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Israel Arbeiter: Ready to Return to the United States

After 8 days that took him from Warsaw, Poland to his native city of Plock in Poland, to Krakow and finally into Germany, where he gained his freedom in 1945, Izzy is tired.

At 87 years old he has the right to be.

After seeing his parents and brother shipped off and murdered at Treblinka, his friends and other relatives also killed in the concentration camps, he has said his final goodbyes to the places and the difficult times that shaped who he is today.

Izzy has walked the grounds at Auschwitz-Birkenau, his home in 1944, where the Nazis killed 1.1 million of the 1.3 who came through their three separate camps there (at Auschwitz).

He walked in darkness beside the memorials at the Treblinka death camp and said a prayer for his family members murdered there.

He has met with school kids from two nations to talk to them about his experiences as a Jew living through the Holocaust and the price he paid for his religious beliefs.

He has reconnected with the daughter of a German family that sacrificed their own lives to throw bread to Izzy and the other slave laborers in his group as they passed down the family’s street on a daily basis to work in a local quarry.

He has visited with old friends, both Polish and German.

If there is one final lasting memory for all of us on this trip it occurred just last night. It’s the photo that accompanies this blog. It’s a snap shot taken last evening of Izzy and another man also in his mid 80’s. His name is Walter Fischer. Walter was a German World War II army veteran.

Walter’s hometown happens to be the same German village that housed a concentration camp in which Izzy spent his last days behind a wire fence before becoming a free man again after almost six years of torture and mind-numbing experiences.

Walter and Izzy sat next to each other during dinner. Their discussion was both quiet and personal, but also animated at times. It was not accusatory in any way, but there were also not a lot of smiles, back slapping and toasts to the past.

There is forgiveness in Izzy Arbeiter, but to forget is impossible. Walter said he was not a Nazi in WWII, just a soldier doing his job. He also said he never knew about the concentration camps, especially the one in his own village. Izzy has heard that reaction many times.

One young German in his early 30’s, when asked on this trip about Germany’s role in WWII and the Holocaust said loudly “It’s over”-meaning the war and that era should be put behind all of us. Should it be forgotten? Is it time to move on? Is it really over?

I can tell you for Auschwitz survivor Israel Arbeiter it’s not that simple and the answer is no. The lessons of that time have to be talked about and preserved. If not for him, then for the six million who cannot be heard any longer. Those voices silenced in the cruelest way possible just because of who they were and what they believed in. Izzy speaks for them. He must carry on. If you have ever visited Auschwitz or Treblinka then you will understand why.

Thank you for following this blog the past week and we hope you have enjoyed tracking Israel Arbeiter’s travels. If you would like to help us in our efforts to fully-fund this important documentary film project, you can donate via: www.wwiifoundation.org. Thanks Izzy for allowing us to be a part of this incredible experience.

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