In Gratitude: Baron Henich Apfelbaum z''l
​Antwerp, Belgium
An exemplary, committed and generous leader
 

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27) affords us the opportunity to invoke the memory of Shoah survivor  Baron Henich Apfelbaum z''l, generous donor to Keren Hayesod, who passed away recently. An outstanding individual and symbol of the Antwerp Jewish community, he symbolized all the tragedies and triumphs of the Jewish people during the 20th century.
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A great leader has gone: Baron Apfelbaum z"l  with  KH representative in Belgium and Luxemburg Michel Cerf (left) and Laurent Trau, Chairman of the Antwerp Jewish community (right) at a Keren Hayesod gathering.

Born in Tarnow (Polish Galicia) on 8 May 1925, " Henek"  attended  heder (traditional Jewish elementary school) from the age of three. He celebrated his bar mitzvah on 8 May 8, 1938 at the old synagogue in the center of Tarnow,
where half of the residents before World War II were Jewish. The only thing that remains of the synagogue today is the bimah (the platform from which the Torah is read).
The Germans entered Tarnow on 8 September 1939. The next day they set fire to synagogues in the city. Confiscations, forced labor, beatings and executions were a prelude to the first "action" in June 1942. It was then that the SS murdered  Henek ‘s sick grandmother, Malka, in his arms. Jews who were not killed on the spot were deported to Belzec and murdered. Those who escaped the first massacre were locked  into a ghetto where the Germans also gathered Jews from neighboring towns. With blond hair and blue eyes,  Henek resembled a small  Pole, something that  enabled him to sometimes secretly leave the ghetto and then to  escape to a new selection in September 1942. While his parents were imprisoned  in Ghetto B, Henek worked in the workshops of ghetto A with his half-sister, Hanka.  Upon liquidation of the Tarnow ghetto in September 1943, Hanka and Henek were deported to Plaszow. Their parents were murdered in Auschwitz- Birkenau -  the same fate that befell the majority of the Jews in the ghetto.
In  Plaszow, a camp near Krakow depicted in the film  Schindler's List, Henek was  first assigned to a dressmaking workshop. Beaten for daring to ask to be transfered to the shoemaking workshop where Hanka worked, he was sent to the stone quarry. Deported to Gross- Rosen in May 1944, he had the chance to work in food distribution. Caught during  a search with a large piece of bacon he had pilfered to feed companions in misfortune, he enjoyed the "leniency" of the camp head, who "made do" with inflicting  fifty lashes.

Gross- Rosen was evacuated in  February 1945. Henek passed through the Flossenburg and Buchenwald camps. He left this inferno for a new death march, which only a handful of prisoners survived.  Imprisoned by the SS, he was liberated by the Americans on 8 May 1945, on his 20th birthday. The young survivor was transferred to a camp for displaced  persons, in a state of emaciation and suffering from typhus. After five months of convalescence in an Allied hospital, he returned to Tarnow and found Hanka, who had survived Plaszow and Auschwitz. Their parents and all their relatives had been murdered, and upon returning to Poland, Henek received his call-up for military service. The siblings decided to emigrate to Antwerp where they had a bit of family: two uncles, diamond dealers who had settled in Belgium during  the two world wars. Entering Belgium secretly, they arrived in Antwerp, the end of their odyssey.

Under the direction of his uncle Monek, Henek learned  to cut diamonds. He was very good at the trade and  worked a great deal. In November 1947, Henich Apfelbaum married Régine Finel. He met her at the butcher shop run by her parents on Provinciestraat. She was born in Lvov and arrived in Belgium in 1930, and had lost her sister, who was deported to Auschwitz from Antwerp in 1942. Henich and Regine have two children, Blanche and Marc. Henich threw himself into the diamond trade, where he was recognized as being "mazeldik", bringing luck. He climbed through the ranks of the diamond industry and its institutions, reaching the presidency of the Diamond High Council in Antwerp.
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KH Antwerp Chairman Jacques Spijer awards the "Herzl Founder" diploma to Baron Apfelbaum z"l in March 2012.

In life in general, as well as in business, Henich Apfelbaum z '' l was an intelligent, organized man, who demonstrated concern for others. His brilliant social success went  hand in hand with his unwavering commitment, throughout his life, in the Antwerp community, both through philanthropy and social assistance  in support of  Jewish traditions and the State of Israel .He put all his energy into raising major funds, notably during the Six Day War.  Renowned for his generosity, every year,  he supported  the social and educational activities of Keren Hayesod to help the most disadvantaged people in Israel.
He always used his close contacts with the political world and with many noted personalities, both Belgian and Israeli, to further the cause of Antwerp Jewry. An extremely generous and very discreet  person, he was recognized and honored both in his community by Belgium and by the State of Israel.
Henich Apfelbaum z '' l was president of the Central Administration for Jewish Charity and Social Services, Honorary Consul of Israel to the provinces of Antwerp and Limburg and held various honorific titles: Honorary Citizen of Jerusalem, Commander of the Order of the Crown, Commander of the Order of Leopold II ,Knight of the Order of Leopold. King Albert II conferred on him the title of Knight in 1996 and in 2005, that of Baron.
Keren Hayesod recognized him at its banquet at the campaign opening in September 2011 by awarding him a Diploma of Honor.
Henich Apfelbaum z '' l succeeded throughout his life in honoring the vow he had made in the Nazi extermination camps: if he was successful in life, he would help those in need. He was and will remain  a symbol of the restored confidence of the Jewish people in a better future.

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(Much of this text is taken from an article by Roland Baumann that appeared in "Regards", 1.2.2011)