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.