Love in a time of Holocaust
Israel Arbeiter spent five years in the hands of Germans. Survived the typhus and played dead to avoid being executed. In the Nazi camps, lost his family – but found the woman of his life
Within the cold logic of the Nazis, who tattooed numbers on their prisoners, he was A18651. She was A14016. It was a concentration camp – Starachowice, Poland – that Israel Arbeiter, 81, and Anna Balter, 80, started a love story that lasts until today. Both Jews and Poles, they met in 1940 while doing forced labor for the Germans. After contracting typhoid and survive the execution of prisoners, Arbeiter was hidden in the lodge where his family was. Just do not die of hunger because Anna clandestinely sent him small pieces of bread.
In 1942, Arbeiter was separated from his family and taken to Auschwitz and Anna, also in Poland. In 1944 he was transferred to another concentration camp in Germany. The following year, on the eve of the defeat of the Nazis, survived one of the “death marches” of Hitler, in which prisoners were forced to walk for days without rest or food. He fled, hid in the woods and was found by Allied troops. Also in 1945, Arbeiter went in search of Anna. He stole a motorcycle, crossed Germany to the refugee camp where she was and asked her to marry. Today, at age 81, he is proud to say that she is his “doll” – using one of the few words he knows in Portuguese.
Retired Merchant, Arbeiter is president and founder of the American Association of Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston. He and Anna live in the United States since 1949, where they had three sons and three grandchildren. And still show the tattoos on the arms with the numbers. ”Do not we get because we never forget what happened,” said Arbeiter, who strives to pass on to future generations the worst memories of his life. ”Ten, 20 years, there will be no survivors alive. We can not let history die with us. ”
History – What was your life before the war?
Israel Arbeiter - I was born on April 25, 1925, in a middle class family in the city of Plock, Poland. My father was a tailor. My mother was a stay-at-home and took care of me and my four brothers. It was still a child when I started hearing bad things in the streets, anti-Semitic manifestations, insults …But I did not care. Suddenly, when the war broke out, we were forbidden to leave the country and city. To walk the streets became dangerous. My father did not want to abandon everything and move to an unknown place, at the risk of being killed on the road. He said he had to stay calm and continue our close friends, community. Until one day in the middle of the night, the Germans invaded our house.
From there, what happened?
It was winter, in February 1940. I was 14. I woke up with the Germans at home, warning that we had five minutes to get what we wanted and go to the street. We were taken to a ghetto in another part of town, where were all the Jews of Plock. It was a place full of poor households. I saw my parents, uncles and our friends lost everything, including hope, until a freight train led everyone to the labor camp in Starachowice, in eastern Poland. There I started working as a helper of the German soldiers.Every day at 7 am, shined boots they left out of the housing. Then I cleaned and carrying firewood.Also weeded and made repairs. I hated it. It was a middle class kid and hated working for the executioners of my people. But she had no choice if I did not, died. The food I received for the work was a bit of bread and soup. Crumbs that were barely sufficient for my support.
What did you do when not working?
At the end of the day, he returned to bed and stayed with my family. All lived with fear. It was in Starachowice, even in 1940, I met a girl named Anna, born in 1926 in the Polish city of Lodz. She was a helper in the kitchen of the housing German and cleaner. While she cleaned and I was fixing things, has emerged an important link between us.
You were about to die?
After a while, I became a slave in the ammunition factory. It was very humiliating, because those bullets were serving to advance a cause which he defended the death of my people. He worked so much, I was sick several times. When I contracted typhus, had to go to a separate housing in quarantine. There, if a room was crowded, the Nazis killed all patients. One day, my filled. We were 68 people. The soldiers came at night and shot. 67 killed. No shots hit me, but I threw myself on the floor as if he had died. When other Jews sent to collect the bodies, asked for help to them. The group’s leader was a Jewish policeman, Captain Abraham Wilczek. These men, who had the role of police in the camp were sometimes sweet, sometimes they were barbarians. I do not know what to expect. The captain said he would not betray me, but sent me back to the accommodation of typhus.With the small voice that I had left, I said, “God saved me once. Do not think it will save me again.The Germans will kill me next time. “ He promised to help me, but said that at that moment I would have to be with other patients not to contaminate the healthy workers.
And he kept his promise?
Yes, I was cured and he took me out of the housing. But I have not had the strength to work, so could not receive food. Increasingly weak, I was hiding in my family housing. It was then that Anna Balter saved me. She started to smuggle food, through the fence around my room, she delivered bread to my brothers, who took him for me. Thanks to Anna I recovered and went back to work. At that time, was a victory to stay alive. And everything was so sad that I did not believe that the situation could worsen as much from one day to another.
But much worse …
Yes, the worst moment was in 1942 when the Nazis decided that the so-called “final solution to the Jewish question” was the mass murder. That’s when they decided to separate my family. Me and my older brother, Mack, for being strong and fit for slave labor, we are. On October 26th, the Germans took my parents, my uncles and my younger brothers to the concentration camp at Treblinka. They killed everyone with a cyanide gas chamber. I was separated from my brother and sent to Auschwitz.
What was Auschwitz?
Look, if I’m talking about ten o’clock, you still will have no idea what it was that concentration camp.The logic of this institution is entirely different from anything existing in the real world. It is like a factory or a bank instead of lending money or produce things that improve the world, only to produce corpses. Deaths repeated on an industrial scale, whose survivors can only be explained by the need for slaves to keeping the Nazi apparatus. The facilities included five gas chambers worked nonstop for 24 hours, seven days a week. Prisoners also died from hunger and exhaustion or were cremated alive.
When did you realize that your life could change?
I kept making ammunition for another two years until the plant began to be disabled. The invasion of Poland by the Russians in late 1944, marked the beginning of the end of my suffering. The Germans wanted to hide the marks in any way what they were doing to my people. They shut the factory and moved the Jews to Germany by rail transport of cattle. I went to a camp in the town of Tailfingen.There he worked in a hangar doing aircraft maintenance. When the camp was bombed by the Americans in 1945, the Germans ordered all Jews although, once again trying to cover up the massacre. We were taken to the so-called “death march” on the road towards Austria.
How was the course?
German soldiers ordered us to walk to the South Tyrol, Austria. Those who survived would have to work as a slave in a salt mine. Three days and three nights without water, without food, without stopping. Those who fell were dropped by the wayside. And suddenly there came a platoon and the Allied attack on German escort fled. My friends and I ran into the bush. We were in the Black Forest.We stood there for a few more days until the Allied troops came and saved us. The French gave me food, water and shelter. I asked what was the date and one of the soldiers said: April 25, 1945. My 20th birthday!
And five days later, on April 30, Hitler committed suicide …
Well, luck had changed sides. And I would still improve a lot in the days following. The allied army sent me to a war refugee camp in southern Germany, near Stuttgart. There was the vast majority of Jews. When we had a list of people who were in other fields, my brother has not appeared. And I did not know the full name of Anna. Just had the number the Nazis tattooed on his arm, A14016, and the first name. Turned out she was in Bergen-Belsen, near Hanover. There were more than 1000 km away from Stuttgart. I decided to confiscate a motorcycle from a German who was passing by the field. In two days of travel, I arrived at Bergen-Belsen. It was May 1945. I went there to say, “Thanks for saving my life.” I needed to tell her that that food passing through the grid every night he had kept me alive during the worst moments.
Were you in love?
I do not know if it was passion or just gratitude. When found, the call for a ride. It was in May, spring is already beginning to blossom, and northern Germany is very beautiful at this time. Anna said she wanted to go with me, but I had a little problem: in her room there was only one pair of shoes, which she and four girls took turns with each other. As the day was not Anna use them, she could not go.I’ve never been easy to give up, I called the girl who was entitled to the precious shoes and gave him a buck to switch days with Anna. Said and done. Riding bikes and went to a shoe store where he bought a pair. A few days later, I convinced Anna to stay in the field where I was, where living conditions were much better. My brother also had been brought there. On August 26, 1946, I asked Anna’s hand in marriage and she accepted.
When you decided to emigrate?
All I wanted was to leave Germany. In 1949, I was able to come to the United States with guaranteed employment and a place to live because I had an aunt who lived in Boston. Like many Brazilians do today and the first English settlers did in 1630, came here to try a new life.
In the beginning, life was difficult in the United States?
After what I went through, nothing seemed difficult. I started working at a shirt factory, earning about $ 140 per month. It was a lot of money. And I, who had worked as slaves for the German murderers, loved to receive for my work. Soon after I decided to open my own business with my brother, a tailor shop called The Brothers Arbeiter. In 1995, I sold the store today and take a life together with my savings. But it is beautiful enough to buy shoes for Anna and visit Israel from time to time, a country that I love and I want to see thrive.
(source)Maximilian and Adriana Bernardo Weaver : Aventuras na Historia Magazine