Icek Brzezowski was born on July 14, 1928, in Sochaczew, a town located 50 km from Warsaw, Poland. He had three sisters: Bracha, Esther and Brine. Icek's father was a shoemaker and his mother cooked for the farmers and villagers who came to trade at the market. Icek attended an Orthodox Jewish school in the evening and he went to a secular school during the day. Antisemitism grew, economic boycotts were common, and Jews were beaten. For protection, Icek joined the Betar Zionist organization, and he and his friends went out only in groups.
Icek was almost eleven years old in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Persecution of the Jews began immediately; properties were confiscated, and Jews were ordered to register with the authorities. In January 1941, Icek and his family, together with the other Jews of the town, were forced to leave their homes and move to the Sochaeczew ghetto.
A few weeks later, in February 1941, an order was issued by the Germans that Sochaczew should become judenrein (free of Jews). All of the Jews were deported to the Warsaw ghetto, including Icek, his sisters Bracha, Esther, Brine, and his parents. The Warsaw ghetto, sealed from the rest of the city by a high wall, was severely overcrowded, lacked food, medicine and heat. Thousands died of starvation and disease. In order to feed their families, Icek and other young children often risked their lives to smuggle food into the ghetto.
Icek and his family struggled to survive in the Warsaw ghetto. His father died of starvation. Icek helped smuggle his sister Esther from the ghetto, but she was caught and beaten to death in his presence by Polish collaborators. Returning to the ghetto for his mother and his sister Brine, he found the Nazis were everywhere. No one could get in or out of the ghetto.
Icek somehow escaped from the ghetto and returned to Sochaczew where he was taken in by a Roman Catholic priest who gave Icek a new, non-Jewish identity. Later, Icek was arrested by the Nazis and sent to various forced labor camps. In May 1945, the Russians entered Teplice-Sanov and seventeen year old Icek, weighing 65 pounds, was liberated. Icek never found out what became of his mother or his sister Brine. Bracha and her husband escaped the ghetto and joined the partisans. After the war she settled in Israel where she still lives today.
At war's end, Icek was temporarily quartered in a Displaced Persons camp but ultimately arrived in Belgium by hitching a ride on a bus commandeered by the Jewish Brigade. From Belgium, he made his way in 1946 to the USA, where he found his aunt in Brooklyn. Later, he relocated to Los Angeles to join a cousin. At this time he changed his name to Eddie Ilan.
Eddie Ilan continues to make his home in Los Angeles where he is a Museum Guide at the Museum of Tolerance.