WWII vet to speak at Key West High School
Carl Arfa was 21 years old when he discovered the true meaning of evil.
Shortly after the “Fighting 69th” infantry captured the German town of Leipzig in April, 1945, Arfa and his patrol came across a barb wire fence with a sign that read, “Work will set you free.”
“I thought they were lepers,” Arfa recalled some 70 years later of the emaciated figures that approached from the other side of the fence. “They were in horrible shape. All of my men just kept saying the same thing. ‘Hey sergeant, how can one person do this to another person?’”
The Liepzig-Thekla concentration camp was just one of an estimated 20,000 camps set-up by the Nazis to provide labor for the war effort. The camps were also the scenes of the most horrific war atrocities ever documented as the Nazis went about exterminating 6 million Jews.
On Friday, May 22, Arfa will serve as a guest speaker at Key West High School as he shares his experience with a new generation of Americans. His life is full of choices that afford him the right to be an outspoken critic of politics (“our president is full of crap”) and education (“they teach bull****”).
“It’s happening again. First it was Nazism and now it just has a different name. ISIS is here. The radical Muslims are here. We are in the middle of a war and we do not know it,” Arfa says.
The son of Jewish immigrants, Arfa was raised in upstate New York in a generation taught to appreciate the liberties and freedoms provided by the United States. He tried in vain to convince his father to allow him to enlist in the US Army on December 7, 1941 and finally got his wish a year later once he completed high school. A bazooka gunner, he survived the Battle of the Bulge by liberating a coat from a dead American tank driver and eating meat cooked in a pot fashioned out of a helmet.
He earned his bronze star when he brazenly stood up and fired a bazooka at an enemy machine gun nest in the top of a bell tower in the German town of Blankenheim.
He finished out the war policing the civilian population in Berlin, and at 22 years old, went home to New York State where he joined his father’s painting business. Like many other vets, he picked up the threads of his life and “soldiered” on alongside the rest of America’s “greatest generation.”
“We went back to work and took care of our families,” Arfa said. “We raised children and joined clubs. We became normal working people who cared about others.”
Arfa recalls the year the family business hired its first African-American worker: 1951. He said the other employees went on strike.
“My dad said, ‘They will come back when they get hungry.’ A week later they went back to work.”
Over the years his feelings about the German people has changed from the young man who wondered (along with the rest of his fellow soldiers) how one human being could be so cruel to another. He’s visited Germany on more than. First when his wife received experimental cancer therapy, and then when he sought non-invasive treatment for a problem with his back.
These days, former Sgt. Carl Arfa tours schools with his message.
“We were not heroes,” Arfa says. “We became heroes after the fact. Heroes do not become heroes because they think they are heroes. Heroes become heroes because they stupidly do something that was a success.”
WWII Veteran Carl Arfa (father of Dr. Bruce Boros) freed concentration camps and is one of the few men alive who fought in the war. Arfa was an Army Infantrymen and Jewish. He has been traveling to different high schools across South Florida for five years sharing his story of the war and the atrocities he witnessed in the holocaust camps and coming to Key West High School May 22.