Born in Belchatow in 1927, Jack Altman lived with his parents (Szaja and Nacha Altman), two brothers (Moshe and Idele), and one sister (Adela). He was only 12 years old on September 2, 1939 when the war reached Belchatow. Jack was a prisoner in the ghettoes, concentration and slave-labor camps, but was able to remain with his father throughout the war. He was liberated by the U.S. Military forces in Prague, Czechoslovakia on May 8, 1945. He arrived in the United States from Sweden in January 1953 and married another Belchatower, Ruth Kryzman, on February 14th that same year. Ruth had also lost her entire family -- her parents (Yechil and Szajndl Kryzman) and her three sisters (Bluma, Chan, and Sally).
Business opportunities brought him from New York to North Carolina (1959), to Nashville, Tennessee (1965), and finally to Dallas, Texas (1970).
Below, Jack tells you in his own words about his early life in Belchatow. This is only part of the speech he presented in November 2002 at the Bnai-Zion Gala in Dallas, where he was the honoree and received the AMERICA ISRAEL FRIENDSHIP AWARD:
"I was born in Belchatow, Poland. Belchatow was a small town in a western part near Lodz. The population was 12000, approximately 6000 Jews and 6000 gentiles. I come from a family of 6: my father, mother, and 4 children – 3 boys and 1 girl. The history of my family in Belchatow goes back for several hundreds years. My father was a Mizrachi Zionist, and we attended "Yavneh" Hebrew school [where instruction was given in modern Sephardic-accented Hebrew] until 1939. September 1, 1939, when the war broke out, I was 12 years old. Our town got occupied by the Germans September 2 of 1939.
The Germans placed particular emphasis on destroying Jewish life and desecrating the synagogues and all religious items. That was the beginning of the living hell of things to follow during the Holocaust. Seventy-five members of my family were among six million innocent Jewish people who were put to their death by way of gas chambers, crematoriums, slave labor camps, concentration camps, and starvation. Among the six million, a million to million and a half were innocent Jewish children. Never in the history of the world has any nation ever done that. Innocent young and old, all ages, were massacred, gassed, burnt to ashes, because they were Jewish.. I and my father got liberated in Prague May the 8th 1945. My mother, sister and my two brothers did not survive the Holocaust. After our liberation, we tried to find any relatives who may have survived the Holocaust back in my home town Belchatow, but the only thing we found was that anti-Semitism and the hatred of the Jews was stronger than ever! Each Holocaust survivor has within himself or herself experiences and memories that can fill full volumes. One of the most important periods in all of Jewish history is steadily drawing to a close: the era of the Holocaust survivor.
For the last six decades, those who survived the flames of the Shoah have walked the earth, bearing witness to both the most inhuman of tragedies and the most inspiring of renewals. Now, with the last of the survivors entering the twilight of life, we must ask: when they are gone, who will bear witness for the witnesses? We are grateful that our stories have been preserved and that the legacy of the six million martyrs who died in the Holocaust are being honored by the Dallas Holocaust Memorial Center."
Jack’s younger brother was deported to the Death Camp of Chelmno, where he and many other Belchatowers were killed. His older brother was killed in Warsaw bombings when he ran away to join the resistance. His parents, sister, and he were selected to work as slave laborers cleaning out houses of the murdered Jews in Belchatow. They were sent to the Litzmannstadt Ghetto in Lodz, where they were robbed of family life and forced to work in factories. From there they went by boxcar to Auschwitz, where they slept on the bare floor, and soon his mother, sister, and a newborn baby were sent to the gas chambers. Jack and his father were taken to Birkenau and later to a German munitions plant in Eastern Germany in a little town outside of Chemnitz called Siegmar-Schönau. They worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week, for a daily slice of bread and bowl of soup. At the end of March, one thousand Polish and Hungarian men and boys from this factory were sent on a death march. Of those, only 180 survived. They marched until May 7, 1945 when they noticed the Gestapo had disappeared and what turned out to be American tanks were in sight. On May 8 they were liberated and taken by buses the following day to hospitals in Prague.
Jack Altman has been heavily involved with the Jewish community and holds a deep commitment to his people and the Land of Israel. Jack was a co-founder of the Dallas Holocaust Memorial Center in 1984, is a Past President, and serves on its Executive Committee. He is also on the Board of Directors of Tiferet Israel and is a supporter of B'nai Zion, Hadassah, Naamat, the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, the JCC, the Hebrew Free Loan Society, the Dallas Historical Society, the Holocaust Museums in Washington and Los Angeles, and a number of worthy causes in Israel, including Yad Vashem and the Lanaido Children’s Medical Center Ambulance Fund in Netanya. He is a strong supporter of the Belchatow KehilaLinks website and Belchatow projects in Jewish Records Indexing-Poland. He is passionate about his desire and is supporting efforts to create an active organization of future generation Belchatower descendants.
Jack and Ruth with daughter Sheila in Israel in 2004
Jack Altman's Obituary
[Published in Dallas Morning News on March 24, 2013]
Jack Altman passed away on Friday, March 22, 2013, with his devoted wife Ruth at
his side. Services will be held at 10 AM on Monday, March 25, at Sparkman
Hillcrest Memorial Park Chapel, Northwest Highway, Dallas, followed by a funeral
procession to the burial service at Agudas Achim Cemetery at 7901 Scyene Road,
Dallas. There will be a short gathering for friends and family after the funeral
services at The Legacy at Willow Bend, Plano (commencing about 1:30 p.m.). Jack
was born during Passover in 1927. In symmetry, he will be laid to rest, next to
his beloved son Stuart, on the eve of Passover 2013. He would have turned 86 on
April 19, 2013. Jack was born in and spent his childhood in Belchatow Poland,
from a family with Zionist ideals. At the onset of World War 2, he was taken to
the Lodz Ghetto and then Auschwitz where he worked as a slave laborer for a
daily slice of bread and watered down soup. He was sent on the infamous death
march across Germany and liberated in Czechoslavakia on May 8, 1945. Only Jack
and his father survived; Jack lost his mother, a sister, and two brothers. He
emigrated to Israel after the war with his father, but left for Sweden shortly
thereafter, where he was re-united with a childhood friend, Ruth Kryzman. In
February 1953, shortly after Jack came to the United States, Jack and Ruth
married in Bronx NY. They very recently celebrated their 60th anniversary with
friends and family at the Legacy at Willow Bend, where Jack and Ruth have lived
for the past 4 years. Jack and Ruth spent their first years together in Bronx
NY, and then business opportunities caused them to move to the south, first
Gastonia North Carolina (1959), where their children Stuart and Sheila were
born, then Nashville Tennessee (1965), and finally to Dallas in 1970. Here, his
sweater business, Brookshire Knitting Mills, thrived. At the same time, Jack and
Ruth became active in the Jewish community. He was a co-founder of the Dallas
Holocaust Memorial Center in 1984, a two term President, a member of the Board
of Directors and executive committee, and was a regular speaker to Dallas school
groups, telling his Holocaust story, in order to increase awareness of the
Holocaust in the Dallas community. Involved in and a generous supporter of many
Jewish organizations, Jack also served on the Board of Directors and received
awards from Nishmat Am Congregation and Tiferet Israel Congregation and was a
recipient of the Bnai Zion America-Israel Friendship Award. He was a generous
supporter of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, the JCC, the Hebrew Free
Loan Society, B'Nai Zion, Hadassah, Naamat, the Jewish War Veterans, as well as
the Holocaust Museums in Washington and Los Angeles, and a number of worthy
causes in Israel, including Yad Vashem. He was also a generous supporter of many
other Dallas organizations, including the Dallas Historical Society, and as a
business leader, received an award from the Texas Chamber of Commerce. More than
anything, Jack loved his wife Ruth; their story is one of mutual respect and
admiration, never having a cross word with each other. His beloved daughter
Sheila lives in Netanya, Israel, visits often, and remained a source of great
pride and love for him always. His beloved son Stuart was tragically killed in a
car accident at age 16. His "adopted son" Ran Friedman, who lived with Jack and
Ruth in Dallas for many years, also remained a source of great pride and support
to Jack. Jack lost his beloved sister Chaya, born and raised in Israel, to
cancer twenty years ago. Jack was the kindest and friendliest man you would ever
meet, a loving and supportive friend, and a man of high moral and ethical
values. He received the respect and friendship of everyone he encountered, both
in business and in his personal life. Despite the many tragedies in his life,
Jack always maintained a positive and optimistic attitude. Contributions in
memory of Jack Altman can be made to any of the following worthy organizations:
The Stuart Lawrence Altman Scholarship Fund, dedicated to teaching the younger
generations about the Holocaust, c/o the Dallas Holocaust Memorial Museum;
Nishmat Am Congregation; Tiferet Israel Congregation; or the charity of your
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