By Liat Fischer, Brandeis University class of 2020
Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is observed as the day of commemoration for the lives of the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust. All around the world, this day is commemorated on the 27th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, which fell on April 12th this year.
Holocaust commemoration is a large task, as there are so many who were murdered, and so many who thankfully survived. This year at Brandeis University, several students along with Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston and Together, Restoring their Names brought in two Holocaust survivors to tell their stories to students.
First, Janet Applefield of Sharon spoke to 150 students who were in attendance in Brandeis’ Shapiro Campus Center. Janet was born in Poland, and lived a happy, rich life before the war began. During her presentation, Janet showed students pictures of ski trips, motorcycle rides, and more. Before long, her parents and herself were moved to the Ghetto in Krakow, where they attempted to escape many times but failed. As the war progressed, Janet’s parents realized that they weren’t getting out, and that they needed to try to save their daughter. Luckily, Janet was blessed with “Aryan looks of blonde hair and blue eyes,” and was able to pass as a young Polish or German girl. Her parents took advantage of this and sent her to live with a woman, Maria, who had previously been their cousin’s nanny. Maria took care of Janet for a few months, but at a point it became too dangerous for Maria to continue watching the young girl, only six or seven at the time. So Janet’s father arranged that Janet be sent to their cousin, a girl of only 19, working for the Polish Underground with false Polish papers. Janet lived with her cousin and unknowingly helped her cousin with tasks for the Underground. One day, her cousin brought her into Krakow and left her in a Church so she could meet with her fellow Partisans in a café. At this meeting, Janet’s cousin was arrested by the Gestapo, and Janet was left alone in Krakow. Upon realizing this, Janet wandered around until she was found by a woman who worked in the building that the café had been in. This woman helped find Janet a place to hide, and took her to a farm owned by the Church where Janet was able to hide out the rest of the war. After the war, Janet, then ten years old, eventually found herself in an orphanage, where her father was able to find her and take her with him to America. Her mother was tragically killed in Belzec, and did not survive the war with them.
Waltham resident Fred Manasee then told his story. He was born in Frankfurt to a wealthy family in 1935. His parents tried to get out of Germany, but were unable to, so they sent Fred and his older brother Gus on the Kindertransport to Belgium. Fred’s father attempted to escape to Cuba on the St. Louis, but was sent back to Europe, where he went to Belgium so he could be with his two sons. Fred’s mother and sister never made it out, and to this day he still does not know what happened to them. After spending a year in Belgium, Fred and Gus were sent to Vichy France, to a town under the control of the Swiss Red Cross. They remained there for three years, until Southern France was conquered by Nazi Germany. At this point, Fred and Gus’s father was sent to Auschwitz, where he was murdered. Fred and Gus were too young to escape France, so instead they hid in a convent amongst Christian children, and pretended to be one of them. Gus ran away and worked for the Underground for some time, eventually gaining passage for him and his brother over the mountains to Barcelona. The boys hid then in a children’s home in Barcelona, eventually moving to Portugal and then the United States.
Earlier in the day, students volunteered to read the names of thousands of Holocaust victims over a speaker system. The students read names for six continuous hours, symbolizing the six million Jewish lives lost during the Holocaust. Student leaders also placed photographs of Holocaust victims around the Brandeis campus.
The stories of both Fred and Janet can teach so much. They both wanted to simply tell their stories, so that our generation, and the generations following us don’t forget. Janet stressed that her story, her life has taught her that our actions go far- she was saved because of the generous people around her. Fred stressed the importance of looking at the world around us, and being aware of every situation. One student remarked after the event, “We must never forget the lessons they imparted, the stories they told, and all of the stories that can never be told. Never forget.”