Jessica Wang, P '22, '24, is co-founder of 3GNJ, an educational organization established by the grandchildren of survivors to preserve the legacies and lessons of the Holocaust. Through a 3GNY initiative, WEDU "We Educate," Jessica learned to tell the story of her grandfather, Abraham Appelbaum. She shared his compelling history with our Upper School students on Monday, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In her first slide, she showed a picture of Grandpa Abe, a strong, tall, silver-haired, proud grandparent holding Jessica as a young child. She proceeded to describe his work on construction projects, such as developing Coney Island, noting that was his life here in the United States, but it was very different from his Jewish roots in rural Moczulki, Poland.
Even before the World War II began, anti-Semitism reigned, with Jewish families frequent victims of pogroms. She explains, "No matter what the problem in a community, the Jews were blamed." It became the practice of Einsatzgruppen, with deployment groups entering communities and rounding up Jewish residents for the purpose of extermination.
Abe lost his parents, his brother and sister-in-law, and their two children. Another brother, Joseph, was killed by his neighbors who collaborated with the Nazis when they invaded his region. Abe took his two younger sisters, then 9 and 12, to a farmer's house where the farmer and his wife, who were not Jewish, let them hide in their dark, cramped potato cellar. It wasn't long before the farmer learned, "If you are hiding a Jew, you will be killed." The farmer’s wife, putting together some bread and scraps, told Abe they had to leave. They left on foot, and all the while Abe knew the Nazis were chasing them. He tried to carry the girls and pull them along the way. He became weary and hid them in a sewage ditch. He no sooner left them when he heard two shots.
Abe headed north to Belarus, in hopes of joining the Partisans, a group who was helping the Russians fight the Nazis. He became a member of the Russian Army and, because he could speak Yiddish, a Germanic based language, he was assigned to interrogate Nazis soldiers. While Abe earned all the medals, citations, and honors of a first-ranking officer, because he was Jewish, he could only receive a second ranking. And, in a twist of fate, four years after the war ended, he discovered his brother Roman, who he thought had not made it through the war, was alive and living nearby.
In surviving the Holocaust, Abe ultimately made it to the United States, married, and raised a beautiful family. In a testament to her Holocaust-surviving Grandpa Abe, Jessica closed the presentation with the hopes that we understand, "There are neighbors who harm people, and there are neighbors who help people."