Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Remembering Betty during Int'l Holocaust Remembrance Day


January 31, 2020

Betty is a very ordinary American name. The Betty I am writing about was born more than 92 years ago in the small scenic town of Ruskova, nestled in the Carpathian mountains in the Southeast corner of Romania. Ruskova was for the most part a peaceful town where Jews and their gentile neighbors got along very well.

Betty’s father worked for the railroad in the next town down the road, where the railway station was located. Life was pretty uneventful for Betty and her family in her early childhood days.

Then beginning in 1940, Betty and her family were confronted with the Nazi invasion and occupation of her country. After the occupation of her town by the German army in early 1944, and aided by their Hungarian allies and Romanian sympathizers, the round-up of Jews and the confiscation of Jewish property began.

Betty was only 16 years old when her family was torn apart and deported to the death and slave labor camps of Auschwitz in Poland. An older sister who had gone to Budapest to work as a house servant for a gentile family escaped capture; and one of her brothers survived the war by fighting in the Romanian underground against the Nazi occupation.

Unfortunately, her parents and two younger brothers along with a younger sister were murdered at Auschwitz. The only reason Betty survived was because she was strong and “qualified” as a slave laborer.

After being liberated in 1945 Betty made it to America in 1947 at the age of 19. Despite her horrendous childhood, and the great tragedy that had befallen her family, she refused to be captured by a victimhood mentality or overcome by the tragic loss of her parents and three of her siblings. She was thankful to be in America and the opportunity it afforded her to rebuild her life.

She quickly fell in love with America; and in the ensuing years, her love of country has only grown and transformed her into a great patriot.

In 1949 she married her beloved Harry; and in the following years they had two daughters. She worked alongside her husband as they struggled to build a life together and to start a small business. She was devoted to bringing the remnants of her family together and became the matriarch of a revitalized family made up of Holocaust survivors and their new American born offspring. She has five grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and one on the way.

Whatever unspoken dark feelings and thoughts she had or continues to harbor from the Holocaust did not deter her from devotion to her family, Judaism, and her great love of America. At 92 years old she still lives independently in Yonkers, New York, which has been her home for nearly half a century.

Betty, whose Jewish name is Blema, adopted her name to become more American. She has spent her life as a patriotic American, devoted to Jewish and American causes, observant in her Judaism, and dedicated to Holocaust remembrance, as a vehicle for making America and the world a better and more tolerant place where all peoples can live in peace.

Last year, the mayor and City Council of Yonkers, in commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in its proclamation and at a ceremony at City Hall, honored Betty for being the oldest Holocaust survivor residing in Yonkers and for her citizenship and devotion to her family and community.

Betty may have adopted an ordinary American name, but the life she has lived and how she has lived it made her into an extraordinary American woman.

In you wish to comment or respond you can reach me at melpearlman322@gmail.com. Please do so in a rational, thoughtful, respectful and civil manner. Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year!

This article first appeared in the Feb. 22, 2019 issue of Heritage in honor of Holocaust remembrance.

Mel Pearlman holds B.S. & M.S. degrees in physics as well as a J.D. degree and initially came to Florida in 1966 to work on the Gemini and Apollo space programs. He has practiced law in Central Florida since 1972. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; was a charter board member, first Vice President and pro-bono legal counsel of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as holding many other community leadership positions.


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