Helen Sperling, survivor of the Holocaust passed away, Thursday, December 3, 2015, in Sitrin Healthcare Center.
She was born on May 6, 1920, in Otwock, Poland, the daughter of the late Pinkus and Hannah Rosenblum Kacenelenbogen. Helen had a wonderful childhood with loving parents and family. She graduated from Gymnasium and attended pre-ned school in Grenoble, France. World War II interrupted her life. After living in the ghetto, concentration camps and through a death march, she was liberated by the American Army on April 18, 1945. She spent three years as a patient in a hospital in Munich, Germany before immigrating to the United States in 1949.
On December 7, 1952, Helen married Leon Sperling who was also a survivor of the Holocaust. She lived in Utica and New Hartford from 1956 until her death. In 1957, the Sperlings were blessed with the arrival of their daughter, Fran and in 1959, their son, Paul. Her grandchildren were the joy of her life. Helen was a loving and caring wife, mother and grandmother. She adored not only her children and grandchildren but her entire family, including her nieces and nephews.
Helen’s life was centered on her family, community, synagogue, the survival of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and remembering and teaching the lessons of the Holocaust, so that it will never happen again.
Helen’s connection with the Jewish community was deep and intimate. She was a member of Temple Beth El, Trustee of the Board of Directors and Sisterhood president. She was president of both the boards of the Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Federation as well as chairman of the United Jewish Appeal. She served on committees to locally resettle people from Viet Nam and Russian Jews as well as the committee to raise funds for the resettlement of Ethiopian Jews. She participated in several missions to Israel.
Helen was the chairman of the Israel Bonds Campaign, served on the Board of Directors of the Charles T. Sitrin Home, was a life member of Hadassah, and a member of Bikor Cholim. Helen also had a deep commitment to the Utica community. She was involved with the United Fund and the Committee to Humanize the School Curriculum. As a Girl Scout leader for 15 years, she served on the Girl Scout Council. She helped organize an annual ecumenical Seder. Helen taught for three semesters at MVILR at SUNY IT.
The anguish of the Holocaust scarred Helen for life and she tried to turn her pain into a positive instrument for education. In March, 1967 the Annual Holocaust Lecture series was begun, and it was later named for Helen and Leon. This annual program, endowed by the Sperlings, will continue to provide Holocaust education for many generations to come.
From 1968 until her death, Helen had shared her life and her Holocaust experiences with ten of thousands of people, lecturing tirelessly at schools, colleges, churches, prisons and clubs, in the fervent hope that both young people and adults would remember, learn, and build a better, more peaceful world. She will always be remembered by her challenge to “Never Be A Bystander”. Helen believed that the worst part of being in the concentration camps was the feeling of being powerless. She tried to teach people never to abuse power and to protect those who could not protect themselves.
As a result of the mutual love and respect between Helen and the generations of audiences that have heard her, Clinton and New Hartford Senior High Schools have each developed scholarship awards in her name to honor those seniors who exhibit the character that Helen believed would help make a better, more humane and peaceful world. These scholarships, as well as the many other tangible gifts given by “her schools:” in her honor, touched Helen deeply. She was moved and grateful for the hundreds of lilacs planted by her friends and students in memory of her father.
Helen was instrumental in erecting a monument for the victims of the Holocaust at Temple Beth El Cemetery; she worked to bring to her synagogue a Torah that had been saved from destruction during that period.
Helen was given an Honorary Degree by Colgate University and named a Living Legend by the Oneida County Historical Society. She was honored by the United Way Interfaith Council with the Mother of the Year Award, B’nai B’rith’s “Man” of the Year Award, the YWCA’s Outstanding Woman, New York Department of Education’s Educator of the Year Award and the Good Samaritan Center. She was also honored by United Jewish Appeal, Israeli Bonds and Hadassah.
Helen often said that she had no words to adequately express her feelings toward the community that has been her home. She was always grateful to the many friends who made her life easier and worth living, and she was intensely touched by the many students, both youngsters and adults, who passed through her life.
Helen is survived by her beloved children, Frances Sperling, of New York and Paul Sperling of Utica, her treasured grandchildren, Nicole and Matthew Sperling, and her cherished nieces, nephews, their spouses and children, as well as many dear friends who became an integral part of her life. She was predeceased by her special “little” brother, Steven.
Funeral services will be 11 a.m., Monday, December 7, 2015 at Temple Beth El, 2710 Genesee St., Utica, with Cantor Kal Socolof, officiating. Private interment will be made in Temple Beth El Cemetery, where she will be laid to rest next to her husband. Visitation will be from 10 a.m., Monday, at Temple prior to the funeral. Shiva will be observed on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 and Wednesday, December 9, 2015, from 6:30 - 9 p.m. at 6 Slaytonbush Road, Whitesboro.
In Helen’s memory, kindly consider the Leon and Helen Sperling Holocaust Memorial Lecture Fund at the Jewish Community Center, 2310 Oneida St., Utica, NY 13501
Helen’s family would like to extend a very special Thank You to her lifelong friends, Norman and Ann Siegel, Marsh Silverman and Cecily Eidelhoch for their everlasting devotion and friendship.