Israel Arbeiter, Boston driver for Holocaust memory, dies at 96.

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Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter, a Holocaust survivor who became an indefatigable leader for other survivors and a prominent voice in Holocaust remembrance, here and across Germany and Poland, died Friday. He was 96. Arbeiter was a passionate advocate for Holocaust survivor justice, Holocaust education, and a Boston-based Holocaust memorial. He testified at four trials against Nazi war criminals and spoke at schools across Germany.

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

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Arbeiter’s son Jack said at his funeral that his father’s recognition from Germany was “one of his proudest awards.”

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

It was nearly 80 years ago when Srulek Arbeiter, then 17 and living under the Nazi occupation of Poland, was rounded up in the liquidation of the Starachowice ghetto, where his family, from Plock, had been confined among other Jews for two years. His parents, and his 7-year old brother, were sent to one line for Treblinka. He was sent with two brothers to a separate labor camp. His father intervened when he tried to risk his life to join the first line of his parents. His father intervened when he was about to risk his life to join his parents in the first lineup.

That was his last encounter with his parents and younger brother who were killed in Treblinka. The haunting events of that fateful day remain a vivid and defining moment of Arbeiter’s life.

Arbeiter survived Nazi brutality, typhus and hunger as 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 20th birthday.

In 1949, he and his wife, Chanka Balter, a Jewish woman who’d sneaked him bread in one of the concentration camps, arrived as refugees in Boston, with their baby daughter in tow. They changed their names to Anna and Israel in the United States. Arbeiter and his brother built a successful tailoring business and dry cleaning company.

He lived the next seven decades following his father’s passing words and tried to continue his Jewish life as best he could. Within months of his arrival in Boston, he established an advocacy group for Holocaust survivors, the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston.

The main gate to Auschwitz with slogan ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (credit: PIKREPO)

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

He was also a founding member of the New England Holocaust Memorial. He was a dedicated person who shared his personal experiences with young people. He presided over the annual Israel Arbeiter Essay contest, which is open to middle and high school students from both public and private schools. It was overseen by The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.

“Izzy devoted his life to retelling the horrors he saw so that thousands of people of every age could learn from a survivor.” Marc Baker, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, stated in a comment emailed the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“Izzy will be remembered as a moral beacon – as a Holocaust survivor who reached out his hand in the name of reconciliation even after all that he had suffered. This will be his lasting legacy,” Nicole Menzenbach (Consul General of Germany to New England), said at the funeral.

Arbeiter understood the power of his firsthand account of the atrocities he lived through. In speaking with students, he would tell them, “You will remember when you heard it from a former Holocaust survivor: Never should you allow this to happen again.”

Arbeiter lived in Newton, Massachusetts, with Anna. He is survived by his three children, their grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

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