Charles Appelbaum

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Charles Appelbaum

Birthdate: (81)
Birthplace: Suwalk, Lithuania
Death: March 15, 1973 (81)
Brakpan, South Africa
Place of Burial: Boksburg, Gauteng, South Africa
Immediate Family:

Son of Jacob (Ya'akov, Jankiel) Appelbaum and Dvora (Dora) Rocha Appelbaum
Husband of Ray Appelbaum
Father of Naomi Gamsu; Private; Jacqueline Faiga and Lola Farber
Brother of Nathan Appelbaum; Max Appelbaum; Bessie (Batya) Isaacs; Bertha Dushansky; Ida Cohen and 2 others

Managed by: Shelley Levin
Last Updated:

About Charles Appelbaum

Charlie (Yechezkiel b Yaacov), it seems, traveled with his mother and siblings as far as Hamburg, but decided that going any further was not for him. Alys speculates that either he felt that his mother had enough to deal with, what with all her children, and he should unburden her of himself. His daughter, Naomi Gamsu, recalls the idea that the family was kept waiting so long in the holding camps that Jews were kept in, until such time as they could board a ship, that he became frustrated and annoyed. Anyway, at the age of 12, Charlie hitch-hiked back to Suwalk and lived with his grandmother Nechama, until a few years later, when he too went to South Africa. The ticket that Charlie had, he gave to Yossel Dushansky and that is how he (Yossel) first traveled to South Africa, on Charlie’s ticket. Charlie was the “character” of the family, and his exploits as a revolutionary sympathizer in Russia, smuggler of horses and people across borders, and performer of all manner of derring-do, has become almost legendary. Charlie married Rae Arbuck and they had four daughters, Naomi, Joan, Jacqueline and Lola. He died in 1973 in Brakpan, South Africa on 12 Adar B.

Colin Gamsu has provided the following information:

My dearly beloved and sorely missed late grandfather Charles "Charlie" Appelbaum with whom, you will surely remember, I lived for some time, told me some very interesting stories, some of which I would like to share with you. Charlie's Hebrew name was Yecheskeil (Ezekiel in Hebrew) and was born in 1889. I am in possession of a photograph taken in Suwalk showing Bobbe D'vora and all her children who ranged in apparent age from about 10 to early twenties. My photograph is a copy made from an original in Naomi Gamsu's possession which is date stamped "Suwalk,1901". This must have been just around the time that the entire group left for South Africa. Charlie was therefore a boy of about twelve years of age.

He related to me how the group (Yankel had left substantially earlier) made their way to Hamburg in Germany from where they were to embark. They were all kept for some considerable period of time (several days?) in an enclosure in uncomfortable conditions and deprived of their liberty. I suppose that what this could be compared to today would be a "transit lounge". Naomi Gamsu tells me that she had heard that some dishonest emigration officials kept people from embarking until they paid a bribe! Chatzkel (diminutive name of endearment which Charlie was called by the family) decided that if this kind of situation was representative of official behaviour of the place to which they were going, he was going to have none of it and walked out of the secure enclosure between two officials wearing big coats which obscured him sufficiently for the purposes of the exercise.

His mother, brothers and sisters did not know what had happened to him and were forced to sail without him when the opportunity arose! Can you just imagine the grief that everybody felt in the circumstances?

Charlie walked from Hamburg (he must have got some kind of lifts from time to time) to the Lithuanian border which he crossed at a point which he thought lacked the correct degree of policing. He was spotted and shot at as he ran in some fields. He was arrested by Lithuanian authorities and put in a jail cell in a police station. The cell was, I was told, subterranean but with a window high up the wall which was level with the pavement outside. Passers-by could therefore look down into the cell. A Jewish passer-by looked down and saw that there was a boy being held who looked Jewish. The passer-by was able to communicate with Charlie who told them that he had a grandmother called (surprise, surprise!!!) Nechama. I always thought that this was in a town other than Suwalk but may be wrong. Nechama was duly sent for and Charlie was released into the custody of his grandparents. When asked what he wanted to do, he replied that he wanted to be taken to his other set of grandparents, Leia and Ekief. The fact that his grandfather's name was Ekief has become known to me only upon receipt of the marriage document which you sent me.

He told me that he made this request because he had a very special relationship with them and equated it to the one shared by him and me.

Ekief , Charlie gave me to understand, owned forests or had a timber business and seemed to me to have been a wealthy man.

Lithuania, at that time had a criminal law system in terms of which a person under the age of sixteen could not be charged for the commission of any crime. In law today we refer to such a situation as "crimini incapax" meaning that the person is deemed, because of his age, not to have the capacity to form a criminal intent.

For this reason, a Jewish underground movement, dedicated in no small part to the identification of and spiriting out of Lithuania and harm's way, any Jew sought by the authorities for a "crime" for which they were likely to be sentenced to a long jail term or, worse, to death!!!

Within weeks of Chatzkel's return he was recruited by and joined this movement.

He explained to me in detail how he was trained to use a knife in close combat. The knife, he said was sharpened on both sides of the blade allowing the user to wield it in a swishing motion from left to right and vice verso.

After his initial training, he was ordered to kill the chief of police. He and another young man were told that the chief would, as he did every day, go home through a park. Charlie and his pal were ordered to hide behind a bush which was on the route to be taken by the chief who, they were told, would be accompanied by two guards. Charlie did as he had been ordered and he and the other fellow saw the chief enter the park and were readying themselves for the commission of the killing when a superior of theirs arrived and told them that the exercise was off and that it had been just a test to see if they were up to following orders!

Chatzkel's job subsequently had been to, upon being given a signal, meet a party in the forest at about two o'clock in the morning which would hand over to him a person, the identity of whom he was never told beforehand. His job was to escort that person via a secure route to the Polish or German border, where he was met by the next operative to whom he handed his charge.

Ekief could never be told what was going on and Charlie told me that he had to steal out of the house at those early hours of the morning and muffle his horses hooves to avoid detection by his beloved grandparents.

On those excursions, he got frostbite on one of his ears which left a mark that I noticed when I placed him in his coffin in 1973!

On one occasion, he was in the forest waiting for a charge and when he was brought to him he saw that it was none other than Yossel Dushansky who had been caught hiding a cache of home made guns in his family's oven! Yossel, your grandfather Bernie, was as you probably know either a bicycle or a sewing machine technician and was therefore well equipped to manufacture these home made weapons.

Yossel was either already engaged to Bertha, Charlie's sister or was about to become so.Needless to say Charlie successfully conducted his future brother-in-law to safety. I am told that they shared a very close friendship for the rest of Yossel's life. Charlie really loved him dearly!

One night, Chatzkel, on horseback, was approaching a house in which the movement was conducting a meeting, noticed that a non Jew was peering in at a window, the shutter of which it was later established, he had forced open. It was clear to Chatzkel that all the occupants of the house would have very shortly become marked and therefore dead men. He made a decision on the spot and, from the saddle, hit the observer over the back of the head. He immediately warned the others and the victim was dragged away to another location.

Charlie said that the next morning, the victim was seen being dragged by two policemen through the market place in an attempt to get him to spot and identify his assailant.

It was at this time that his superiors in the underground movement called on Ekief and told him of what was going on and of Charlie's then current predicament.

Ekief sent a cable to Klerksdorp stating: "If you want to see Chatzkel alive again, instruct me to send him to you on the next available boat".

And that is how Charlie Appelbaum eventually came to South Africa!

He was met at Park station in Johannesburg by his beloved brother Max and they, together, made the Journey to Klerksdorp in two days by horse and cart.

On arrival at Klerksdorp they were horrified to find that the English army had burned down Yankel's store because he had supplied the Boers with provisions.

It was for this reason that Charlie always voted for the Afrikaans nationalists as he was never able to forgive the English for what they had done to his dad. He told me that when he joined the army in the 1914-1918 war he went to fight not for the British, but against the Germans. He served well in the artillery.

His anger seems to have been assuaged by 1947 when, during the visit of the royal family to South Africa and specifically to Brakpan (where most of the Jewish community were stationed on Charlie's balcony overlooking the street on which the procession passed) when he snapped to attention as the king came past below them and he saluted as only a very proud old soldier could!!!!!

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Charles Appelbaum's Timeline

July 7, 1891
Suwalk, Lithuania
January 20, 1921
Age 29
March 15, 1924
Age 32
South Africa
April 3, 1926
Age 34
Witbank, South Africa
March 15, 1973
Age 81
Brakpan, South Africa
Boksburg, Gauteng, South Africa