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Prisoner A18651: Israel Arbeiter

“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

Kris Williams, part-time ghost hunter and genealogist, shares her thoughts on the Titanic voyage.

The Titanic: Last Port of Call

One of the best parts about my job is how often I come in contact with historic locations. Most of these places I never dreamed I’d be fortunate enough to see outside the pages of a history book. Twice, in the last five years, I have had the opportunity to work with artifacts and locations that were directly linked to the Titanic. My first experience with this infamous ship came when I was brought in to work with artifacts that were recovered from the wreck. These pieces, collected from the ocean floor, were believed to be haunted by those who died in the disaster. I will be the first to say that I nerded out a bit over the opportunity. My second encounter with the Titanic came when I was sent to a little seaport town called Cove for work.

In November of 2010, I had found myself in southern Ireland boarding a small fishing boat. We were headed out to work for the night on an island just off the coast of Cove. Once aboard, I noticed this old, rotting pier that jetted out into the water in front of a yellow, weather-beaten building. This building displayed a sign that read, “Titanic Bar Restaurant” and sat adjacent to our pier. After asking one of the locals with us, I learned that Cove, once known as Queenstown, was the last port of call for the Titanic.

On April 11, 1912, 123 passengers used that old, rotting pier to board the Titanic before it headed out for its ill-fated, maiden voyage. Three days later, just before midnight on April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Within a few hours, in the early morning of April 15, this enormous ship sank, taking with it 1,517 out of the 2,228 lives on board. Out of the 123 passengers who boarded in Cove, only 44 would survive.

A century later, the Titanic is still considered one of the greatest maritime disasters in history. We all know about the disaster and the number of people who died, but who were the men, women and children that made up those figures? With help from the new Titanic Collection on Ancestry.com, we are now able to get a better look at who these passengers and crewmembers were. Through this collection of scanned original passenger lists, crew records, fatality reports and coroner’s records the passengers become more then just a number. Becoming aware of the passengers personal details makes this event less about cold statistics. It makes us turn our attention to what made the Titanic such a historic tragedy; the large loss of life.

I will never forget the sadness I felt while looking at that timeworn pier in Cove. I could imagine the people waiting, excited to board the enormous luxury liner that was believed to be unsinkable. The whole town must have turned out; thrilled to welcome this massive history making ship to their seaport. I also found it difficult to shake the eerie feeling I got as we set out on our little boat. For some, on April 11, 1912, this same colorful seaport skyline would be the last town they’d set their feet and eyes on.

By Kris Williams
Twitter: @KrisWilliams81

1940 Census Confirms Family Legend

Throughout my life my mother reminded me what a very bright child I was when I was very young. One story she told was that at 18 months old, I would go shopping for her every day to purchase a bottle of milk. It consisted of walking down a flight of stairs in the apartment building on Ten Eyck Walk in Brooklyn, and going around the building to a grocery store. After her death, I visited the area in Brooklyn. It is a large complex of apartment buildings known as Williamsburg Housing. Walking around the area, I concluded the only address that fit my mother’s story was 151 Ten Eyck Walk. It had a convenience store attached to it, and from a second story apartment it would be possible for my mother to follow me as I walked around the building. 

The 1940 census was released Monday and by the evening, Ancestry.com had New York State on its website. I went to the enumeration district that included Williamsburg Housing and there was the Mokotoff family—address 151 Ten Eyck Walk. Furthermore, judging from the position in the list of families, it was likely that we lived on the second floor. 

Gary Mokotoff
Avotaynu.com

Kris Williams Discusses the Importance of the 1940 U.S. Census

Kris Williams: The Importance of the 1940 U.S. Census

We should all be aware of what took place in our country leading up to the 1940 census and what followed shortly after. Our country had experienced many ups and downs in just a short span of time. From the prosperity of the roaring 20’s till its end in 1929 with the crash of the stock market; resulting in The Great Depression. To the rise of organized crime in 1920 due to prohibition; till it’s end in 1933 with the 21st Amendment. Following end of prohibition, there was the Golden Age of Hollywood that made “stars” out of gangsters. Radio was the main source of news and entertainment, like today’s Internet. The airwaves were dominated by popular radio shows, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller and The Andrews Sisters.

In Europe, the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler were tearing countries and families apart. The United States tried to remain distant from the war in Europe. However, it became unavoidable with the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in 1941. While the Great Depression taught people to make due and save, WWII sent our young men off to war and changed women’s roles in society forever.

I have always found the 1930’s -1940’s to be one of the most fascinating times in our history. There was so much life altering change, in such a short amount of time, it touched everyone. How were all of these events affecting the everyday American? More importantly, how did they affect your family?

The 1940 census is the first census to be released in the last 10 years. What is different about this census is the amount of information that is included in it. For starters, it shows who in the family filled it out, people living in the household and those who were not home when it was taken. Other details it covers are-the highest level of education completed, employment, income, and where they resided 5 years before in 1935. Along with the standard information, sampling techniques were added to the 1940 census. 1 in 20 people were asked to answer 14 additional questions, which included literacy, income and fertility. So much information was included that 72 years ago when it was put out, there were moves by organizations and senators to have it boycotted completely.

The most fascinating part to me about the 1940 census is that many who were included in it, are still alive today. My grandparents were in their late teens or early twenties when it was taken; for you it may have been your parents who were. Getting a better understanding of the time period that shaped them, will give us a better understanding of how its directly affected the people we are today. The 1940 census can not only tell us about the state our country was in as a whole, but it is also a glimpse at what life was like for our parents or grandparents.