Alicia Appleman-Jurman: Survival And Heroism Of A Young Girl During The Holocaust Essay, Research Paper
When the Holocaust began, Alicia Jurman was a young Jewish girl growing up in the southeastern Polish city of Buczacz. In that city, about a third of the population was Jewish. Even though there was anti-Semitism in Poland, as there was anti-Semitism nearly everywhere in Europe, Alicia with her parents and four brothers led relatively peaceful lives. This all changed with Germany’s invasion of Poland…the infamous blitzkrieg of September 1, 1939 – Alicia was only 9 years old at the time. On this day, Poland began its slide into the annals of history of which never before has there been anything to compare: for within the boundaries of this eastern European country, the stage was about to be set for the systematic annihilation and slaughter of all the Jewish people. Only the strong and resourceful would be alive at the end of the war. For a Jew to survive this slaughter – it was very difficult – nearly impossible. However, there are those who not only survived, but who also rose up and saved lives and even fought back. Now for a child, a young girl to survive and save lives and fight back – it is truly awe-inspiring. Alicia is that person. Alicia, who is among the women heroes of the Holocaust. Alicia the child hero.
Alicia Loses a Brother
Alicia’s older brother Moshe was the first to die.
The Germans worked out a deal with Stalin and they divided Poland between themselves. Buczacz fell under Russian occupation. A few weeks after the Soviet/German treaty was signed, the Russian army entered Alicia’s city and occupied it. The Russian communist regime brought down all religious icons, including those of Christianity (Polish residents were Roman Catholic and Ukrainian residents were Greek Orthodox) and the pictures of Lenin and Stalin replaced them. The communists began removing so-called “Enemies of the Soviet Union” from the area in their effort to “Russianize” this new territory. With the Russian occupation, Moshe decided to go to Leningrad for an education as this was being offered to the students – both Jews and non-Jews. 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. Within a year, he returned, looking gaunt and frightened…he had “escaped” from his “school”. He told his family how he was forced to write what he had in those letters. He had been terribly treated and the situation in Russia was very bad, he explained. He had been made 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 it was in Russia. Moshe knew the truth and therefore he was caught and imprisoned. Within a few more weeks…while in prison under hard labor, Moshe became the first of the Jurman family to die.
Alicia’s Father Killed by the Germans
Suddenly in June of 1941, the Germans broke their pact with the Soviets and swept through eastern Poland on their way to Russia – Operation Barbarosa had begun. Unlike the Russians, the Germans had a plan for the Jews: Endlosung- “The Final Solution”. The plan was to kill them all eventually. In Buczacz, a decree was made that all of the Jewish men were to go to a central place and “register”. What actually happened to these 600 leaders of the Jewish community was that they were detained and then taken out to a large meadow called the Fador and killed by firing squads. Alicia had now lost a brother and her father. Before they found out the truth though, the Germans pretended the men were still alive and demanded ransom payments for their release. Alicia’s mother gave the Germans all the money and jewelry she had. Alicia would not know the truth that he was already dead until much later. The truth: that these fathers, around 600 of them, had been killed to render the remaining Jews leaderless…. so that the Germans would be able to have more control over those still alive. The Holocaust was now firmly upon Alicia and her family.
A ghetto was created to “contain” the Jews of the city and surrounding areas. Alicia, with her mother, a younger brother and two older brothers were forced to leave their beautiful home to be “resettled” in the worst section of Buczacz – for this is were the ghetto for the Jews was created. The same thing was happening to all the Jews in Germany and the occupied territories – ghettoization. Jewish families that lived in villages and remote areas were rounded up with the help of the local Ukrainian and Polish police and shipped into these medieval-styled ghettos as well. It was a terror-filled and awful time in Jewish history. Then, along with white armbands bearing the Star of David, curfews and other “rules” – the trapped Jewish population was terrorized. For instance, any Jew who entered the synagogue would be punished by death. Anyone trying to leave the ghetto would be shot. Any Jew not wearing the armband with the Star of David would likewise be arrested and eventually executed. Alicia was told she could no longer go to school. She wanted to be in school so badly, that every day, she climbed a tree and gazed into the classroom, trying to hear the lessons. The teacher could see Alicia, there in the tree, but out of compassion (it used to be Alicia’s classroom), she said nothing. One day, Alicia fell out of the tree and the commotion it caused made the teacher gently tell Alicia to please stay away from the school henceforth. This broke Alicia’s heart… Alicia’s heart would be broken many times.
Alicia’s older brother, Bunio, disappeared one day while out getting wood. They would never see him again. This was part of the random actions taken on the part of the Germans to secure slave labor. Bunio had been “picked up” and transported to a slave camp called Broke Weekly, 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 separated every 10th boy to be executed. Alicia’s brother, Bunio, had been of the 10 or so boys pulled out of line – he was now dead from a German bullet. Not even halfway through the war and Alicia had lost 2 brothers and her father to the German murderers.
Swept-Up in an Action
One day while visiting a Jewish family, Alicia was swept up by an action. 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. How terrible this must have been, for everyone was 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. Alicia had survived her first true brush with death…it was only the winter of 1941 and many other brushes with death would await her.
Her Brother Hanged
Zachary at 17 years old was a beautiful blonde boy and was Alicia’s only older brother remaining. She also still had little nine year-old brother, Herzl and her mother. These four were the only ones left of the Jurman family. Zachary’s anger at not being able to do anything led him into loosely organized resistance activities. He became active in a group of friends who were trying to find a way to fight back. Then one day…a Polish friend betrayed Zachary. He was caught and hanged right in front of the police building for everyone to see. Her friends and that night brought Alicia to the place, they returned, cut him down and buried him in the Jewish cemetery. Alicia had been the closest to Zachary of all the brothers she had…. the utter devastation she endured overwhelmed her eleven year-old mind. Her feeling of loss was complete and she found herself wishing she were also dead. However, at that moment, a new resolve came over her. Alicia then swore on her brother’s grave that she would protect her mother and little brother with her life.
Alicia Survives Prison and Escapes Death
One terrible day…the Ukrainian police made a sweep…. it was now time to take away the mothers. As they came to the Jurman’s ghetto house, they requested “Frieda Jurman”. Alicia wrapped up in clothes and a shawl from being outside and fearing the worst for her mother, told the policeman, “I am Frieda Jurman”. Alicia was taken away to Chortkov Prison where she was beaten badly after calling an SS man a “devil”. All the prisoners were beaten led before dogs to be attacked and barely fed over several days. Alicia became very ill. The Germans, it was found out later, were giving them water laced with typhoid germs. Each morning in the prison, the guards came and removed anyone who died in the night. One day an SS man came into the prison cell and crushed Alicia with his boots. She had been reduced to such terrible conditions, this 12 yr old girl…that in her starved and ill condition, she did not respond. Alicia’s unconscious body was thrown onto a pile of corpses in the prison’s courtyard. Jews from the local ghetto would come in to bury them at the cemetery. One of these men found Alicia still alive and with a high fever. They pretended to bury her and then sneaked her under some straw in their wagon back into their ghetto (for Chortkov Prison was in another city). There…for weeks…she fought off typhoid and soon recovered. The couple who nursed her back to health saw their dead child in Alicia…their child had been killed by the Germans and this couple was determined to save Alicia. Once Alicia was well, they arranged to smuggle her back to her family in Buczacz. A Polish peasant hid Alicia in his wagon and brought her back to her own city. It would have been a glorious return for Alicia, but when she made it back to their house, she saw on the front door that the house was quarantined due to typhoid. Inside, she found her little brother and her mother nearly dead from the ravages of the disease. Her best friend, Milek, a young boy who lived nearby, had been trying as best as he could to take care of them. She and Milek together nursed them back to health.
Alicia Survives the Killing Squads
Alicia had survived somehow to the spring of 1943. After several actions, the Germans were satisfied that there weren’t enough Jews remaining alive to justify the ghetto to continue. Therefore the order was given that all remaining Jews would be transported to the ghetto of Kopechince. Buczacz was now to be judenrein (Jew-free). Horse and wagon transported the families. Within three weeks the Germans instigated an action in the Kopechince Ghetto. The house that Alicia, Herzl and her mother shared with many other people had a bunker used for hiding during these sweeps (almost all ghetto houses had bunkers). But not everyone could fit in it. Alicia was on her way to her hiding-place in the attic. While climbing up to the attic, she heard a baby crying. She went back to the room where the babies were hidden and tried to quiet the crying baby with a little tea. But two SS men heard the crying, entered the room and shot the babies in the mouth. Alicia was taken away to also be shot.
The ghetto of Kopechince was at this time being liquidated…as were all ghettos. Alicia was part of a group on a death march to the outskirts of the city to be murdered by Einsatzgruppen-styled shooting squads. On the way out of the city…the local populace cursed them…jeered at them and some even threw stones. Alicia and her group were led into the woods to a large meadow where a trench had been dug. They were all going to be shot, as were the groups before them. Suddenly, one of Alicia’s friends…a boy that she loved, grabbed a gun a began shooting at the firing squads. This boy was Milek, who had helped nurse her mother and little brother back to health. As he was shooting, he screamed for Alicia to run. Alicia ran for the woods along with many others and escaped. Alicia had survived but now she did not know what to do. She, her mother and her brother had made a pact…that if they were ever separated, they would return to Buczacz – no matter how risky. This is what Alicia did.
Many people think the Germans were the only ones involved with the Holocaust. The truth is, most of “Christian” Europe was anti-Semitic and it if weren’t for the local populace in the occupied territories, the Germans would have never been able to “pull it off”. These “collaborators” were many and even joined-in to actually help do the killing – thus moving from the category of “collaborator” to the category of “perpetrator”. Of course there were families and people in Poland and the Ukraine and the other occupied territories who hid Jews and tried to save them…. These people were very few and rare. What they did was so utterly risky: for the punishment for helping or hiding a Jew was death. So many people turned their heads away. So many people decided that they could not take the risk. So many people decided that maybe it would be just as well if all the Jews “disappeared”. It was a heyday in Europe for anti-Semites. In Holland, for example, only 15% of Dutch Jews survived the Holocaust.
Alicia Survives by Hiding in the Countryside
After the action where Alicia had been discovered and taken away, her brother Herzl left the hiding-place in the bunker to try to get news of what happened to those rounded-up in that sweep. He returned with the news. Although hearing the worst, Alicia’s mother felt somehow that her daughter was still alive. She decided to make the risky journey back to Buczacz to hopefully find her daughter there. The day before she planned to escape the ghetto of Kopechince to journey to Buczacz, Herzl could not be found. Frieda Jurman searched for her young son for several days and with the rumor of a final complete action at hand…she decided to sneak out of the ghetto and return to Buczacz and hopefully find both of her last remaining children. There, she found Alicia and it was a joyous reunion. Alicia and her mother formed a plan. They would go into the countryside and live in the woods and try to find a way to survive. This plan worked. For the next year or so, Alicia and her mother did this at great risk, living off of food that barely sustained them. She eventually found an old man named Wujciu who she convinced to allow her and her mother to hide in his little house on a hilltop. Wujciu had epilepsy and his seizures caused the local populace to avoid him – it was the perfect place to hide. Alicia would go out everyday and work in the fields for food while her mother remained hidden. During this period, Alicia began to build her confidence and she rescued a Jewish mother with two children. It was hard to convince the old man to help hide them all…but Alicia did it. She worked in the fields and kept to herself by day. At the end of the workday. She would bring the food she earned back to those who were hidden. Alicia had the luck of being multi-lingual…and this helped her to be accepted by the laborers and the farmers in the fields – for she could speak Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and German.
One day, Wujciu journeyed into Buczacz to try to make contact with one of Alicia’s non-Jewish schoolmates – Alicia was sending her a note asking for a pair of shoes. Her friend did send Alicia the shoes and also a coat and some other things…. also…her friend sent news about what happened to Herzl. He had been identified by one of his non-Jewish schoolmates to the police during a roundup. Little Herzl was taken to the Fador and shot. At this point, all the males of Alicia’s family were now dead because of the Germans. Of the six members of the Jurman family, only Alicia and her mother were still alive.
The Russians were now the Germans were losing winning the battles…the war!!! She heard her first rumor of Russian partisans in the area. It was exciting news. In the spring of 1944, the Russians liberated Alicia and her mother. Several hundred Jews came out of hiding and Alicia and her mother returned to Buczacz. To her utter joy, she found her friend, Milek…he had somehow survived the struggle at the shooting pits. However, five divisions of the Wermacht (German Army), which had been surrounded at Tarnopol, broke out and re-occupied Buczacz. The Holocaust returned to Alicia and her mother. The Polish woman who was superintendent of the building where they lived informed the Germans that they were there. The Germans came, shot her mother and Alicia was taken to prison to be shot the following day. She and her group were taken outside the city to be killed. Alicia had experience with this and she hung to the rear of the group. At the right moment she and a few others ran down the hill and escaped. Alicia then hid in a hollow tree on the riverbank. She stayed there all day and escaped into the forest at night. Alicia at only 13 years old had survived another shooting squad…. but now…as far as she knew…she was the only one of her family left alive. The Russians finally drove the Germans westward in their push towards Germany and eastern Poland was finally liberated. Alicia had survived the war and the Holocaust.
Alicia After the War
During the war, Alicia saved two groups of Russian partisans and was awarded a medal for heroism by the Russians. The war was now over. The Holocaust was over. The few Jewish people who had survived tried to reconnect with the world. In her book, Alicia: My Story, Alicia continues to tell, how as an adolescent girl, out of sheer determination to help save the remnants of her people, she began caring for Jewish orphans who had survived the death camps. Alicia also began to work with the underground organization “Breecha”, which smuggled Jews across borders to the West and, for many, the “Eretz Israel”. After an illness and stay at an UNRR displaced persons camp and a school for orphans in Belgium, she embarked on an “illegal” ship from Marseilles to Haifa, was captured and interned in a British camp in Cyprus. She eventually arrived in the new State of Israel – but only to find herself once more in a war – the Israeli War of Independence , this time as a soldier.
Alicia’s story, thank God, has a happy ending. Alicia met an American, Gabriel Appleman in Israel and they were married. Gabriel and Alicia now live happily in California and have 3 grown children. She, with her husband’s support, spends her energy today memorializing what happened to the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust.
Alicia’s autobiography, Alicia: My Story, was first published by Bantam Books in 1988 and is still in print. The book won the 1989 Christopher Award for works, which affirm the high values of the human spirit. The book also won the French LICRA award for Heroism, given by the Ministry of Human Action. It was a featured alternate of the Literary Guild and has been published in foreign language editions in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Holland and Switzerland
In this book, Alicia tells of her family and friends who are representative of over one million people who did not die in camps, but were murdered at open graves, in their homes or on the streets or died as partisans fighting the Germans and their collaborators. Alicia tells of very heroic children in the ghettos of Buczacz and Kopechince in what was then Poland. Their bravery and sacrifices serving as shining examples for the youth of today the millions of her people who did not survive compel her to tell the story. Her book, Alicia: My Story is used as a textbook in many schools in the United States and Canada. Alicia, herself, travels throughout the United States and Canada to tell her story. She does not ask a fee for her lectures. Hosts are only requested to provide transportation, lodging and meals.
Alicia wants her audiences to know that Jews, adults, teenagers and even small children did fight the Germans murderers, some actively, others by saving lives. She fights hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism.
In the conclusion of her book, Alicia writes:
Through the story of ‘Alicia’, I wish to reach out, not only to survivors like myself, but also to all people. I hope that it will help strengthen today’s youth by imparting a better understanding of the true history of my entire generation. I believe my book can teach young people what enormous reserves of strength they possess within themselves. I pray that it’s readers, Jew and non-Jew alike, may unite in the resolve that evil forces will never again be permitted to set one people against another
The world depends on people like Alicia…who still today, are heroes and survivors…for they march-on, telling the story of the Holocaust. They must help all of us to never forget what was done – what happened. Alicia Appleman-Jurman is a person who we can all look to and through tearful eyes, we say to her “Thank You, Alicia” for telling us what happened. Thank you for bearing witness. Thank you for refusing to let the Jewish people of Europe is forgotten. Alicia not only deserves our admiration and respect…but she deserves the deepest empathetic love we are capable of giving.
Ms. Appleman-Jurman presently tours appropriate institutions on invitation in the U.S. Through her speaking engagements and her book, Alicia memorializes the victims of the Holocaust, yet simultaneously, Alicia is able, through her vitality and love, to impart the message of the power and victory of the human spirit when placed against adversity.
To inquire about engaging Ms. Appleman-Jurman to speak at your institution or group, feel free to email her husband, Gabriel Appleman.