Why We Remember. Never Forget.

The following message was shared at a recent International Convention by Alan Budman, a FJMC Vice President and former Yellow Candle Co-Chair. 

    The Holocaust - a terrible memory for the world.  How do humans often cope with terrible memories?  In order to feel better, we tend to put unpleasant memories out of our minds.  That’s normal, human nature.  It’s how we can recover from loss.
    But this is a memory that must live on.  In this modern world, with antisemitism running rampant, the memory of what happened to 6 million of our people and millions of others must not be allowed to fade away.
    The eyewitnesses are disappearing before our very eyes.  Even a victim who was a 5 year old during the war is in his/her 70's now; the adults of that time, in their 90's.  Soon, those who experienced this terrible moment in time will all be gone.  They will join the ranks of the musicians who didn’t survive to write that wonderful symphony, or the artists who aren’t here to produce that beautiful work of art, or the physicians who didn’t live long enough to find the cure for cancer, or the teachers who were denied the chance to mold the minds of the future.
    We remain - it is up to us to keep those memories alive; to produce the music, the art, the scientific achievements, to teach future generations what the world lost; not just European Jewry of that time, but the good that those murdered and the children they never had, would have brought to all humanity.
Of course, even in moments of terrible despair, there is hope and redemption.  One such story features, improbably, a motorcycle, the one Izzy Arbeiter got on, fell off and got on again.
    It was October 26, 1942. The SS came to the town where Izzy lived and ordered everybody out. The young, who could work, were separated. The very young and the elderly were put on the other side of the marketplace.  That meant he and two of his older brothers were on one side, his parents and his 7-year-old brother on the other.  Izzy sneaked over to his parents, but his father told him to go back.  “He said ‘go back over there and try to save yourselves. And make sure that you carry on the Jewish life and the Jewish traditions.’ ”
    His father, mother and brother were taken to Treblinka death camp, where they were among the estimated 900,000 Jews murdered.  Izzy and his 2 other brothers were put to work as slave labor in the Nazi war machine. Izzy and one brother would survive; the other was never accounted for.  He was put to work in a munitions plant, making shells. There were two 12-hour shifts, and very little food. That’s where Anna, a young lady, comes in. Anna remembers the time in the camp where she worked in a kitchen, when she learned that Izzy was sick and she snuck food to him at great personal risk, saving his life.
    It was an insane time. It was a time when the depraved had free rein. Izzy remembers the commandant of the camp who wore a submachine gun around his neck and sometimes invited friends to the camp to watch him shoot prisoners. And Izzy remembers too well the time he and other prisoners were run out of their barracks and shot down as they ran. “I was the only one of 87 people who lived,” he says. “I see it in front of me every day.”
    In the autumn of 1944, he was sent to Auschwitz, where one of his jobs was to haul the waste from the latrines in a wagon. He strung a wire inside the wagon and hung smuggled food from it. “I knew the guards wouldn’t look there.”  At Auschwitz too, he stayed alive because he could work. But others got off the trains and were sent straight to their deaths. The sounds of children screaming for their mothers and fathers stay with him still.
    His captivity ended in southern Germany, where he and others were being marched to a place where they thought they would be left to starve to death. But Russian troops were close and the German guards ran. “For a week, I was numb. After 5½ years, living in sick, horrible conditions — the filth, the beatings, the dead…” Izzy broke down. “I cried, I was screaming ‘who am I?’ ”
    He walked out into the early days of postwar Europe with no idea what he would do, where he would go. An American major helped him. He got him a shower, clothes, and, most important, papers that would get him through military checkpoints.
    Then he found the motorcycle. He spotted it in a garage in a village. It had a full tank of gas, so he figured it belonged to a German. And the German wouldn’t miss it. “I borrowed it,” says Izzy. “I had never ridden a motorcycle before. I fell off, but I got back on and fell off and got back on, again and again.”
    Rumors were rampant. The postwar grapevine was filled with information about lost people looking for other lost people. Izzy learned that Anna Ballter, the girl who had gotten food to him in the labor camp, was still at Bergen Belsen, the concentration camp in northern Germany that had been liberated by British forces – he felt compelled to search for her.
    “I found her barracks. I walked in and said to her, ‘Would you like to go for a ride with me on my motorcycle?’  Anna was living with four other girls. They had only one pair of shoes and a different woman got to wear them each day. “Today is not my day,” Anna told Izzy. Izzy bribed the girl with the shoes.  Anna was warned, don’t go with this man, the other girls told her. He is a gigolo, a real Casanova. They were married in 1946. “That was 66 year ago,” says Izzy. “She’s still around.”
What can you do to keep Izzy’s story and countless others from disappearing into the dustbin of history? It’s easy to think - I’m so busy, I’m pulled in a thousand directions - I can’t take on any more - but you and I know that there’s always room for just a little more.  
    As I light this Yellow Candle, I vow never to forget the stories of Izzy Arbeiter and Anna Balter; and I vow never to forget the lives of the Jewish men, women, and children who were martyred and are symbolized by this flame. They were tortured and brutalized by human beings who acted like beasts; their lives were taken in cruelty. May we be inspired to learn more about our six million brothers and sisters as individuals and as communities, to recall their memory throughout the year, so that they will not suffer a double death. May we recall not only the terror of their deaths, but also the splendor of their lives. May the memory of their lives inspire us to hallow our own lives and to live meaningful Jewish lives so that we may help to insure that part of who they were shall endure always.