by Ben Sheffler
Imagine being Jewish in the early 1940’s – hiding in an office building’s supply closet, just two floors below Nazi headquarters; eating mostly potato peelings out of the garbage; being limited to sponge baths and having to sneeze into a pillow to avoid detection.
Now imagine living there for two and a half years.
Dr. Allan Hall endured those very conditions, and on Nov. 12 at Pensacola State College, he shared his experience with a standing-room only crowd of approximately 300 people at the Hagler Auditorium.
Born Adam Horowitz, Hall graduated from the University of Florida and the Georgia Institute of Technology, and has taught at the Southern Polytechnic State University and UF. He’s now a retired lawyer, living in Miami.
His childhood was a much different story, however.
His tale of survival began on Sept. 6, 1939 as a 4-year-old, when Germany invaded Poland. He and his parents walked over 200 miles to avoid the invasion. In 1941, when the Germans attacked the city they were in, they went into hiding.
Throughout the war, they hid in the attic of a theater, a basement and the aforementioned closet, among other places.
“We were always trying to figure out, ‘Where next, where next?'” Hall said.
Hall’s father went so far as to reduce the size of his nose through surgery, bleach his hair and speak German to be able to pass as an Aryan.
Hall was captured twice by the Nazis.
His parents were in the process of sending him to a safe house when Nazis blocked the streets and rounded up all the children—Hall was the first captured.
“All these years later, I can still see it,” he said, referring to the blockade and his capture.
He was taken to a holding cell with the other children, and as he stood quietly, he saw his father come in and leave.
Hall didn’t know it at the time, but his father had struck a deal to buy him out of Nazi control—two ounces of gold and two carets of diamonds. Although he came from an educated and good family, Hall’s father had neither.
Hall said that his father came back with the diamonds and gold—collected from family—and the Nazis told him that they could just kill them both. His father then reminded the Nazis that they could always get his family again if he and Hall were let go, and they were released.
“He said, ‘Don’t say a word, just keep walking,’” Hall said of what his father told him when he was released.
The second time Hall was captured, he just missed a train that would’ve taken him to a gas chamber, he said.
At age 11, Hall said he and his family arrived in the U.S. with just $42 to their names and one goal in mind—to pursue a normal life and leave the Holocaust behind them.
Hall didn’t see a classroom until fifth grade, but said he was caught up by the seventh.
“If there is a need, you can rise to that need,” he said.
Hall said that talking about his experience hurts every time and it’s never easy.
“I’ll have a nightmare within three days,” he said.
With fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors left, Hall feels obligated to share his story.
“I have to,” he said. “If I don’t speak, who will?”
Through all he endured, Hall has no animosity toward the German people.
“No, not at all. Not even a little bit,” he said. “I think they’re fine people.”
Jennifer Drummond, who brought her son to hear Hall, said his story was amazing.
“I think he painted a great picture,” she said. “He kept a sleepy 11-year-old at the edge of his seat.”