Holocaust Survivor of Trochenbrod, Poland
Betty Gold, 81, is believed to be the last survivor from her village, which was destroyed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. There were only 33 survivors of the 5,000 villagers of the idyllic town of Trochenbrod, Poland after the Nazi massacres. Betty, who was 11 when the Nazis stormed her village, survived by hiding in the forests and swamps for nearly 3 years with almost no contact with the outside world. Because of her tiny size, and because Jewish boys, if caught, could be identified by the Nazis because they were circumcised, Betty risked her life to provide food to the 16 people who hid with her by scavenging for food every few nights, often during cold winters and pitch black conditions. She describes another Holocaust since the tragic death of her sons Michael and Alan. Alan took his life, despite Betty’s many attempts to get help for him. She has a hard time making sense of it, and says her life experiences have given her two personas: an outside happy, social appearance, and a sad, lonely, grief-filled life.
Today Betty is on her way home from a benefit party and concert and stops for a moment as she walks down her hallway home.
Betty Gold, 81, Holocaust survivor.
Betty touches the flowers from the site where Trochenbrod once stood, which are framed on her wall. Several years ago, Betty and descendants from the original 33 surviving villagers of Trochenbrod, Poland, returned to the site where she once lived. The site is now simply a field surrounded by forest. A row of trees marks where the main road used to be. Betty was able to find some landmarks in the ground and locate where her house once stood. She picked flowers there, and framed them. These flowers are one of her most precious possessions. On the wall behind her is a map, outlining where her neighbors lived. “After I retired, I devoted myself to keep the memory of my town and its people alive. It was very important to me. I loved my Trochenbrod. I remembered everyone who lived there. I would go to bed at night and repeat every name in order as the houses were standing so I wouldn’t forget. So I would never forget who lived there. And every night like a prayer, I would repeat the names. 5,000 or whatever, as many as I could.” “Everybody knew everybody. No one envied anyone. Everybody had enough. There were no phones, no gadgets. We never bothered anyone. Why did they have to come and kill us?”
Betty’s calendar is packed with social and speaking engagements.
“My calendar looks like a map. I’m booked all the time. And I have, you know, my private social events, and I entertain, I like to have people over: family, holidays, I play cards once a week and I travel and I try to keep as busy as I can. And I feel like there’s like two personalities. My social personality, the social Betty Gold and the sad one. You know, when I’m home alone and so forth, it hurts a lot and it’s painful to know that you lost two sons. It’s very, very difficult to live with and it doesn’t get easier. The harder it gets the busier I get to try and cope with it.”
“I became an adult at the age of 11 and I had to learn so fast about the world and about crisis and defense and I had to act like a grown-up all my life, and I lost my childhood completely. And I’ve tried to catch up, but in a different way. Make many friends, belong to organizations, I have social groups, and family, and I love people and I love to feed them and entertain, be with them. It’s just that I’m getting old and it’s getting harder and harder. But I’ll continue doing whatever I can until I die.”
Betty speaks to schoolchildren at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. “So what I do now, my passion is I’ve devoted myself to speak out. Especially to students, young people against bigotry, hatred, anti-Semitism, discrimination and everything that’s evil. You know, all atrocities start with hate. We’re not born with hate. We learn it and it can be unlearned. And we must stand up and speak against all evil and that’s what I talk to my students about. And hopefully they will live in a more peaceful world. I speak out so another Holocaust wouldn’t happen. And there are very few of us left. We’re dying out at the rate of 60 a day globally (survivors). So I feel I’m the only one here, you know? That is my job, that is my….I don’t know what to call it. It became like an obsession with me… to talk to as many people as I can. I’ve talked on CNN, I’ve talked on Public Radio, I talk to corporations, I talk to universities and colleges and high schools and middle schools, organizations, whoever will listen to me. And I will continue talking as long as I can. And hopefully it’ll serve a purpose and it’ll, and I may even be able to change some people’s thinking. And I’m very angry because we still have wars. I can’t understand why. I thought that after WW2, the world would become sane. There’d be no more wars. Still, we have them. Why? It aggravates me and I’m trying to fight them in my small way. And let’s hope that some day this world will be a peaceful world to live in.”
Betty, in her kitchen, reflecting on painful experiences. “I don’t feel like I’m different than anybody else. I feel very comfortable in my skin and in my community and where I am and as to what I’m doing. Yeah, I’m comfortable with myself. The only thing is I think it’s the loss of my two sons — it’s like another Holocaust. That destroyed a lot of me. Otherwise I was functioning very well. Anyways, I liked what I accomplished, I liked my friends, I liked my family, I liked everything around me, I really did. Now, it’s kind of sad. Different. But, don’t take me wrong, I don’t act sad or talk about my problems to anyone.”
Betty receives a kiss from friend Ruth Stahler, while attending an afternoon tea and fundraiser for Israeli children. “I’m a people person. I have more friends than I can handle. I don’t talk about the Holocaust socially, I mean if I have an appointment someplace, if I’m scheduled (to speak), I do it. But my other life is a nice social life. And, you know, it’s like I….I cover up a lot of things too. I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or bother them with my stories. I feel what I’m doing is teaching. It’s like a teacher does in a school. I don’t do this privately. I don’t speak to my friends, I don’t speak to my relatives, I don’t speak to my kids. I don’t make anyone uncomfortable about my survival. Although they sometimes, you know, feel for me. But, no, I manage to assimilate, is that the word? very, very well in society. I don’t feel like I’m different than anybody else.”
Betty clings to a picture cube of her three sons. She describes another Holocaust since the recent tragic deaths of her sons Michael and Alan. Michael died of sudden illness, and Alan took his own life, despite Betty’s many attempts to get help for him.
On the deaths of her sons and how they felt about being children of a survivor Betty said, “It makes me very sad to talk about the subject because I lost a 55 year old son 5 years ago. He was very supportive of me when he became older and wanted to know. I lost my youngest son, a year ago October. He was the most supportive one, the youngest. He was a wonderful writer, he helped me with my writing, he helped me with my talks and speeches, he would be there, he would come and listen to me talking, he was very, very supportive. And my middle son is left, he’s alive. And he is the one who really is….it’s difficult for him to be the child of a survivor. I can’t explain it. It’s difficult for him. Because I think he thinks that I expect him to live on my terms, what I think it right and so forth, maybe I expect more of him than I could accomplish on my own in many ways, and it, for him it was the hardest to be a child of a survivor.”
Betty shares a lighthearted moment in the breakroom with Mark Davidson, Manager of School and Family Programs at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.
Betty, in her bathroom, getting ready for her day.
Betty looks out the window and at the phone in her bedroom. Betty is one of the last survivors from her village, which was destroyed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. She describes another Holocaust since the recent tragic deaths of her sons Michael and Alan. Michael died of sudden illness, and Alan took his own life, despite Betty’s many attempts to get help for him. On the telephone answering machine by the window is his goodbye message to her, which she plays from time to time. Betty says that when she sees clouds out her window she “sees my boys like angels trying to talk to me.” There were only 33 survivors of the 5,000 villagers of the idyllic town of Trochenbrod, Poland after the Nazi massacres. Betty, who was 11, survived by hiding in the forests and swamps for nearly 3 years. Because of her tiny size, she was able to provide food to the 16 people who hid with her, by scavenging for food every few nights. She has a hard time making sense of it, and says her life experiences have given her two personas: an outside happy, social appearance, and a sad, lonely, grief-filled life.