Remembering Izzy: It’s a family thing… (part three)

Izzy’s grandparents and Elek

“’I might not be able to come back here,’ Izzy says. His voice quivers. He walks off by himself and says Kaddish, the prayer of mourning: ‘. . . blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world. . .’ He walks back down the hill in the deepening gloom.”

“Treblinka was not a large camp. About three dozen SS carried out the killings, accompanied by about 100 Ukrainian guards. The elderly, unaccompanied small children, and infirm, who would slow down the flow of people to the gas chambers, were taken into a building disguised as a hospital with a Red Cross flag flying overheard. They were undressed, shot, and thrown into a burning pit. The healthy were taken to the chambers and gassed. The SS constantly increased the efficiency of this ghastly killing machine. At one point they could kill 3,800 people at a time.” [From the Boston Globe]

Later in the trip, having said Kaddish at Treblinka, when at Auschwitz-Birkenau, another stop on his long journey through the night, Izzy “passes tourists from Israel, Germany, and the United States who have no idea that [Izzy]was once a prisoner. Someone in a boisterous group of high school students from Slovakia overhears Izzy as he points out an old cattle car and tells his companions about the grim selection that took place here. The students, in bright T-shirts and sunglasses, grow silent. [Boston Globe]

Izzy showed a group of students his left arm: “This is my number,’’ Izzy tells them, rolling up the sleeve to reveal the tattoo: A.18651.

Izzy at the German International School in Boston

“’Whoa,’’’ say the students. They listen intently as he tells them the story of the selection, the gas chambers, the crematoria. ‘This was a factory for killing people,’ he says. Izzy tells the students that they can prevent this from happening again. ‘You’re all beautiful,’ he says. ‘Enjoy your life. And go home and tell your parents, your families, what you learned, what you saw here.’’’

“Izzy has returned to Poland and Germany several times, on one occasion, to testify in Nazi war crimes trials. Now, having finally secured permission to enter the building of his condemned home in Plock, he’s come to recover, if possible, the silver candlesticks, a family heirloom passed down through his mother’s family. Izzy remembers his mother lighting them on the Sabbath. This is the home where his father, Icchak, was a tailor and his mother, Hugara, a homemaker, taking care of ‘her basketball team’ of Izzy and his four brothers: Elek, Motek, Aron, and Josek. But, now there, when they have dug four feet into the dirt basement floor, Izzy calls off the excavation. ‘Somebody got to it before us,’ he says.”

Once word got around that Jewish families were hurriedly burying heirlooms and valuables just prior to being deported or shot, Nazi officials routinely had Jewish homes and grounds searched. At any rate, Izzy’s family candlesticks were no longer there, where his father told he and his brothers to put them, just in case someone in the family should survive. But that’s not the end of the story. There’s much more to Izzy’s story than can be told here. He survived further incarceration and a death march from the Dautmergen camp through the Black Forest. Upon liberation, he went to the Bergen-Belsen camp and met his wife of sixty-six years, Chanka: the girl who helped him at Starachowice, now named, “Anna.” As reported in the Boston Globe, they have three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His brothers Aron and Motek also survived. Izzy is president of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston and helped found the Holocaust memorial in Boston. Germany awarded him the Order of Merit in 2008 for fostering German-Jewish understanding and for his efforts on behalf of Holocaust survivors.

On the table in he and Anna’s home in Newton, Massachusetts, stand two antique silver candlesticks. Not the ones he had hoped to find in the cellar of his childhood home in Plock, but a nearly identical set. His relatives had brought them from Poland. His cousin, Rita Stulin, decided he should have her set.

“My intention now is happiness, joy at seeing what we have accomplished from nothing,’’ he says. “We defeated Hitler. He is dead. We have a beautiful family… This was my answer to my father. He told me to survive and to carry on the Jewish way of life. And I did.’’ [Boston Globe]

Next: Our last conversation… establishing a forever connection…