As the project to create a Holocaust memorial plaza at 16th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway drew to a close, Campus Apartments Chairman Alan Horwitz decided to step up and contribute the $2 million naming gift — both as a proud father and as a devoted son.
“If it was $2 million, it was $5 million, it was $10 million,” Horwitz said. “I was going to make sure that this was taken care of. [Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation Chairman] David [Adelman’s] like my kid, and whatever David ever needed, I’m going to take care of it. … Me being so proud of David, putting all this time — 10 years! — into something. Are you kidding? My God, I did what any parent that loves their child so much would do. You do for your kid. In this case, I’m not only doing for my kid, I’m doing for somebody that was an adopted father to me.”
Adelman is not literally Horwitz’s son, just as Sam Wasserman — the other person whom
the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza’s name pays tribute to — is not literally Horwitz’s father.
But Horwitz stepped into that role in Adelman’s life after his parents got divorced, as Wasserman stepped into that role in Horwitz’s life after Horwitz’s father passed away when he was only 10 years old.
“We went to movies. We went to sports events,” Horwitz said. “I would talk to him about my girl problems. Whatever it is. Typical stuff you talk to your dad about. What David talks to me about all [those] years. I was like his dad. That’s the craziness about it. It’s like history repeats itself.”
Wasserman, who died in 1992, was a Holocaust survivor. He was living in Poland with a wife and two kids when the Nazis invaded. They were deported to concentration camps. Wasserman’s wife and children died, but he escaped and joined the resistance movement and fought as a partisan.
After the war, he was recovering from a gunshot wound at a hospital in Germany when he met the woman he would marry. The two had a daughter named Shelley, who was born in a displaced persons camp. They moved to Israel, then later to Philadelphia, where his sister lived.
Wasserman’s wife became best friends with Horwitz’s mother and, over time, the two families grew close. Shelley was also like a sister to Horwitz, he said. When she had a son named David, Horwitz became like a father to him as well.
The biggest difference between Adelman’s relationship with Horwitz and Horwitz’s relationship with Wasserman, Adelman said, is that he and Horwitz are business partners as well. Adelman is the CEO of Campus Apartments, and he’s been helping out in the business since he was a child. He even invested his Bar Mitzvah money in the company. He started working there right after college.
Adelman was inspired by his grandfather to get involved with the foundation and the plaza. He said the foundation has been wanting to redevelop the site for the last 12 years, but the project really came together in the last two or three. Horwitz got involved toward the end.
“After [Alan realized] he wanted to be involved in this and knew that I was doing this to honor my grandfather, it kind of dawned on him how important my grandfather was to his life,” Adelman said. “He said it wouldn’t feel right just having his name on it. He wanted to share it with a great man.”
Wasserman never spoke about his experience in the Holocaust. It was only in the last years of his life that Adelman’s mother told him about his grandfather’s past. Adelman had always felt that his grandfather had a solemness to him. Finally, the pieces were coming together.
“He was a really kind, gentle, quiet man,” Adelman said.
Since the plaza opened to the public on Oct. 22, Adelman said he’s received inquiries about his grandfather, both because of the plaza’s name and because there’s a plaque at the plaza that shares Wasserman’s story.
“The name of this Memorial Plaza honors these two people: Alan Horwitz, whose generous contribution helped make it possible, and Sam Wasserman, whose story reminds us both to hope for the future and to never forget the past,” the plaque reads.
Adelman said Wasserman would probably be embarrassed by the attention, but Horwitz said Wasserman would be proud.
“He’s so proud of David. Are you kidding?” Horwitz said. “Regardless of the name or the fact that David spent, what, 10 years from day one with this thing because of him, my God, he’d be so proud that he’s carrying on his grandfather’s life and everything that he went through.” l