Survivor STORY

Betty Grossman Goodfriend, of Dunwoody, died July 28, 2008. Betty was born in Vilkija, Lithuania, in 1927. She was the seventh of nine children of Bella and Mordechai Grossman. When she was a baby, her family moved to Klaipeda. When the Germans took over Lithuania in 1941, Betty was sent to a ghetto in Slabodka, a suburb of Kaunas, also known as the Kovno Ghetto. Betty managed to survive by being assigned to work in a German hospital laundry, where the work was hard but the food was more plentiful. While there, she found a way to smuggle the guns brought in by the wounded to Partisan fighters in the nearby forests. (Years later, she met a man in Israel who thanked her for having smuggled the gun he used to escape.)

In June 1944, she was sent to the Stuthoff Concentration Camp. By 1945, the Nazis, fleeing the advancing Allied Forces, marched those left alive from the camp to Germany. During one of the stops along this death march, 17-year-old Betty made a decision that would save her life. Spotting the lights of a nearby village, she and a handful of others from the camp slipped away during the night. She was able to survive the last few days of the war by falling in with the advancing Russian army where she worked as a nurse.

When the war ended in 1945, she found herself in Berlin where she met and married Isaac Goodfriend. It was one of the first Jewish weddings in Berlin after the war. In Isaac, Betty saw patience, personality, intelligence, and most importantly, "kindness in heart," and Isaac respected Betty's intellect and orthodox Jewish upbringing, enjoyed her humor and admired her beauty. From Berlin, Betty and Isaac moved to Paris, where their oldest son, Mark, was born. They then moved back to Berlin for the post-war opportunities, and it was there that Isaac's career as a cantor began.

Getting to America was always their goal. Finding that it was easier at the time to get into Canada than the United States, they sailed to Halifax in 1951. The couple eventually ended up in Montreal where Isaac was accepted as cantor of Shaare Zion Congregation. There, Betty got immediately involved in the thriving Jewish community, becoming a force in the Mizrachi movement, in Yiddish groups, and as raconteuse par excellence in retelling the stories of Sholem Aleichem. In 1953, she gave birth to her second son, Enoch. A few years later, Isaac accepted a position at the Community Temple in Cleveland, Ohio. There Betty became active in Holocaust survivors' organizations, and served as president of the women's division of the Jewish National Fund Torah Fund, and chairperson of the JNF Women's League. In 1959, Perry was born.

In 1965, Isaac and Betty moved to Atlanta to accept a position at the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, then the largest congregation in the Southeast. Betty continued her community work, including her ever-present personal involvement in every educational institution in the Jewish community. She is survived by her husband, Isaac Goodfriend of Dunwoody, and her children, Mark and Suzanne Goodfriend of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Enoch and Kim Goodfriend of Dunwoody, Perry Goodfriend and Kristi Eckerson Goodfriend of Marietta, and her grandchildren, Erica Gosline of Houston, TX, Rachel McDaniel of Greensboro, NC, Avi and Miriam Goodfriend of Dunwoody, and her great-grandchildren, Sylvia Goodfriend, Elijah Goodfriend-Papa and Carly Gosline.

Judaism and Jewishness

And I want to tell this story. Most of the survivors were between the age of 16 and 25. Somebody over 30 was already the older people, and some were 40 even, but most of us were between that age group. The older ones couldn’t really survive. The young ones probably, most of us who survived, still had some kind of strength that youth gives to the person to be able to withstand such horror and terrible times and hunger and all that.

And so the, in Feldafing [a Displaced Persons Camp], of course we had theater place, we had a library already, a Jewish Library, we had a local paper every so often, they brought in some Jewish movies, we organized, they organized a Yiddish theater and put on some shows for the people. There were 3000 survivors there, from all over Europe. And so we became active in these groups. And Isaac was learning how to become a watchmaker. And every time he took apart a watch, he had a few pieces profit left over. We always laugh about it. He never could put back together again. Anyway, he gave up that job and of course, he sang in the choir there, they had a choir there and he was always with his music.

And anyway, it was before Rosh Hashanah and one, there was a baker, a German baker. And he gave the, he said he will give one day the ovens to the survivors who want to bake challah [braided bread] for yontiff [the holiday], because we tried to explain, anyway, who had money to buy? But we went, we got, we used to get rations, what was sent in from America. So we got some flour and yeast and my husband and I said, “We are going to make challah.” We were married a little bit more than a year at that point. And so I said, he said, “Do you know how?” I said, “No, but I remember Mother, olevhasholem [may she rest in peace], used to put this in and this in.” And he said, “And my mother put in this and this.” And so the two of us took all these articles, what we think we needed, and we put it with the flour, and we started to mix. Somehow it become a dough, it became like pieces. But we mixed it anyway, and we took the big bowl with the flour and all the yeast and the water, whatever we put in there and we went up to the baker. And there was a lady who survived with her daughter, so she was married already before the war. So she knew something. So I walked around and I looked at everybody else, and I saw that her daughter’s bowl had the dough the way it should look. So I said to her, “Could you please help me? I don't think that I made the dough properly. I don't know if I can make challah from that.” And she came over and took a look and she started to cry. And then she said, “Dear God! Kinder! [ Children!] Don't know anything, how to go on with life.” And she took some hot water and she started to knead the dough. And we got a terrific challah, but we didn't know how to do it. And this is one of the sad parts: the readjustment to Jewish life. There was nobody to help us and tell us which is right and which is wrong, and what to do and how to do it. Mostly how to do it. What to do we remembered, but we didn't know how. And there was nobody to ask.

And then we had, one day, and then I went over to the sisterhood vice president in programming and I said to her, “You know, it’s hard for me to do anything in English. Can I help with some kind of a program in the sisterhood in Yiddish? I know that we have old people who came here before the war who spoke Yiddish and still speak Yiddish I’m sure.” She said, “Wait, Betty, I have something for you. Once a month the senior citizens, or twice a month, the senior citizens get together for lunch and we have a program. She said, “I’ll talk to the chair lady from that program.” I said, “Okay, if I’ll be able to do something, just to talk to them in Yiddish, at least I’ll feel like I’m needed.” You know. At that point my son was going, no he was not in kindergarten yet, was not in kindergarten, but Isaac was watching him, used to, you know, I needed time to get out.

Jewish Community

So I went, she took me downstairs and she introduced me and she said to me, “You’re on your own.” I understood that much. And I came in and I said – I was in my early twenties at that point – I said [Yiddish]. And the people just jumped up and started, they heard Yiddish and the jumped up and they were so inquisitive. [Yiddish] Do you know this shtetl [village], do you know that shtetl, and what happened to this. So I said to them, “I will tell you everything. Just how much time do I have?” “[Yiddish] Talk as you much as you want.” And I started to talk to them, a little bit about the background, not much about the concentration camps, and I told them what happened to Eastern Europe. They should forget it; there is no more.

And I said to them, “I’ll tell you a meise [story] from Chelm.” Chelm was the city of the fools. So I told them the funny story, and they were in seventh heaven. Afterwards, they were so excited and they came all around me and they went to the chair lady. The chair lady told the vice president, she told me afterwards, “I don’t know what she did to them, but the people were not so excited in a long time.” After that I did it for a long time. I would go down, I would read to them Sholem Aleichem, I would tell them Yiddish jokes. I would tell them life in the shtetl – how we lived, what we learned, answer their questions, and I became close with them. Even though they could’ve been my grandmother, they would come and tell me their tsouris [problems], to live with a daughter-in-law, to live in with a son-in-law. You know, in those days you didn’t throw in your grandparents or your parents into an old home, you kept them in the house. And it added a lot for me, because it was the first time that I was actually surrounded by older Jewish people. For years I didn’t see older Jewish people! Think about it! It was a treasure for me! It was wonderful, and I would listen to them and I learned from their wisdom.

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Betty Grossman Goodfriend