When the Third Reich invaded Poland in September 1939, my family – like thousands of others – fled east. We lived as refugees, waiting to return home, but by July 1942 my parents ran out of options. On the night before a mandatory selection, I was given to a relative's nanny. That morning, my mother was on a transport to the death camp at Belzec, my father was assigned to forced labor, and I, just seven years old, was about to witness incredible danger, unbelievable luck, and the love, courage and dedication of a few extraordinarily righteous citizens who saved my life. This is my story.
The Singers, at the wedding of my uncle Josef, were a large family, active in our city, owners of a hardware store on the main square. Aside from two uncles who were abroad when the war began, my father and I were the only ones in my family to survive the Holocaust.
Before 1982, I knew very little about my story. But a document in Polish, in an old box of yellowed papers, changed that. My father’s handwritten transcript from 1947 recorded everything I could remember from the prior five years. In faint letters, I read of the Gołąb family at 18 Karmelicka Street. A few weeks later, I arrived in Krakow and knocked on that door. I watched and listened as my story spilled forth: Stanisław Gołąb raced home from work to share his recollections of Krysia – my alias during the war; his mother instructed him to take me to the family farm where I remained safe for two years. We looked through family photos of a blond little kid – me – climbing trees and riding on the shoulders of Stanisław’s wife, Maria Halina Gołąb. As Stanisław wrote to me in 1992, “Your stay at our home put us at risk of losing our lives but no one ever thought about that. We considered saving you, as a human being, our absolute duty, we thought it was the natural thing to do, and no one believed otherwise.” Later this year, the Gołąb’s will be honored as “righteous among the nations” by Yad Vashem.
Janet Singer Applefield's presentation raises awareness and understanding of the dangers of prejudice and encourages children and adults to stand up to any kind of discrimination and injustice.
Some of the venues at which she has spoken:
Ashland High School, Ashland, MA
Berkley Middle School, Berkley, MA
Blackstone Academy, Pawtucket, RI
B.M.C. Durfee High School, Fall River, MA
Carver Middle School, Carver, MA
Curtis Junior High School, Sudbury, MA
Cyrus Peirce Middle School, Nantucket, MA
Easton Middle School, Easton, MA
Fenway High School, Boston, MA
Franklin High School, Franklin, MA
Furnace Brook Middle School, Marshfield, MA
Hanover Middle School, Hanover, MA
Hanson Middle School, Hanson, MA
Hull High School, Hull, MA
Kiwanis Club, East Bridgewater, MA
Lynnfield Middle School, Lynnfield, MA
Melrose Middle School, Melrose, MA
Middlesex College, Burlington, MA
Milton High School, Milton, MA
Nantucket High School, Nantucket, MA
Our Lady of Sorrows, Sharon, MA
Pierce Middle School, Milton, MA
Plymouth Library, Plymouth, MA
Salve Regina University, Newport, RI
Sharon Middle School, Sharon, MA
Temple Klal Israel, Sharon, MA
Whitman Library, Whitman, MA
Woodward School, Quincy, MA
“Ms. Applefield presented her moving personal story of survival to our 7th and 8th graders. She not only captured their attention – you could hear a pin drop – but she also moved them as well. Ms Applefield left a lasting impression of the dangers of prejudice and hate with our students. She brought the realities of the Holocaust to life for our students.”
– Principal, Easton Massachusetts Middle School
“This is a very powerful and deep learning experience for my students. This group of kids has studied these issues in depth. Janet’s story of what happened to her and her family was very powerful for them. It brought to life history in a very painful time in human affairs in a way that no textbook or film can.”
– Teacher, Ashland High School, Ashland, MA
“When her speech ended everyone applauded in amazement after hearing that very powerful story. Janet said she hopes her story will make everyone think twice about being cruel to someone because they look or act different. I personally feel that she succeeded.”
– 6th grade student, Hanson Middle School, Hanson, MA
“I cannot thank you enough for coming in to speak to us. Not only have you changed my perspective on the Holocaust because I could never fully grasp how terrible it was; now hearing it from a survivor has made me see how devastating that happening truly was. You have changed my life and I will never think of war the same and I will never forget your name or the day you came in to speak to us.”
– 10th grade student, Blackstone Academy Charter School, Pawtucket, RI
“I find it amazing that you were able to stay strong for so long, and for that I look up to you. To hear the actual events told by someone who lived through it helped us realize how terrible things were. Your story touched me in a big way. Thank you so much, you have taught me so much.”
– 8th grader in at Pierce Middle School, Milton, MA
Janet Singer Applefield earned her Masters of Social Work at Boston University. As a clinical social worker, she has counseled a variety of patients, from juvenile offenders convicted of hate crimes to geriatric populations. She currently provides psychotherapy and behavioral management services to nursing home patients.
She has three children and five grandchildren and lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts.
Without the selfless actions of a few people, I would very likely not be alive today. When I speak to students, teachers, and parents, I stress the imperative of standing up to discrimination and cruelty – precisely what one family did for me.
To learn more about my speaking engagements and schedule a customized talk for your group, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.
“Catholic Pole’s Obsession Helps Holocaust Survivor Find Mother,” The Times of Israel, April 27, 2014.
"Sharing memories of survival during the Holocaust," The Boston Globe, April 4, 2013.
"Canton woman comes to terms with mother’s murder in Holocaust," The Boston Globe, January 12, 2014.