Samuel Arbiser was born on September 19, 1919 in Warsaw, Poland, the first child born to parents Pola and Jacob. This picture shows Sam (the middle child) with his mother, cousin (on far left), and brother Nathan. Following the family trade of foundry work and machine building, Sam attended a technical high school in the city. He excelled in the machine shop, even receiving a grade of ‘5’ from a teacher who had previously never given out a grade that high before. He graduated from high school in 1939, just a few months before the invasion of the German army.
Sam Flees Poland
Warsaw quickly became a dangerous place to live for the Jewish people after the Germans invaded. One month into the occupation, Sam made up his mind and fled to the Russian-occupied side of Poland. After spending some time in the town of Bialystok, he and his brother Nathan signed up for work at a machine shop in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. However, when the Germans broke their Nonaggression Pact with the Soviets in 1941, the government mobilized for war. Sam and his brother Nathan worked in the building battalions in Kemerovo, which was dangerous work. His boss, after hearing his education credentials, reassigned him and his brother to manage the library, where he worked for the rest of the war. While there, he also attended a college-level machine-building institute.
Life Continues in Israel
After the end of the war in Europe, Sam left Kemerovo and traveled back to his hometown of Warsaw. He discovered that his entire family that had remained in the city during the war had perished at the death camp of Treblinka. Every building related to Sam’s childhood was gone. For the next four years Sam lived in the city of Wroclaw, Poland and worked as a schoolteacher. Sam, Nathan, and Nathan’s wife Frieda eventually decided to move to Israel. They arrived at the Israeli port of Haifa in January 1950. Sam soon found a job at the Vulcan factory and foundry, working his way up to the position of head of the machine building department. As a man living in Israel, he also was a member of the army reserves.
Pola Arbiser, née Bienstock, was born on September 23, 1928 in Drohobycz, Poland (current day Ukraine) to parents Sara and Israel. Drohobycz was a small town; on the eve of World War II its population was around 35,000. The family was relatively well-off due to Pola’s father’s luxury fur business. They often used their privilege to help feed and clothe the less fortunate living in the town. Franciszka Sobkowa, or Frania, was the family’s caretaker. She was hired by the Bienstocks when Pola’s older brother Ludwik was just an infant. She became an integral part of the family, loving the children more than anything.
Drohobcyz During Wartime
At the start of the war, Drohobycz fell briefly into German hands. The Germans allowed the population to “take care” of the Jewish members of the population, resulting in hundreds of deaths. The Russians soon took over control of the city due to the Nonaggression Pact. However, this did not end the problems plaguing the Bienstocks. Russian secret policemen lived in their house, Pola’s father’s business was confiscated, and the family was forced to leave their house and belongings.The German army retook the town in June of 1941 after they broke their treaty with the Russians. Once again, they let the town’s citizens loose on the Jewish population. The Bienstocks returned to their hometown after the German takeover.
Death and Violence in Drohobycz
For the next two years, the family braved and survived through countless pogroms, Aktionen, and other organized killings that took place regularly in the town. Many members of Pola’s extended family were killed due to these events. In addition, in 1939, Pola’s older brother Ludwik died of pneumonia. Even her mother was shot in the chest by a German soldier but fortunately, she survived.
Frania Hides the Bienstocks
The Germans established a ghetto in Drohobycz in October 1942. One day after the move there Frania came and asked Pola’s mother to give her the children to hide. One by one over the next few months, Pola’s sister Irene, Pola’s mother Sara, and lastly, Pola herself made the trek to Frania’s apartment, where she lived alone. Pola’s father Israel had to stay behind due to a chronic cough. For the next two years, the three lived in Frania’s apartment, spending the day speaking in whispers and writing while Frania worked across the street at the Gestapo office.
Playing cards (1943) by NiemanfaberWilliam Breman Jewish Heritage Museum
These are a set of playing cards that the Bienstock family used when they were in hiding in Frania's apartment. Frania took the cards from the Gestapo officer's home where she worked.
The Russian army liberated Drohobycz in 1945 and the Bienstocks emerged from hiding. They were unable to speak above a whisper due to the years of near silence. Only around 400 Jews emerged from hiding. Altogether, German soldiers killed or sent away at least 9,500 Jews from the town proper and the surrounding villages. After discovering that their town would become part of Ukraine, the Bienstocks and Frania decided to leave their town since they wanted to stay in Poland. Pola documented their journey in the journal pictured here. While on the journey, her father met up with them. He had miraculously survived numerous concentration and labor camps until Americans liberated the camp of Flossenberg. The family continued to travel together and decided to settle in Legnica, Poland, where they stayed for the next two years.
Finding Success in Israel
In 1948, Pola’s family decided to move to Israel. Frania, although she had accompanied the family this far, did not want to leave Poland and thus did not go along on the family’s move. The Bienstocks eventually arrived in Israel at the port of Haifa after a six-week boat voyage. They lived in a refugee camp until they were able to rent out an apartment in Tel Aviv. Irene joined the Israeli military. Pola began attending the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, majoring in Medical Science with an emphasis on Microbiology and Biochemistry. She graduated in 1957 with a master’s degree in Bacteriology.
Life Together in Israel
Sam and Pola met through a mutual friend on the streets of Tel Aviv. They dated for around one year, then decided to get married in 1954. For several years, the couple lived separately, as Pola was finishing up her studies in Jerusalem and, at the beginning of their married life, Sam still worked at Vulcan in Haifa. Soon, Sam switched his workplace, now working for Hamat on the outskirts of Tel Aviv as a chief engineer. After Pola graduated, the couple lived together in Tel Aviv. Pola worked as a bacteriologist at a hospital, then later a researcher at a research institute.
First Page of Pola Bienstock's Research Thesis (December 1955) by A.L. Olitzki and Pola BienstockWilliam Breman Jewish Heritage Museum
Moving to the United States
One day, Sam was at an exhibition and conference in Germany, where an American company invited him to Chicago to work for them. Sam accepted the invitation and decided right then that he and Pola would move to the United States. Pola was heartbroken; she loved her friends, her job, and the country that she had lived in for over 10 years. However, she went along with her husband’s plan. The couple landed in New York City in December 1960. Sam headed towards Chicago, while Pola went with Sam's cousin's wife to Atlanta. Pola loved Atlanta and convinced her husband to leave Chicago and find a job in Atlanta instead. Sam found work at the Meadows Manufacturing Company. Pola worked in a lab at Emory University, where she later also received her Ph.D. The couple began to adjust to the American way of life.
Sam's Dream Becomes a Reality
It was always Sam’s dream to own his own machine shop. In 1964 that wish came true when he founded the Arbiser Machine Building Company. It was a huge risk; the family, with the new addition of their son Jack, only had $600 to their name when Sam quit his job at Meadows. The company received a lot of aid from the owner of the Patillo Construction Company, from whom Sam was renting his company’s first space. Already a well-known business figure in the city, Mr. Patillo helped the new company with making connections and financial aid in the form of reduced rates. His company also constructed Arbiser’s new building, which was located in the Atlanta suburb of Tucker. As word about the company spread throughout the city, the Arbiser name became associated with quality. Sam also offered jobs at his company to newly arrived immigrants. Although Sam stepped down and sold the company in the late 1990s, the company still survives today with the original name.
Frania and Pola Reunite
During the summer of 1976, Frania visited the United States, visiting both Irene and her family in New Jersey and Pola’s family in Atlanta. Although Pola and Irene had both stayed in constant contact with her and supported her financially, the sisters and Frania had not seen each other in almost 30 years. Frania was worried that Pola would not recognize her, but when they reunited, this was not the case; the two women recognized each other immediately and were overjoyed to see each other again. Pola formally introduced Sam to Frania, after years of him only reading her numerous letters of correspondence. It was very hard for Pola and Frania to separate at the end of her 6-week visit. Frania passed away one year later.
The Next Generations
Pola and Sam had two children: Jack, born in 1962, and Sherry, born in 1964. Jack followed in his mother’s footsteps in the field of science. He attended Emory University for his undergraduate and Harvard University for his medical degree. Sam was briefly upset with this decision because he wanted him to continue the established family tradition of machine building, but he eventually accepted his son’s career path. Jack now works at Emory University as a researcher in the Dermatology Department. He married Zoya Kvitash, with whom he had three children: Ethan, Adam, and Joseph. Sherry also attended Emory University, majoring in psychology. She later received a degree in interior design. She married Lee Bagel and had four children: Jordan, Marlee, Elan, and Zoe.
In 1999, the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum held a ceremony dedicating the theater in the Arbiser name. The Arbisers had been avid supporters of the museum, coming in often to talk to students about their past. At this same ceremony, the Israeli government presented a Yad Vashem certificate that named Frania as a “Righteous Gentile'' for risking her life to save the Bienstocks in her apartment during the war. The plaque still hangs outside the Arbiser Theater today, as a reminder of the selfless act that saved the Bienstocks and allowed for their stories to be told decades in the future.
Sam passed away on January 12, 2014 at the age of 94. Pola passed away the same year on July 20th. She was 85. Although they have passed on, their legacy continues in their children and grandchildren, and their stories of perseverance in the face of hardship remain to inspire us.
This online exhibit was created by Monica Berg, Intern at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum
Pola and Sam Arbiser Family Papers (Mss 314), William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum
"Holocaust in Drohobycz", https://www.drohobycz-boryslaw.org/en/drohobycz-boryslaw-and-vicinity/holocaust-and-survival-2
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945: Volume 2, Part A "Drohobycz"
Pola Arbiser, Give Me The Children: How a Christian Woman Saved a Jewish Family During the Holocaust (2002)
Sam Arbiser, An Unlikely Life (2011)