Houston’s Survivors

Siegmund “Siegi” Izakson*

Born: July 23, 1922
Breslau, Germany
Died: October 26, 2000

“The first thing that happened to us is that we lost our names. No longer were we individuals. Now we became numbers. Each of us received a number, and we were to remember this number, and eventually, we sewed it on our jackets. Our hair was shaved off, and we were told that we are no longer human beings. We were now subhumans, and as such we will be treated. So it will be up to us to fall in line and accept the situation or, if we object, the end will be death, and they meant it.”

Siegi Izakson was born in Germany but returned with his parents to their native Poland when he was a small child. He grew up speaking German, Hebrew, Polish and the Jewish language of Yiddish. Surrounded by his large extended family, Siegi’s childhood was suffused with a sense of “love and joy and belonging.”

Siegi had just graduated from high school when Poland fell to Germany in September 1939. Drafted into a slave labor battalion, he worked seven days a week and received frequent beatings from his captors. “If I wasn’t moving fast enough, that was enough for them to beat me up.” One night in March 1940, Siegi was awakened by a knock on the door. Without warning, he and several hundred other Jews were loaded onto cattle cars and sent to the camp of Gross Rosen. It would be the first of seven camps Siegi survived, including Auschwitz, where he spent a year and a half “just trying to stay alive.”

The memories of his odyssey haunted him to the end of his life. Mercilessly driven to labor—sometimes making armaments for the German military, sometimes performing meaningless and exhausting tasks such as moving stones—Siegi saw death every day. He struggled to retain his sense of humanity in the face of Nazi degradations, at times reaching out to other inmates even when he could barely muster the strength to go on. In March 1945, Siegi was forced to embark on a march that, for most of its victims, ended in death. Siegi made it to Buchenwald, where he was liberated by the Third Army of General George Patton in April 1945. He met and married Ruth Pluder the following month.

The Izaksons arrived in the United States in 1946 under the auspices of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, settling in Chicago. Siegi worked as a tool and die maker (machinist). He and Ruth raised two sons, Bernard and Jacob. In 1954, the family moved to Houston where Siegi became the owner of an import business and devoted himself to Jewish communal affairs. He served with the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, organized the Houston Council of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, established a speakers bureau of Holocaust survivors and was the inspirational force behind the development of Holocaust Museum Houston. He enjoyed spending time with his family and was particularly proud of his only grandchild, Joshua, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

In May 2000, Siegi received Holocaust Museum Houston’s Guardian of the Human Spirit Award in recognition of his tireless efforts on behalf of the museum. Five months later, on October 26, 2000, he died in the home of his son, Rabbi Jacob Izakson of Spokane, Washington.

Jacob Izakson, d. in Holocaust
Ester Izakson, d. Auschwitz, 1943