Pointing to his experiences in the Holocaust as a caution against allowing human suffering to go unchecked in the world, 88-year-old Sam Spritzer told a group of young Jewish professionals in Houston, Texas, that his unlikely survival offered hope for the future.

Addressing the Chabad-Lubavitch of Uptown-sponsored group in a talk entitled “The Audacity of Hope: Understanding Post-Holocaust Survivor Optimism,” Spritzer detailed a journey that began in 1939, when he was just 17 years old and living in Nazi-occupied Poland. One day, soldiers arrived and immediately rounded up his town’s Jewish men and boys, forcing them into an abandoned theater with one toilet and no running water.

Spritzer, whose job was to clean up the hall each day, managed to escape by telling a guard that he needed to fetch water from an outdoor pump. Once outside, he jumped a row of bushes and ran to freedom to the Soviet-occupied side of the country.

But in 1941, as the German army capitalized off of its gains in World War II to take over all of Poland, Spritzer again found himself on the run, with no money or food. He again headed east, walking through the woods and hopping on passing trains, receiving word at one point that his entire family – along with the rest of his town’s Jewish population – had perished.

After finding safety deep in the Russian countryside, Spritzer waited out the war and moved to France after its conclusion. In 1955, he moved to Houston, opened a fur retailer and set the seeds for a business that now spans several stores in the area.

The tale of dashed hopes and final redemption resonated with the group, whose weekly Wednesday discussions focus on anything and everything, so long as it’s not business or politics and that the topics “are things that are meaningful,” said Rabbi Chaim Lazeroff, director of Chabad of Uptown. (One week, a conversation centered on the Jewish perspectives of Heaven and Hell, while others focused on dreams and traditional attitudes toward tattoos.)

Rabbi Chaim Lazeroff, right, invited Spritzer to address the group.
Rabbi Chaim Lazeroff, right, invited Spritzer to address the group.

In the case of Spritzer’s April 28 talk, “the message,” explained Lazeroff, “was not a morbid one. It was about perseverance, rebuilding for the future.”

Ethan Melloul, who hosted the discussion with Aaron Friedman, agreed, noting that despite the horror he endured, Spritzer is “a happy energetic person.”

“There’s always a way to succeed, to move forward,” said Melloul.

For his part, Spritzer left a parting message for the group, seeking to channel hope into a positive push for change.

Noting that the last of the Holocaust survivors are passing away, Spritzer told the group that it was up to them to “continue the legacy, talk about [the Holocaust], raise awareness, [and] educate.”

“When you are silent, history repeats itself,” he added, pointing to atrocities committed in Sudan and elsewhere in Africa. “What I can’t stand is injustice from one human being to another.”