Bernard Aptaker and his younger brothers, Stanley (b. Symek) and Moshe, grew up in a warm and religiously observant household in Zakrzówek, Poland. Their parents’ devotion to the children and affection for each other mitigated the hostility that lurked outside their door. Although antisemitic resentment often erupted into violence in prewar Poland, Bernard “knew only one flag,” never believing that being Jewish made him any less Polish.
Wanton violence and brutality followed on the heels of the German soldiers after the invasion of Poland in September 1939. Bernard’s family survived “day to day” until the fall of 1942 when they were ordered to report to the Jewish ghetto in nearby Kraśnik. Instead, they hid in the attic of a sympathetic Polish farmer who nonetheless turned them out because he feared for his own safety. As the family scattered in terror, other farmers cornered and advanced on nine-year-old Moshe, threatening him with their pitchforks. Without hesitation, Bernard turned back: “There was just no more need for hiding when I heard his screams. I wanted to be right there with him, wherever it was, if it was hell.”
Discovered, the family had no choice but to turn themselves in. Moshe and his mother went to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. Bernard, Stanley and their father were sent to the labor camps of Budzyń and Wieliczka, where they suffered brutality and horrendous cruelties, illness and constant, gnawing hunger. Murder was commonplace. Bernard credited youth, strength and a “sixth sense” with enabling him to survive. As the Allies advanced, the desperate German captors transferred their emaciated prisoners to Flossenbürg and then on a death march to Dachau where American troops liberated them on April 29, 1945.
Bernard emigrated in 1947, coming to New York where an early job at an Arthur Murray dance studio eventually led him to a career in business and real estate. He moved his successful business to Houston in 1970. He then served as a consultant to European and Middle Eastern investors and as a presidential advisor to the country of Liberia, West Africa. Only too aware of how it had pained his father to watch his children suffer, Bernard chose not to have children of his own.
Murray (b.Meir) Aptakrz, survived
Sarah Rojsner Aptakrz, d. Auschwitz, 1942
Stanley (b. Symek), survived
Moshe, d. Auschwitz, 1942