“Hitler tried to kill me. I’m still alive. He’s dead”.
Israel Arbeiter, the author of those words, turned 87 within the past week. If you had asked him in 1939 whether he would have lived this long he would have said “unlikely”.
When the Germans marched into his city of Plonsk, Poland 73 years ago Izzy Arbeiter’s life became more complicated. The middle of five boys, Arbeiter, like most Jews in Poland, hoped for the best, but had an uneasy feeling they may be in for the worst.
There were rumors already floating around about deportations and camps where Jews and other “non-desirables” were being taken, but that was just talk on the street. It couldn’t be true. Taken from their homes, their possessions stolen, families torn apart just because of their faith?
Israel Arbeiter’s parents and youngest brother were eventually sent to the death camp at Treblinka, where they were gassed and cremated. Another brother simply disappeared. He may have lived. He may have died. No one knows. Izzy Arbeiter and one other brother survived. They lived because they were young and strong and would make excellent slave-laborers for the Nazi war machine.
Israel Arbeiter’s Holocaust journey took him through various slave-labor camps and eventually to the worst camp of them all, Auschwitz, where over one million died.
Beginning next week, Israel Arbeiter will make his final trip back to Poland from his home in the United States and re-trace his Holocaust footsteps. He will begin in his home city of Plonsk. A place where he saw his parents and younger brother for the final time. He will visit the camp where they were killed and the various slave camps where the Nazi’s did all they could to to break his will and spirit. He will walk through the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau and relive memories that most of us just can’t dream up, even in our worst nightmares. He will reflect on the tattoo that still marks him as a victim and a survivor of Auschwitz: A18651.
Arbeiter will end his journey in Germany, where he found freedom as the war ended in Europe, just as the Nazi’s were planning to kill him and other survivors to keep their crimes against humanity hidden. Germany is also where he met his future bride, another Holocaust survivor.
Also on this trip, Israel Arbeiter will search for religious artifacts hastily buried under the dirt floor of a basement the day the Germans entered Plonsk, Poland. Items his family didn’t want the Nazi’s to find and destroy. He will hold these religious symbols for the first time in 73 years.
He will wipe the decades old dirt from them and see his past. Items that once belonged to his family and now all he has left of their life prior to September 1st, 1939, the day the Nazi’s marched into Poland. Israel Arbeiter is about to embark on a journey that has to be seen to be believed and we would like you to come along.
We hope you will join us here on Ancestry.com’s blog page beginning on April 23rd as the World War II Foundation documents daily, in video and words, Izzy Arbeiter’s journey home as part of a larger documentary film project, Prisoner A18651 which will debut in the fall of 2012.
To learn more about Israel Arbeiter in a short narrative voiced by Hollywood icon Dan Aykroyd, please visit the following link: http://youtu.be/C5ZDmGiJohM
This blog post is courtesy of Tim Gray, who is Chairman of the non-profit WWII Foundation. To learn more about the WWII Foundation and to donate to their projects, which preserve the stories of the World War II generation, please visit www.wwiifoundation.org