Michael F. Devine, Superintendent
180 Harborview Road
Hull, MA 02045
For Immediate Release
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Contact: John Guilfoil
Email: [email protected]
Holocaust Survivor Shares Her Story With Hull High School Students
HULL — To coincide with their history curriculum, freshmen at Hull High School received a visit from a Holocaust survivor last week, who shared her experience during and after World War II.
On May 3, students gathered in the exhibition room at Hull High School to hear Janet Applefield’s heartbreaking account of the ways her life was forever changed by the chaos of the war and genocide.
Accompanied by pictures from her family during the war and afterward when she settled in America, Applefield spoke about the dangers of hatred, injustice, intolerance and prejudice.
Applefield grew up in a small village outside Krakow, Poland. Her father and grandfather owned a large hardware business, where people from surrounding towns came to shop. She was just 4 years old when the war began, and because of her pale blonde hair, blue/green eyes and upturned nose, she looked like the typical image of an Aryan child. Her appearance, she said, is a large reason why she believes her life was spared.
When the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939, Applefield’s family – like thousands of others – fled east to Russia. There, her younger sister, only 18 months old, died from diphtheria. Meanwhile, the Polish army surrendered to the Germans and everything changed.
Despite the turmoil in Poland, Applefield and her mother and father returned from Russia. Upon their arrival, they were moved to a ghetto. They attempted to escape, but were caught by Polish police, who were collaborating with the Nazis.
On the day before mandatory selection, Applefield’s parents made the difficult decision to give her to their cousin’s Polish nursemaid. The following morning, her father was taken to the Krakow ghetto and then later to the Plaszow concentration camp, while her mother was killed.
“Staying with the Polish woman, I had many frightening experiences,” Applefield recalled. “Once, a Gestapo agent came, looking for Jews in hiding. After ransacking the apartment, he looked at me, held my blond pigtail in his fingers, and left. I still remember his chilling smile and black leather knee-high boots clicking as he descended the stairs.”
Knowing she would not be safe with the Polish woman, her father, before being transported to the concentration camp, arranged for Applefield to stay with a cousin. Later, she was transported to a farm owned by a Catholic Church, where she was treated like family.
When the war ended, Applefield was then placed in a refugee center with other Jewish children, and then later moved to an orphanage, where she eventually reunited with her father, who had survived the war. She and her father fled to the U.S. in March of 1947.
“My rescuers were unusual, special people. They did not stop to analyze their actions, did not waiver, hesitate, or even think about the tragedy that could result from their acts,” Applefield said. “Although they knew they were risking their own lives, they simply responded to the cries of an abandoned child. They did not care who I was or what religious background I came from. Their motive was pure and simple: to save a child. My rescuers are the genuine heroes. They asked for nothing and gave everything.”
Applefield ended her presentation by asking the students to continue to tell her story, so that they can bear witness to history and help ensure atrocities like the Holocaust never happen again.
The event was made possible through a collaboration between the the Hull Cultural Council and social studies teacher Stewart Bell.
“Janet’s story is something I think students will keep with them forever,” Bell said. “The room was silent as she spoke and you could tell that everything she shared resonated with kids, especially given that we’ve been discussing World War II in class. We want to thank Janet for taking the time to come out and visit with us.”