Always Forgive, Never Forget!

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MIRIAM MACHELA LEVENTHAL APFEL, age 97, of the Villages Florida passed away on Saturday, March 5. A Holocaust Survivor, loving wife, mother of two, grandmother of three and great-grandmother of four, Miriam was born in Pilitza, Poland in 1924 on the German Border as the youngest of seven children to Bracha and Motle Leventhal.

Twelve-year old Miriam was preparing for the first day of her new school year in 1929 when Germany invaded Poland. Separated from her family and taken to a labor camp, Miriam survived the Holocaust while most of her family did not. In the concentration camp, Miriam risked her life to smuggle food to the adjoining men’s camp where her brother was one of the prisoners. These heroic acts helped her in the future.

Freedom finally came in May 1945, when Russians liberated the camp. While Miriam tried to locate her family, she met Yehuda Apfel. Yehuda, born in Krakow, Poland, was a member of the British Army (in the Jewish Brigade) and a member of the underground Israeli Hagana.

Miriam and Yehuda married on February 8, 1947, and planned to start a new life in Israel.  They boarded a ship named “Theodor Herzl” which attempted to break through the British blockade to deliver thousands of survivors to Israel. Arriving in Haifa after a month at sea, the British attacked the ship and forced the ship to take the survivors to a Displaced Person’s (DP) camp on the island of Cyprus.  

In the DP camp, they lived in a tent with five other families. Their first child, a daughter named Bracha after Miriam's mother, was born in June of 1948. During their time in the camp, Yehuda was actively involved in the exodus of Jews through the underground into Israel.

Miriam and her baby finally arrived in Israel on one of the last refugee ships in December of 1948 to be with Yehuda. In Israel, the family settled in Netanya where Yehuda worked as a police detective and Miriam cared for the family. Miriam and Yehuda’s son, Martin (Moty), named after Miriam's father was born in August of 1952 in Chedera, Israel

Miriam learned that two of her sisters had survived the war and settled in the US and Canada. Two of the men who had survived the concentration camps because of the food Miriam had secretly provided, invited her and her family to Stamford, Connecticut in 1964 where the Apfels settled. Yehuda became a plumber while Miriam worked at a number of jobs, though her primary job was always caring for her family.

In the early 1990s, Yehuda and Miriam moved to Central Florida to be closer to their daughter, Bracha, now married with a family of her own.  Yehuda passed away in 1993, just a year after they moved. Miriam moved to The Villages in 20005 and became an active member of Temple Shalom. She is a familiar figure to many Villagers who have heard her story in the paper and at local Holocaust Yom Hashoah presentations. 

Miriam is survived by her daughter Brach Smith of Oviedo, son Martin Apfel of Altamonte Springs, granddaughter Sharit Kelly, grandsons, Jacob and Mitchell Apfel; and- great-grandchildren Reilly Kelley, Colin Kelly and Makayla Keely. She was blessed to hold her new great-granddaughter Mikaela Apfel born on March 2, 2022!

Through all these struggles, Miriam said that she always knew she could take care of herself. I know what is important in life,” she adds. “If you have your family, a roof over your head, some bread and some water, you are rich. Everything else is dessert.” Her motto was “Always Forgive, New Forget.”