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Alicia Appleman-Jurman (born 9 May 1930, Rosulna, Poland [present-day Rosil'na, Ukraine]) is a Polish-born Israeli–American memoirist, who has written and spoken about her experiences of the Holocaust in her autobiography, Alicia: My Story. The following are non-verbatim excerpts, by section, from the autobiography.
The sole female and the second-youngest child of Sigmund and Frieda Jurman in a family of five children, she was raised from the age of five in Buczacz, which was roughly 1/3 Jewish at that time. She was sheltered relatively well from anti-Semitism, however that would change on 1 September 1939, when German troops invaded Poland. Her parents and brothers were all murdered during the Holocaust.
In June 1941, the Germans broke the pact with the Soviets and swept through eastern Poland on their way to Russia (Operation Barbarossa). The Germans' plan for Europe's Jews was known as "Endlosung" (aka "The Final Solution"). In Buczacz, a decree was issued that all Jewish men were to "register". 600 leaders of the Jewish community, including Sigmund Jurman, Alicia's father, were detained and taken out to a large meadow, where they were massacred by firing squad. Before the truth was uncovered the Germans pretended that the men were still alive and demanded ransom payments for their release.
Her second-eldest brother, Moshe, was the first to get killed. The Germans and Soviets made a secret deal; the Nazi-Soviet Nonagression Pact, and divided Poland into zones of occupation. Buczacz fell under Russian occupation. A few weeks after the Soviet/German treaty was signed, the Russian army entered Buczacz and occupied it. The communists began removing so-called "Enemies of the Soviet Union" from the area in their effort to "Russianize" this new territory. This was the beginning of the program under Soviet occupation of Poland to deport Polish citizens to prisons and slave labor camps of the Soviet Union. With the Soviet occupation, Moshe decided to go to Leningrad for an education as this was being offered to the students - both Jewish and non-Jewish.
Moshe had determined this would help him and his family. Over time, letters written home from Moshe were strange and seemed cold; something was not right, and his family was consumed with worry at this odd tone. Within a year, he returned home, frightened and gaunt ... he had "escaped" from "school". He told his family how he was forced to write what he had in those letters. He had been treated terribly and the situation in Russia was grim, he explained. He had been forced do hard labor every day after school. He had decided to escape from this "education" and come home. Within a few weeks, the Russians were looking for him. They did not want anyone spreading rumors of how bad the conditions were in Russia. Moshe knew the truth; he was caught and imprisoned. In a few weeks Moshe would become the first Jurman brother to die.
Alicia, with her mother, a younger brother, and two older brothers were forced to leave their home to be "resettled" in the worst section of Buczacz - for this is where the ghetto for the Jews was created. Jewish families that lived in villages and remote areas were rounded up by Germans with the help of the local Ukrainian police and shipped into these medieval-styled ghettos as well. Along with white armbands bearing the Star of David, curfews and other "rules", the following were edicted:
- any Jew who entered the synagogue would be punished by death
- anyone trying to leave the ghetto would also be shot
- any Jew not wearing the armband with the Star of David would be arrested and (presumably) executed
So then out of nowhere comes this police officer dressed in red Alicia was told she could no longer attend school. She wanted to be in school so badly that she climbed a tree one day and gazed into her former classroom, trying to hear the lessons. Her former teacher could see her in the tree but said nothing. Alicia fell out of the tree and, because of the commotion it caused and the danger it risked to both women, the teacher was forced to gently direct the young girl to stay away from the school thereafter.
Alicia's elder brother, Bunio, disappeared one day while out getting wood. They would never see him again. This was part of the actions taken by the Germans to secure slave labor. Bunio had been "picked up" and transported to a slave camp called Borki Wielki, about 100 miles away. The Germans informed the Judenrat (the Jewish "government" inside the ghetto) that packages could be sent to these boys twice-a-week. Then terrible news leaked into the ghetto. One of the boys had tried to escape and the Germans, using their typical terror-tactics, had lined the remaining ones up and shot every 10th boy. Bunio had been of the 10 or so boys pulled out of line - he was now dead from a German bullet.
Swept-Up in an Aktion
One day while visiting a Jewish family, Alicia was swept up by an aktion. The Germans kicked in the door and ordered everyone out. The father of the family was a doctor and he pleaded that Alicia be allowed to go home, but they were all taken to a train and loaded on. After several hours on the trip, feeling that the worst was about to happen, the Jewish adults in the train car spread the bars over the single window and children were pushed out in the hope that they might survive. Many were sure that the train-ride was bringing them somewhere that was worse than the ghetto ... many had guessed the truth: this train was taking them to an extermination center. Alicia was thrown through the window and, although injured, followed the railroad tracks back home.
Zachary was Alicia's sole remaining elder brother. She had a nine year-old younger brother, Herzl, the youngest child in the family, and her mother, Frieda. Zachary, furious at the murder of a sweetheart by the Germans and at being helpless to do anything, took to loosely organized resistance activities. He became active in a group of friends who were trying to find a way to fight back. One day he was betrayed, captured and hanged in front of the police headquarters in plain view. Alicia and some friends returned, cut him down and buried him in the Jewish cemetery.
Herzl was pointed out by a boy who knew him from having been a fellow pupil at school. Officials took Herzl away and shot him. He was the last brother to die.
After the Russians reconquered Poland, the Germans returned shortly and captured many Jews that returned. Alicia's mother was wounded in the initial attack from the Germans recapturing Buczacz, S.S. men came, dragged them out, and would have shot Alicia if her mother didn't put herself between her and the bullet, leaving her with: "Alicia, You must live." The S.S. man then ran out of bullets and brought her to jail.
After the Germans were defeated, she joined the “Brecha” and helped smuggle Jews out of Poland to Austria, then to the Palestine Mandate, which would become Israel. In early 1947 she sailed on the "Theodore Herzl" ship, which was stopped by the British Navy. The ship's crew passengers were sent to Cyprus and interned for eight months in Cyprus. In December 1947 she made it to Israel. She was part of the Palyam and later joined the “Chayl HaYam” naval forces which fought in Jaffa. While serving, she met Gabriel Appleman, a volunteer from the United States. They wed in 1950 and came to the United States two years later. They returned to Israel in 1969 and were there during the Yom Kippur War (1973), and returned to the U.S. in 1975. They had two sons.
- Alicia: My Story, Bantam Book edition, (c) 1988, page xiii
- Alicia: My Story, Bantam Book edition, (c) 1988, page 144
- Profile of Alicia Appleman-Jurman