Israel Arbeiter, Boston Holocaust Memorial Host, Dies at 96

Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter, a Holocaust survivor who became a tireless leader to other survivors and a prominent voice in Holocaust remembrance, here and in Germany and Poland, died on Friday. He was 96 years old.

Arbeiter, a passionate advocate for justice and education for Holocaust survivors, founded a Boston-based Holocaust memorial and organization for local survivors; testified in four trials of German Nazi war criminals; and, until recently, he spoke at schools and other programs throughout Germany.

Arbeiter was widely honored for his efforts. In 2008, the German president awarded Arbeiter the Order of Merit for fostering Jewish-German relations. In 2015, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Presidential Delegation for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Last year, he received the Order of Merit medal from his native Poland, awarded by Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Arbeiter’s son Jack said at his funeral that his father’s recognition in Germany was “one of the prizes he is most proud of.”

“He was never vindictive,” said Jack Arbeiter. “I wanted to build a better future for everyone.”

It was almost 80 years ago that Srulek Arbeiter, then 17 years old and living under Nazi occupation of Poland, was arrested in the liquidation of the Starachowice ghetto, where his family, from Płock, had been confined among other Jews for two years.

His parents and 7-year-old brother were sent to a queue bound for the Treblinka death camp. He and two other brothers were sent to a separate field line of work.

When he risked his life to join his parents in the first lineup, his father stepped in. “Children, come back, and if you survive, remember to carry on with Jewish life and tradition,” Arbeiter later recalled his father saying, bursting into tears as he conjured the words. in a conversation earlier this year.

That was the last time Arbeiter saw his parents and younger brother, who were killed in Treblinka. Arbeiter’s memory of the disturbing events of that day remained a vivid and defining moment in his life.

Arbeiter survived Nazi brutality, typhus and starvation when he was forced through a succession of camps, including Auschwitz, before being liberated by French forces during a death march in southern Germany on April 25. 1945, his twentieth birthday.

In 1949, he and his wife, Chanka Balter, a Jewish woman who had smuggled him bread in one of the concentration camps, arrived in Boston as refugees, with their young daughter in tow. In the United States they Americanized their names to Israel and Anna; Arbeiter built a successful tailoring and dry cleaning business with his brother.

He spent the next seven decades of his life guided by his father’s parting words and strove to lead Jewish life as best he could.

Within months of arriving in Boston, he founded an advocacy organization for Holocaust survivors, now the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston.

The main gate of Auschwitz with the motto ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (credit: PIKREPO)

Arbeiter was uncompromising on behalf of the survivors, current association president Janet Stein Calm said at her funeral on Monday.

Along with the late Stephan Ross, he helped found the New England Holocaust Memorial. As part of his devotion to sharing his experiences with youth, he chaired the annual Israel Arbeiter essay contest for middle and high school students in public and private schools, overseen by the Greater Boston Council on Jewish Community Relations.

“Izzy dedicated her life to retelling and reliving the horrors she witnessed so that thousands of people of all ages could learn from a survivor,” Marc Baker, president and CEO of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, said in a comment. emailed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“Izzy will be remembered as a moral beacon, as a Holocaust survivor who reached out in the name of reconciliation even after all she had suffered. That will be his lasting legacy, ”Nicole Menzenbach, Germany’s consul general in New England, said at the funeral.

Arbeiter understood the power of his first-hand account of the atrocities he experienced. When speaking to students, he would say, “You will remember when you heard it from a former Holocaust survivor: You must never allow this to happen again.”

Arbeiter lived in Newton, Massachusetts, with Anna. She survives him, as do her three children and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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