Auburndale resident shares holocaust story in film
By Jim Morrison
Wicked Local Newton
The last words thatIsrael “Izzy” Arbeiter heard from his father just before he was sent to his death in
Treblinka in 1939 have shaped Arbeiter’s life for 74 years.
“Remember, if you survive, to carry on with Jewish life and Jewish tradition,” Icchack Arbeiter told his
Izzy Arbeiter did survive and he is still carrying on with Jewish tradition. He and his wife, Anna, raised
three children and ran a successful tailoring and dry-cleaning business in Auburndale. When he wasn’t
working, Arbeiter spent his time speaking about the holocaust. At 88, he’s still sharing his experiences
“I have a responsibility not to be silent,” Arbeiter said Saturday at the Newton Free Library. “My
experience taught me to teach others, to speak to prevent atrocities of that nature against any kind of
Arbeiter has told his story at hundreds of schools, synagogues, temples and community groups and says
he has never declined an invitation to speak. He’s testified before Congress and met with more city,
state, and national politicians than he can name.
“We must do everything possible to teach [our children] that we should speak up if we see any injustice.
Get involved. Be active,” Arbeiter told the crowd after screening his documentary “A Promise To My
Father” at the library.
The film chronicles Arbeiter’s life before and during the war, and as he travels back to Poland and
Germany at the age of 87 in search of a pair of hand-carved silver candlesticks he buried in the
basement of his childhood home to hide them from the Nazis.
Arbeiter said he has wonderful memories of Plock, Poland where he lived with his parents and four
brothers. Plock was a town of 30,000, including a Jewish community of 10,000 with roots reaching
back 700 years.
The Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Arbeiter’s oldest brother, Elec, disappeared at the age of 18. The rest
of the family was forced to move into a ghetto.7/24/13 Auburndale resident shares holocaust story in film-
One day, all of the Jews in the ghetto were ordered out into the street to form two lines. One line was for people who were young and able to work. They didn’t know it at the time, but the people in the other line were being sent to Treblinka. Arbeiter and his brothers, Motek, 16, and Aaron, 12, were told to stand in the line of workers.
But Izzy had never been away from his parents before and he was scared. He ran across to stand with his parents, but his father understood what was happening and sent Izzy back. The three middle Arbeiter boys never saw their parents or little brother again.
Arbeiter was forced to work for the Gestapo. When he got a little older, they made him work in a munitions factory making artillery shells. He didn’t want to help the Germans, but if he didn’t do his job or did it poorly, he could be shot for sabotage.
“Whenever I handled a shell, I spoke to it as if it would understand me. I said, ‘When you come out from that cannon, explode there.
Don’t go any further, kill the people around it.’ I gave this message to every shell.”
In 1944, Arbeiter says his group was evacuated to Auschwitz as the Russians entered Poland. Arbeiter said that all of his fellow prisoners had heard about the gas chambers and crematorium there, but not everyone believed it true.
The commandant’s greeting removed all doubt.
“You have arrived. This is not a resort area. The only way out is through the chimneys.”
Arbeiter managed to survive for almost a year in the death camp by being useful. The Nazis tattooed A-18651 on his left forearm and assigned him to a job emptying toilets. The job gave him access to different parts of the camp, allowing him to visit his future wife Anna, who had also been moved there.
As the Russians advanced into Germany from the east, and the Americans, French and British came from the west, the Nazis knew they were about to lose the war and attempted to hide evidence of the concentration camps.
One day, without notice, Arbeiter and other prisoners taken out on what was supposed to be a 254-mile march without food or water toward a salt mine.
“People would eat whatever they could find on the street,” said Arbeiter, “but if they stepped out of formation, they were shot. We were being disposed of anyway, so life didn’t matter.”
Arbeiter and four other prisoners were walking on a highway in the middle of The Black Forest. They could see Nazi soldiers running away from enemy fire and it was clear to them that the Allies were advancing. Then, the camp commandant ordered the prisoners to
“Ahead of us is a village,” the commandant said. “The guards are tired, and we know that you’re probably tired. We’re going to the village to freshen up. I order you to get off the highway to sit down by the wayside and rest up and wait until we get back.”
Arbeiter said he knew the commandant was lying. He knew they were finally free. It was April 25, 1945, Arbeiter’s 20th birthday.
“The minute the guards took off, we took off into The Black Forest and hid overnight.
“In the morning, we heard noise on the highway and one of our group snuck out to see what was going on,” Arbeiter said Saturday.
“He came back looking like Santa Claus with a blanket full of goodies slung over his shoulder from an overturned truck.”
“My favorite was a can of Hershey’s syrup. Oh, I loved it and couldn’t stop eating it.”
Ultimately, Arbeiter and his brothers Motek and Aaron were reunited and moved to the United States. Izzy was president of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston for 40 years.
At the request of the German government, Arbeiter is returning to Germany in September to screen the documentary for students.
“I was made a slave and sentenced to death and the only crime I committed was being born to Jewish parents. This must never, ever happen again,” he told the crowd after the film.
Follow @JimMorrisonTAB on Twitter.