Editor's Note: Margaret Simon of the Shaker Library contributed this article.
Betty Gold, a docent at the and Holocaust survivor, captivated a audience Tuesday with a discussion about her family's survival during the Nazi invasion of Trochenbrod, Poland from 1939 to 1942.
The diminutive octogenarian, looking twenty years younger than her age, spoke of her family’s struggles and related that at the end of the war, there were only 33 people left alive from her village of 5,000 people.
In a soft voice, Gold told how as a 10-year-old she was sent out at night to forage for food. She would leave her family’s bunker to scrounge for food, digging up cabbages and carrots from peoples’ gardens, or rummaging through trash cans to find an apple or piece of bread, which she could bring back to share. After a time, she said, they worried less about being shot and more about starving to death.
Dirty and infested with lice, the family prevailed in spite of their panic about being discovered. A helpful Christian friend would visit them to alert them of what was happening outside their hiding place. Gold described this man as a “righteous Christian” and related that there is a statue in Jerusalem dedicated to the righteous Christians who helped the Jews.
Throughout her ordeal, Gold watched a mother suffocate her crying baby daughter to save them from being discovered by the Nazis. Quietly, Gold related that the woman decided that she had to sacrifice her daughter to save her two sons, who were later shot and killed by the Nazis. Surviving in the forest, and then in a swamp, the family was discovered by Russians who then sent them to work camps.
“It was alright, they didn’t kill us,” was a phrase she used throughout her talk. Her story is horrific, but she tells it with grace, courage, and hope. Gold and her family arrived in Cleveland, where she started junior high school not knowing a word of English. She graduated, married, had three sons, got a teaching degree and taught preschool before going into the retail business where she had a successful career.
According to Gold, her mission now is to tell her tale of survival amid the horrors so that it can never happen again. In 1942, Trochenbrod vanished, but it lives on in Gold's heart. The Nazis may have destroyed the town, but according to Gold, they could not destroy its spirit or its memories in its few surviving residents.
Following her talk, Gold signed copies of the book, The Heavens Are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod by Avrom Bendavid-Val, which details the story of the town’s growth from a row of houses to a bustling marketplace to its ultimate disintegration by the Nazis.
Betty Gold’s talk was sponsored by the Friends of the Shaker Library. To arrange for Betty Gold to speak to your group, contact the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage at 216-593-0575.