Joseph Spring was a teenager when he fled Nazi Germany and sought refuge across the border in Switzerland.
But in November 1943 he and his two cousins were handed over to the Gestapo and transferred to Auschwitz.
Now aged 76 and living in Australia, Spring recently returned to Switzerland for the publication of his biography, “The Return: Joseph Spring’s Story”, written by Swiss historian Stefan Keller.
swissinfo caught up with Spring while he was in Zurich to mark the launch of the book.
swissinfo: Why did you want your story to be told?
Joseph Spring: So many things have happened to me, and my eldest son had always wanted me to write the whole story down. So in 2000 I asked Stefan Keller if he would be interested in writing a book. I had no idea at the time that he really would take up my suggestion!
swissinfo: How was the book researched?
J.S.: Keller came to Australia and we spent a number of weeks simply talking. While we spoke, he had a tape recorder running, and after 27 cassettes were full, he thought he had enough material to return to Switzerland and put it all together.
swissinfo: Has the book turned out as you had hoped?
J.S.: Absolutely. Firstly, I have satisfied the demands of my son, which is something that pleases me no end. Secondly, I hope that lessons might be drawn from some of the events. I can’t of course predict if this book will help anybody, but I believe the story was worth telling and that somebody somewhere might benefit. Who knows?
swissinfo: How difficult was it to relive some of the events?
J.S.: The hardest part was recalling the feelings I had during the difficult times. I had to rack my brains to remember how strong my emotions were at the time. But once I unlocked the memories, they came back to me and I felt them very strongly. I should say, though, that I long ago got over the suffering and nightmares, and there have since been many happy events in my life.
swissinfo: Do you still look back at the moment in 1943 when you were handed over by Swiss border guards to the Gestapo?
J.S.: If I’m asked to remember, I will, but I don’t specifically aim to do so, because it was an unhappy event and I like to concentrate on happier times. But when I do relive the moment, what annoys me more than anything is the total lack of feeling I encountered from the people who handed us over.
We were young – one of my cousins was 21 and suffering from tuberculosis, the other was only 14 and I was 16 – but there was not the slightest bit of sympathy shown. As far as those we met were concerned, we were a nuisance and nothing else.
swissinfo: Now that your biography has been published, what plans do you have for the future?
J.S.: Well, I'm already 76, and my main plan is to survive in good health for a while longer. I hope that the book will eventually be translated into English and am even contemplating doing it myself.
As for my ties with Switzerland, I certainly don't rule out returning again, because I have many friends here. When I think of Switzerland today, I only think of my friends and how beautiful the country is - not of anything else, not of the past.
swissinfo-interview: Ramsey Zarifeh
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