Apel (Ajzenkranz), Ethel
Ethel Apel is the daughter of Matisyohu and Devorah Ajzenkranz who owned a wholesale store in Hrubieszow, Poland, a small town approximately 60 miles ESE of Lublin. She was born in 1910. She estimates that the pre-war population was about 10,000 persons, mixed between Jews and Poles. She had two older sisters, Machla and Frida, and one younger sister, Pearl. All were married and had children, who together with their grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins, comprised a large family which Mrs. Apel estimated at about 72 persons. She was raised in an orthodox Jewish environment and attended both public and religious schools. Although Yiddish was spoken at home, her Polish was excellent and without an accent which helped her later on.
Following the invasion of Poland by Germany on September 1, 1939, German troops bombed and occupied Hrubieszow. To avoid conscription to labor groups as well as deportation to other camps, she fled from her hometown and went into hiding. Mrs. Apel does not recall many details, except that she kept moving from one hiding place to another, primarily aided by Jewish people, but also once by non-Jews.
Payment for being hidden was not a requirement, but she contributed when she could. She became ill during that period and had to spend some time in hospitals. She does not recall any close encounters with German authorities or Poles sympathetic to Germans, and claims that she did not know until after the occupation that the Germans paid rewards to those who revealed Jews to them. While in hiding she had no contact whatsoever with her family.
After coming out of hiding at the end of the war, she found out that all of her close relatives, all 72, were exterminated. She then met a previous acquaintance from Hrubieszow, Samuel Apel, who also had survived. They subsequently married. She returned to her hometown in an effort to recover jewelry which her mother had buried under their former home. When she and her husband were told that another survivor, a former neighbor, attempted to recover some pictures from his former house and was shot dead at the entrance by the new occupant, she abandoned that effort. The new occupant who took possession thought that the former occupant, the owner, wanted to reclaim his house.
Mrs. Apel wanted to come to the United States and since this was easier from Germany, she and her husband moved to Berlin. He was able to work there and then formed a business with some friends. They were in Berlin seven years during which their son, Max, was born.
Remembering that her father had a friend in the United States Mrs. Apel contacted him and he made the arrangements that permitted her, along with her husband and son, to come to the United States. With the help of the HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society), they stayed in New York about 8 months and then bought a chicken farm out-state even though her husband had no previous experience in that field. Nevertheless, they were successful. A second child, Dora, was born subsequently. Mrs. Apel now has three grandchildren.
Mrs. Apel claims she still has nightmares and cries in her sleep about her experiences during the war.
Brief statements were made by her son and daughter at the end of the interview.
Date: June 29, 2004
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 47 minutes