Sam was the eldest of five children born to Jewish parents in Kozienice, a town in east central Poland. His father owned a shoe factory and his mother cared for the children and the home. Kozienice had a thriving Jewish community that made up about half of the town's population.
1933–39: On September 1, 1939, German troops invaded Poland. That morning the Spiegels heard an air raid siren blaring and quickly left their house. Fifteen minutes later a bomb struck the building. Sam was just 17 years old. After German forces occupied the town, they began to quickly implement anti-Jewish policies. Jewish schools were closed, intellectuals were arrested, and gold, furs, and other valuables were confiscated. Individuals disobeying such orders were severely punished.
1940–45: In 1940 Sam's family was forced to move into the Kozienice ghetto, a six-block area of town enclosed by barbed wire. Poor living conditions and overcrowding there—it housed some 5,000 people—led to disease and death. Sam was assigned to forced labor. In September 1942, he was transported to Pionki, a forced-labor camp that produced munitions. Three days later, Sam learned that the Kozienice ghetto had been liquidated and its inhabitants, including his family, deported to the Treblinka killing center. In 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz and transferred to its subcamp of Gleiwitz.
In January 1945, as the Soviet army approached, the SS began evacuating prisoners from Gleiwitz. After four days on the death march in the freezing cold, Sam arrived at Blechhammer, a subcamp of Auschwitz, where the prisoners temporarily rested. That night he and some other inmates escaped. After hiding in the woods for about ten days, Sam was liberated by Soviet troops.