Janet Singer Applefield, a Polish Holocaust survivor, was 10 years old when the second World War ended, and without a hint of whether her father was still alive.
Applefield was living at a refugee center in Krakow after the war when a woman saw children there and felt moved to do something, she said. The woman opened two orphanages, and Applefield moved into one.
One day, the woman went out to run errands and overheard a man searching for his daughter: It was Applefield’s father. The girl was reunited with him, and the two eventually moved to New Jersey.
They had lost almost everyone in their family.
“I know when I am no longer here, my legacy will continue because my children and grandchildren will continue to tell my story,” Applefield, 83, told nearly 200 people Sunday afternoon at a Holocaust commemoration in Faneuil Hall. “I’m a witness of history and also the voice of those who have been silenced.”
People listened to several other speakers — including Applefield’s daughter, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and consul generals of Germany and Israel to New England — during the nearly two-hour long commemoration. The event focused on the importance of relaying memories from Holocaust survivors like Applefield to younger generations.
“If you hear only the sadness in my mom’s story, then you are missing one the most important reasons she speaks,” Applefield’s daughter, Deb Milley told the gathering. “Of course, it’s important that you hear firsthand the horrors of the Holocaust, but it is equally important that you hear of the goodness and the bravery that it took to save my mother’s life.”
Milley said people should take her mother’s story, the lessons it demonstrates, and apply it to their lives as a reminder to make good decisions.
The commemoration of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust remembrance day, came a week after a gunman opened fire on the last day of Passover at the Chabad of Poway in Southern California, killing a woman and injuring three others. That attack happened six months after a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“We feel your grief. We share your concerns,” Walsh said in his remarks. “We’re listening when you point out the warning signs, and we will never assume our own community is immune.”
Kylie Rolincik, a 27-year-old of Boston, said it was powerful and important to hear a survivor share her experience.
“In particular, in the twilight of survivors still being an available resource to us as learners — I mean there is nothing more important,” she said.
Alejandro Serrano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.