Corona man, son of Holocaust survivor, feels anger, responsibility to share story

Because of his father, Yudi Izenman will never drive a Mercedes.

The Corona resident won’t even ride in one if he can help it. He also avoids Bayer aspirin, Henckels-brand knives or anything from Germany because many of his relatives are among those killed or imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps in the 1930s and ‘40s.

His father, Mitchell Izenman, survived being sent to 11 camps in six years. Just as he bore forever the number tattooed on his arm, his son Yudi bears both anger over what was done to his family and responsibility to share the story.

That sense of responsibility is why he will speak publicly for the first time about the experiences of his father at a Kristallnacht commemoration this weekend.

“It’s not just my father, it’s all (the people) who lost a voice that we have to remember,” Izenman said. “By forgetting you will allow it to happen again.”

Kristallnacht, or “crystal night,” was named for the glass broken on a November night in 1938 as Jews in Germany and Austria were attacked and killed or arrested, and their homes, businesses and synagogues destroyed in a widespread pogrom.

“He didn’t have fear,” Yudi Izenman said of his father, Holocaust survivor Mitchell Izenman. “He said, ‘The worst thing they could do to me was kill me,’ so he was never scared.”

Survivors’ Children to Speak

Yudi Izenman will be one of two children of Holocaust survivors who will speak at Congregation Beth Shalom’s commemoration of Kristallnacht on Saturday, congregation President Bobby Spiegel said.

Past events have focused on survivors, but as their numbers diminish, their children assume a more important role in helping people remember what happened, Spiegel said.

The lives of both of Izenman’s parents were altered by the reign of the Nazis.

His mother, Elizabeth, was a teenager in Antwerp, Belgium, during the German occupation. As a Jew, she had to hide much of the time but refused to be completely subdued, Izenman said.

Elizabeth lived out the war largely in hiding with her mother and she helped hide some cousins, but her brother and father were taken away and never returned.

Mitchell Izenman was from Bialystok, Poland. He joined the Polish army in 1936, training horses for the cavalry. In 1939, the Germans attacked.

“His troops went to meet them on horseback with rifles, and the Germans came in tanks,” Yudi Izenman said. “When they were captured, the other soldiers pointed him out as a Jew.”

Buchenwald First Stop

The elder Izenman was sent to Buchenwald, which his son said was one of the Nazis’ earliest established camps. His talent at working with his hands helped him survive — he would work as a carpenter, a plumber, whatever was needed. He even gave shaves and haircuts to a camp commandant, who motivated his barbers by leaving a pistol within easy reach.

But Mitchell Izenman’s best weapons were his courage and wits. He kept on the move, volunteering to go to another camp whenever the chance came because it might improve his chance of survival.

“He didn’t have fear,” Yudi Izenman said. “He said, ‘The worst thing they could do to me was kill me,’ so he was never scared.”

Yudi Izenman said his father escaped the Nazis several times but was always recaptured. When he was liberated by American soldiers on April 15, 1945, he weighed 85 pounds — 100 pounds less than when he first entered the camps.

While recovering after the war in Belgium, Mitchell and Elizabeth met. The couple moved to the U.S. to start over, living in Chicago and later in California.

Yudi Izenman said now that his parents are gone — Mitchell died in 2003 and Elizabeth in 2005 — it has become more important to him to talk about his father’s experience. When he was in school in the 1950s, the Holocaust was not taught or talked about, he said.

Izenman works as a clothing manufacturer and has three children of his own, who at the moment aren’t very interested in their heritage, he said.

Shunning German Products

But now most of the survivors are gone, and the ones who remain were just children during the Holocaust and can’t say much about it, Izenman said.

That spurs him to remember, and part of that remembering is avoiding German products.

His wife, Wendy, said she used to dream of driving a BMW, but she has given up that idea.

“It was instilled in him — anything that came from Germany we cannot have,” she said, because “(the Nazis) took their lives, they took their families’ lives.”

His father never forgave what happened, and “I’ll die with that same bitterness,” Yudi Izenman said.

“Unless you are the one affected directly, most people are willing to just go on with their lives and not care.”

Source: Alicia Robinson, The Press-Enterprise