97-year-old Holocaust survivor tells German children about the Holocaust
Betty Baush of Kfar Saba is in Germany on another tour wherein she lectures high-school students about her family’s experiences during the Holocaust in Amsterdam; Germany’s president requested a meeting with her.
Just before Holocaust Memorial Day, 97-year-old survivor Betty Bausch has again packed her suitcase and travelled to tell young Germans of the harm that their nation inflicted decades before they were born. In recent years, this has become her life’s work.
Every time that Bausch finishes describing her family’s travails in the Holocaust and asks for audience questions, the room is filled with a tense silence that eventually becomes an honest, if painful, conversation between a survivor of the inferno and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the those who committed the atrocities.
The purpose of these talks is not to preach morality or to cast blame on those who only know of the Nazi regime from history books. Rather, it is to transfer an optimistic message of hope and faith in humanity, and in applying lessons to today’s world to eradicate the racism and xenophobia that exist today in every society.
In honor of the work that Bausch has done, German President Joachim Gauck invited Bausch to meet him in Berlin on April 29.
Bausch’s story of survival from the days of the war is extraordinary. Thanks to endless resourcefulness, aid in procuring forged documents, and an Aryan appearance, she managed to hide and live under a fake identity, thus avoiding being sent to a concentration camp.
She was born and raised in Amsterdam, where she had a happy childhood. Like most of the Netherlands’s Jews, she did not experience anti-Semitism.
Her parents passed on their religious and Zionist stances to their children. However, they hesitated and didn’t use the permits to immigrate to the Land of Israel that they had before the war. When the Germans invaded the Netherlands, it was too late, and they were sent to the Sobibor extermination camp and killed.
Bausch has been speaking for 20 years in the Netherlands and for the past six in Germany. “I always begin by telling the youths about my time at their age, when I was 16 years old,” she said, “because I think that it interests them, what I did at their age, and not at 97.
“At that time, we only had one radio, which I would always turn on when Hitler was making a speech. He would say, ‘The Jews are the rats of the world and must be destroyed.’ When my family heard that, they would say to me, ‘Betty, turn it off, turn it off; we don’t want to hear it.’ I was the only one told them, ‘We have to hear it; we have to know what that man wants to do with the Jews. If he says it, he’ll do it.’ They would answer me, ‘No, no, it’s just words.’
“This is what I talk about with young people; I tell them that even now they hear it on the soccer field, everything that people say to those of another color; it’s still happening.”
“In Germany especially, young people ask to speak with me after the lecture.”
Bausch, née Polak, had three siblings: Jaap, Juul and Liesje, who were all sent to the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands and from there to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. The firstborn, Jaap, survived and built a family in the USA. Their sister Juul died a week after being liberated from the camp. The youngest sister, Liesje, had the good luck to be included in the group of 220 Jews released from Bergen-Belsen in an exchange that returned Templar women and children from the Land of Israel to Germany.
Liesje and Betty managed to keep in contact during the war via postcards that they would send to each other in fake names. Some of their writings are compiled in their book Broken Silence, which tells of their wartime
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