The Life Story of Dr. Hyman J. Appelman
I was born of Jewish parentage on January 7, 1902, in the Russian city of Moghiliev, located on the banks of the Dnieper River. The educational system in Russia at that time was limited. Schools were excellent—in fact, they were superlative—but there were not enough of them. In the city where I was born, a city of 150,000, there were two grade schools, one high school and one junior college. In those schools combined there probably were not as many students as there are in the average grammar school or high school in a city such as Los Angeles.
I was almost thirteen when I came to this country in December of 1914. I knew a little Latin and had a fair command of German, Russian, Yiddish and Polish. I had studied some Greek, and, of course, I knew Hebrew, as that was taught in the first schools I attended, but I did not know a syllable of English.
When we came from Russia to America, my mother, two brothers and I crossed the waters together. My father had come to this country a year and a half earlier. He had written a letter in which he said, “Son, you are the man of the family. You have got to take care of Mamma and Morris and Harry, and bring them safely to America.” I watched Mamma like a hawk.
The day came for us to leave. We piled our trunks and other baggage onto the wagon in which we were to drive to the station. Suddenly I lost Mother, and I thought I would go wild. I ran around the yard crying, “Mamma! Mamma! Mamma!” Grandfather took hold of me. “I know where she is,” he said. He took me by the hand, and we went down the street to the Jewish cemetery. There we saw Mother clawing the earth on the grave of my little brother who died when he was five. We could hardly tear her away. Finally, by sheer force, Grandfather and I pulled her to the wagon.
After we arrived in Chicago I was enrolled in a grade school. Those first days in the Hans Christian Andersen public school were unforgettable. They were torment! I, a thirteen-year old boy weighing almost a hundred and fifty pounds, had to sit in one of those first-grade seats made for a pupil half my size.
One of the teachers in that public school was the prettiest young woman I had ever seen. In fact, she was my first ‘love affair.” I watched her and followed her with my eyes. At the end of the school year, when we were about to be dismissed for our summer vacation, she said to the class, “If I were marking you children for attention, I would give Hyman 100 per cent because he is always listening to me.” She didn’t know I wasn’t listening to her. I was worshiping her!
I completed the first grade, the second, the third and the fourth, and when summer vacation came, I was in the fifth grade. I went to summer school and skipped another grade that fall. During my second year I completed the seventh and eighth grades, and then entered preparatory school. Eventually I enrolled at the university and then entered law school. In 1921 I was licensed to practice law in Illinois. I still have that license.
At that time I was not very religious. Don’t misunderstand me. I was not an atheist; I was not an infidel. I believed in God; I believed in heaven; I believed in hell; I believed in the Resurrection; I believed in the Judgment. I cannot say what I believed concerning the inspiration of the Bible, as this was never discussed in the American schools I attended, but being a Jew, I did not believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. I had never seen a New Testament. I had never heard anyone read from the New Testament. I had never held a New Testament in my hands. I knew nothing about it.
I was engaged to marry a young Jewish girl. I went to the synagogue three times a year—on the two New Year’s the United States, but I had seen only a few of my relatives in the West. I decided to visit them and then return home.
Intending to visit at Rabbi Silver’s home in Kansas City, I left Chicago. I was to arrive at my destination about seven o’clock at night, but a track accident delayed the train so that we didn’t reach Kansas City until long after midnight. It was too late to go to Rabbi Silver’s home, even though he was a kinsman, so I took a cab to the YMCA. It was about three o’clock in the morning when I registered for a room. I went to bed and slept until almost noon the next day, which was Saturday. I couldn’t go to the Rabbi’s home on Saturday, and decided to wait until after the holiday. I went out for breakfast, walked around the city until about three or four in the afternoon, and then went back to the YMCA. I was in no hurry.