Jack Nasielski of Edison was known in Auschwitz as A-13227, the number forever branded onto his arm.
Seventy-three years later, Jack is known for the number 3,000, because he is one of some 3,000 American Jews making aliyah in 2018.
Nasielski, 92, arrived June 13 at Ben-Gurion Airport, where he was greeted by his grandchildren, and a great-grandchild, waving Israeli flags and hoisting a sign that read, “Mazal Tov Papa Jack — We love you.” Rivka and Martin Himmel and family of Highland Park were on the same aliyah flight as Jack.
“No one can persecute you for being a Jew in your own country,” Nasielski said upon arriving in Israel, according to JTA. “Today I am proud to be an Israeli and a real Jew. Israel is my new home and I love it.”
Nasielski traveled on a Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah flight in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, the Jewish Agency, Keren Kayemeth Le’Israel, and JNF-USA. Only 10-15 individuals in their 90s make aliyah each year, according to Jake Sharfman, a spokesperson for Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Sitting down in his new apartment in the central Israeli city of Rechovot, not far from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Nasielski told NJJN that even though he would miss New Jersey, he was glad to live in the Jewish state.
“It’s special to live among Jews,” he said. “They have Jews in Edison, too, but not as many good ones as in Israel.”
He is the father of three daughters, including Lilly Jacobi, formerly of Edison. Lilly and her husband Baruch have four children, all of whom made aliyah over the last 14 years; Baruch followed suit in February and Lilly on July 3. Now Nasielski shares an apartment with the Jacobis, as he did in Edison for many years.
“I wanted to live with mishpocha,” he said.
Nasielski’s remaining daughters in the U.S. live in Queens and New City, N.Y. He has 12 great-grandchildren and another two on the way, though he says, “Money you count, children you don’t count.”
When asked what he will do now that he is in Israel, Nasielski said he was looking forward to spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as “sitting in a comfortable chair and reading the paper.”
No one would argue that Jack deserves to relax after the challenging life he has led.
He was born in Dessau, Germany, near Leipzig, and forced to move to Poland when he was 13. He did not speak Polish and had to work on his Yiddish.
He was sent to four different work and concentration camps, including Gleiwitz, a subcamp of Auschwitz. At one point, he was marched into a gas chamber, but he and the people he was with were saved at the last minute.
He said he made it through the concentration camps because he “stayed healthy and did what they told me to do.” At one of the camps there was a rabbit farm, and Nasielski volunteered to take care of the animals. Although they gave him lettuce and carrots to feed the rabbits, he ate the carrots himself, which helped keep him strong and aided his survival.
In 1945 he was liberated from the Blachhamer camp by the Russian army. After the war, he went to Krakow to look for his mother but learned that she had died. He found his cousin, Honey, in a displaced persons camp in Poland. She was like a sister to him, Nasielski said, and the only other member of the family to survive. She later lived in Connecticut.
Initially Nasielski returned to Germany, but soon decided there was no reason to stay in Europe. Seventy-one years ago, aboard the SS Ernie Pyle, a transport ship for displaced persons, he traveled to the United States, having heard it was easy to make a living there. He arrived June 22, 1947, and found work at a toy factory in New York, making stuffed animals. It suited him.
“He liked making children happy,” said Baruch Jacobi. “After having rough teenage years, he liked that he spread joy. He got up at 5 a.m. every day to take two buses and open up the factory, and he worked till late at night.”
Nasielski learned English at night school, but he never finished high school. A friend set him up in Manhattan with his wife Judy because, the friend reasoned, Nasielski was tall and would therefore be a good fit for Judy, as she was short. They raised their three daughters in the Bronx, and then moved to Edison 20 years later to be closer to their grandchildren.
They were members of Congregation Ohav Emeth in Highland Park for many years before joining Congregation Ahavath Yisrael of Edison, where Jacobi eventually served as president. Judy died nine years ago.
Nasielski said he takes pleasure from the fact that while he moved to the Jewish state, Adolf Hitler, who wanted him dead, is in the ground. It’s a turn of events that no one could have imagined at his liberation 73 years ago.
“You have got to have hope. If you lose hope, you lose everything.”