A Girl with an Apple
August 1942. Piotrkow, Poland. The sky was gloomy that
morning as we
waited anxiously. All the men, women and children of Piotrkow's Jewish
ghetto had been herded into a square. Word had gotten around that we were
being moved. My father had only recently died from typhus, which had run
rampant through the crowded ghetto. My greatest fear was that our family
would be separated.
'Whatever you do,' Isidore, my eldest brother, whispered
to me, 'don't
tell them your age. Say you're sixteen.' I was tall for a boy of 11, so I
could pull it off. That way I might be deemed valuable as a worker. An SS
man approached me, boots clicking against the cobblestones. He looked me
and down, then asked my age. 'Sixteen,' I said. He directed me to the
where my three brothers and other healthy young men already stood.
My mother was motioned to the right with the other
sick and elderly people. I whispered to Isidore, 'Why?' He didn't answer.
ran to Mama's side and said I wanted to stay with her. 'No,' she said
sternly. 'Get away. Don't be a nuisance. Go with your brothers.' She had
never spoken so harshly before. But I understood: She was protecting
me. She loved me so much that, just this once, she pretended not to. It
last I ever saw of her.
My brothers and I were transported in a cattle car to
arrived at the Buchenwald concentration camp one night weeks later and
led into a crowded barrack. The next day, we were issued uniforms and
'Don't call me Herman anymore.' I said to my brothers.
I was put to work in the camp's crematorium, loading the
dead into a
hand-cranked elevator. I, too, felt dead. Hardened, I had become a number.
Soon, my brothers and I were sent to Schlieben, one of Buchenwald's
sub-camps near Berlin.
One morning I thought I heard my mother's voice, 'Son,'
softly but clearly, I am going to send you an angel.' Then I woke up.
Just a dream. A beautiful dream. But in this place there could be no
was only work. And hunger. And fear.
A couple of days later, I was walking around the camp,
barracks, near the barbed-wire fence where the guards could not easily
I was alone. On the other side of the fence, I spotted someone: a little
girl with light, almost luminous curls. She was half-hidden behind a birch
I glanced around to make sure no one saw me. I called to her softly in
'Do you have something to eat?' She didn't understand. I
to the fence and repeated question in Polish. She stepped forward. I was
thin and gaunt, with rags wrapped around my feet, but the girl looked
unafraid. In her eyes, I saw life. She pulled an apple from her woolen
jacket and threw it over the fence. I grabbed the fruit and, as I
started to run away, I heard her say faintly, 'I'll see you tomorrow.'
I returned to the same spot by the fence at the same
time every day.
She was always there with something for me to eat - a hunk of bread or,
better yet, an apple. We didn't dare speak or linger. To be caught would
mean death for us both. I didn't know anything about her, just a kind farm
girl, except that she understood Polish. What was her name? Why was she
risking her life for me? Hope was in such short supply, and this girl
on the other side of the fence gave me some, as nourishing in its way as
Nearly seven months later, my brothers and I were
crammed into a coal
car and shipped to Theresienstadt camp in Czechoslovakia. 'Don't return,'
told the girl that day. 'We're leaving.' I turned toward the barracks and
didn't look back, didn't even say good-bye to the little girl whose
name I'd never learned, the girl with the apples.
We were in Theresienstadt for three months. The war was
and Allied forces were closing in, yet my fate seemed sealed. On May 10,
1945, I was scheduled to die in the gas chamber at 10:00 AM. In the quiet
dawn, I tried to prepare myself. So many times death seemed ready to claim
me, but somehow I'd survived. Now, it was over. I thought of my parents.
least, I thought, we will be reunited.
But at 8 A.M. there was a commotion. I heard shouts, and
running every which way through camp. I caught up with my brothers.
troops had liberated the camp! The gates swung open. Everyone was running,
so I did too.
Amazingly, all of my brothers had survived; I'm not sure
how. But I
knew that the girl with the apples had been the key to my survival. In a
place where evil seemed triumphant, one person's goodness had saved my
life, had given me hope in a place where there was none. My mother had
promised to send me an angel, and the angel had come.
Eventually I made my way to England where I was
sponsored by a Jewish
charity, put up in a hostel with other boys who had survived the Holocaust
and trained in electronics. Then I came to America, where my brother
Sam had already moved. I served in the U. S. Army during the Korean War,
returned to New York City after two years. By August 1957 I'd opened my
electronics repair shop. I was starting to settle in.
One day, my friend Sid who I knew from England called
me. 'I've got a
date. She's got a Polish friend. Let's double date.'
A blind date? Nah, that wasn't for me. But Sid kept
pestering me, and
a few days later we headed up to the Bronx to pick up his date and her
friend Roma. I had to admit, for a blind date this wasn't so bad. Roma was
nurse at a Bronx hospital. She was kind and smart. Beautiful, too, with
swirling brown curls and green, almond-shaped eyes that sparkled with
The four of us drove out to Coney Island. Roma was easy
to talk to,
easy to be with. Turned out she was wary of blind dates too! We were both
just doing our friends a favor. We took a stroll on the boardwalk,
the salty Atlantic breeze, and then had dinner by the shore. I couldn't
remember having a better time.
We piled back into Sid's car, Roma and I sharing the
European Jews who had survived the war, we were aware that much had been
left unsaid between us. She broached the subject, 'Where were you,' she
asked softly, 'during the war?'
'The camps,' I said, the terrible memories still vivid,
irreparable loss. I had tried to forget. But you can never forget.
She nodded. 'My family was hiding on a farm in Germany,
not far from
Berlin,' she told me. 'My father knew a priest, and he got us Aryan
I imagined how she must have suffered too, fear, a constant companion. And
yet here we were, both survivors, in a new world.
'There was a camp next to the farm.' Roma continued. 'I
saw a boy
there and I would throw him apples every day.'
What an amazing coincidence that she had helped some
other boy. 'What
did he look like? I asked. He was tall, skinny, and hungry. I must have
him every day for six months.'
My heart was racing. I couldn't believe it. This
couldn't be. 'Did he
tell you one day not to come back because he was leaving Schlieben?'
Roma looked at me in amazement. 'Yes,' That was me! ' I
was ready to
burst with joy and awe, flooded with emotions. I couldn't believe it! My
'I'm not letting you go.' I said to Roma. And in the
back of the car
on that blind date, I proposed to her. I didn't want to wait.
'You're crazy!' she said. But she invited me to meet her
Shabbat dinner the following week. There was so much I looked forward to
learning about Roma, but the most important things I always knew: her
steadfastness, her goodness. For many months, in the worst of
she had come to the fence and given me hope. Now that I'd found her
again, I could never let her go.
That day, she said yes. And I kept my word. After nearly
50 years of
marriage, two children and three grandchildren I have never let her go.
Herman Rosenblat, Miami Beach, Florida
This is a true story and you can find out more by
Rosenblat as he was Bar Mitzvahed at age 75. This story is being made
into a movie called The Fence.
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