Dr. Karl Sperber O.B.E. (1910 - 1957)
Dr. Roger Ryan, London
Even though Dr Karel Sperber qualified in Prague in 1935 and worked as a doctor in Czechoslovakia, he was not permitted to practice in England when he arrived in 1939. He signed-on as purser on the SS Automedon which sailed from Liverpool on 24 September 1940. On 11 November the Automedon was fired upon by the German raider Atlantis in the Indian Ocean, the captain and ship’s officers were killed. The crew and three passengers were taken as POWs aboard the Storstad, a captured Norwegian tanker converted to a German prison ship. Sperber and the merchant seamen were landed at Bordeaux and held first at Sandbostal Stalag XB then Marlag und Milag Nord camp for allied naval prisoners. In Milag, Sperber was POW number 87376 where he served with distinction as a camp doctor.
Sperber came to the attention of the Gestapo because he was Czech and therefore regarded as a traitor to the Reich and because he was a Jew. In 1942 he was transferred by the SS to Auschwitz where he was number 85512. He was forced to work as a prison doctor and to assist in the surgical experiments of SS Professor Clauberg, and doctors Dering, Wirths, Entres and Mengele. During 1944 he worked in the prisoners’ hospital at Monowitz-Buna, the camp for 11,000 forced labourers who worked on the IG Farben chemical factory site. In 1945 he was in Buchenwald.
After the war, Dr Sperber returned to the sea as a ship’s surgeon. He was registered as a doctor by the London General Medical Council on 20 July 1945. On 12 November 1948 he became a British citizen. Dr Sperber joined the British Medical Service in 1950 and served in the Seychelles and the Gold Coast (Ghana) in Accra. Sperber’s obituary in the British Medical Journal says he died on 3 March 1957 age 47, he was appointed an honorary OBE in August 1947 and that he is survived by his wife Kathleen.
1. may 2009
National Archives, Kew, London; British Medical Journal (Saturday, 13 April 1957, p. 888); London Gazette (17 December 1948, p. 6560); The Medical Register 1946 (London: General Medical Council, 1946, p. 2214); Eiji Seki, Mrs Fergusson’s Tea-set, Japan, and the Second World War: The Global Consequences following Germany’s Sinking of the SS Automedon in 1940 (Folkstone, Kent: Global Oriental, 2007) see pages 101 and 116; the page dedicated to Dr Sperber at www.wollheim-memorial.de; Claude Romney, ‘How All Roads Could Lead to Auschwitz’ Zachor Newsletter, The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (number 3, August 2003, page 9).