I was particularly honored when my invitation to Israel "Izzy" Arbeiter for lunch last week was accepted. I first met Mr. Arbeiter during a press conference held last month with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and others to address an act of vandalism by a Malden youth who hurled a rock through one of the glass panes of the New England Holocaust Memorial. I was disheartened by the act and stated that the Malden community would do all that it could to fight back against all forms of hatred. That day, I had the privilege of meeting Israel, a 92 year old Auschwitz survivor and co-founder of the Holocaust Memorial, and someone who had taught me so much in the short time I have known him.
Israel was born in Poland in 1925, the third of five brothers. In February of 1940, when he was 15, Israel, his parents and three brothers were sent by the Germans to a slave labor camp in Central Poland to a town called Starachowice. His parents and seven year old brother were sent to the gas chambers at the Treblinka death camp, along with 900,000 Jews while he and his two older brothers stayed on at the slave labor camp. One night at the camp, a Gestapo chief ordered everyone quarantined with Typhus to be shot to death, which is what they did to people who were sick. Out of the 87 occupants in the quarantine barrack, only Israel survived because he jumped out a back window and escaped. The camp guards pronounced Israel dead and removed his name from the register of prisoners. Too sick to work, his brothers covered for him but didn't have enough food to feed him.
Fourteen year old Chanka (Anna) Balter, who would later become Israel's wife, lost her whole family to the death camps and was working in the Gestapo camp kitchen. Through a hole in the barbed wire fence, Israel's brother asked her for food for his sick brother and she stole it from the kitchen and snuck it through the fence. When the Starachowice slave labor camp closed in July of 1944, all prisoners were sent to Auschwitz where they were tattooed and told "the only way out of here is through the chimneys" which was a reference to the crematoriums. Israel, his brothers, Anna, and the other prisoners were taken from Auschwitz in the middle of the night in late 1944 and sent to various slave labor camps. Sometimes they were on foot for many weeks.
Shortly after the liberation by the Allied Soldiers in April of 1945, Israel located only one of his brothers and wanted to find Anna so he could thank her for sneaking him food and saving his life. He found her living in a tiny room with four other girls. He was 20 and she was 19. They married soon after and had their first child in Germany before receiving permission to immigrate to the U.S. They settled in Newton where Israel ran a tailor shop until he retired in 1995. For 40 years he served as the President of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Boston.
To say I am honored to have met this man, never mind having enjoyed lunch with him, is an understatement. Police Chief Kevin Molis and Superintendent John Oteri also joined us to collaborate on how we can better educate our students about the importance of the Holocaust Memorial in Boston which serves to remind us to never forget the atrocities the Jewish people suffered during World War II. It is my great hope to have Mr. Arbeiter back in Malden soon to speak to all our high school students about his horrific experiences during the Holocaust so that our youth will develop an understanding of the unspeakable suffering of millions of people and will appreciate the true significance of the Memorial.
Mayor Gary Christenson