His quiet audience had just toured the 5,000-square-foot museum, which chronicles the Holocaust with personal accounts and artifacts from the survivors who came to St. Louis. During the tour they learned about the similarities between their own lives and those lived by Jewish children before the Holocaust. They also saw the evil realities of prejudice and eventually genocide.
"This is what a survivor looks like," the 83-year-old began.
When Spooner was just 9 years old, "the bullies took charge," he shared. The bullies, of course, were the Nazis, who were welcomed into the country, he said. His once-peaceful childhood became subject to the restrictive, anti-Jew Nuremberg Laws. Shortly after the Nazis arrival, Spooner told the students that his friends began wearing swatstika armbands, he couldn't go to school or the park, and his parents could no longer work. He recalls being bullied on the street by members of Youth for Hitler.
There were two realities that Spooner said he was sharply aware of as a 9-year-old boy: "I am a Jew, and it's not good to be a Jew."
His life got markedly worse during a historic night in November 1938. On Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass, Spooner said every synagogue was looted and destroyed. The next day, the Gestapo knocked on his door, looking for his father and uncles.
"My dad was shaving and in his pajamas," Spooner said. His mother slid a cap in his pocket and insisted he take his coat with him. Spooner had no idea where the men were taking his father.
Spooner's story, unlike so many others from the Holocaust, has a more hopeful ending. Months after his father was arrested, Spooner, his mother and father, an All-Star Austrian soccer player, were reunited in England, one of the few countries that offered assistance to Austrian Jews. A family member in the United States sponsored his family, and they eventually moved to America and became citizens.
"I followed the great American dream," Spooner told the students. "You can be anything in this country. Take advantage of living in this wonderful country."
When asked how he reflects on his experiences as a child, Spooner provides a simple, honest truth.
"You can't live in the past," he said. "I can only talk to young people about their future."
Hatred. Persecution. Bullies. Terror. These subjects rank among the most difficult to discuss with kids. But those that volunteer and work at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center near Creve Coeur will tell you: Stories from the Holocaust must be shared for the sake of future generations.
"History repeats itself," Spooner said. The attacks on Sept. 11 inspired Spooner to tell his story. Prior to that tragedy, his childhood story was one he didn't discuss, even with his family and friends. Now, he shares his stories with students and visitors to prevent modern-day genocides and other hate-fueled tragedies. "We don't want this to happen again."
"As a museum and educational institution, we encourage our visitors to speak out against prejudice and hate whenever confronted with it as an effective way to combat such misguided attitudes," said Jean Cavender, director of the museum. "We believe that the experience hearing a first-hand account from our survivors about the injustices that happened during the Holocaust will inspire people to take such action in their own lives."
Unfortunately, the world is full of injustice, and the museum is exploring current issues related to hatred, she said. A new exhibit, opening late fall, allows visitors to learn about groups of people who are currently being attacked. For example, visitors can learn more about Gypsies in Europe, genocide in Darfur, latinos in Arizona, Calendar said. The exhibit will include research stations for those who want to do further research.
The museum is free, and survivors share their stories with school groups and visitors almost daily. Call 314-442-3711 for a speaking schedule. The museum is open Monday through Thursday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Guided tours and speakers can be customize for the group visiting and pre-arranged by calling 314-442-3711.
The Holocaust Museum and Learning Center is located at 12 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, Mo., 63146.
The Holocaust Museum and Learning Center contains graphic images of torture and death. Museum staff generally recommend exhibits be viewed by kids in seventh grade and up.