United States in 1950. Doris married Louis Rabinowitz, and the couple had a son named Allen. Louis died of cancer within three years of the marriage. Doris later married Ralph Martin. In 2000, Doris and her husband Ralph founded the Martin-Springer Institute at Northern Arizona University, an education center dedicated to the Szpringer family and the millions of victims of the Holocaust. Doris and Ralph’s vision for the Institute was to teach the Holocaust, learn lessons from the past, and promote moral courage, tolerance, empathy, and justice.


Doris told her story also in:

Kiss Every Step: A Survivor’s Memoir from the Nazi Holocaust (2009)


The USC Shoah Foundation (popularly known as Spielberg foundation) interviewed Doris, under the Int. code # 29765: