Over the past decade, Betty Gold told her unique story at places all over Greater Cleveland, including many temples and the Maltz Museum. The last remaining Holocaust survivor living in America from Trochenbrod, a vanished shtetl in what used to be Ukraine but now is Poland, Gold passed away on July 23. She was 83.
Gold and her family immigrated to Cleveland in 1946. She graduated from Cleveland Heights High School, married and became a mother. A docent at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art, Gold spoke extensively to high school and college students about her Holocaust experience. She is featured in the 2013 documentary, “Lost Town,” and this year authored a book, “Beyond Trochenbrod: The Betty Gold Story.” Her story also was briefly told in the 2011 book, “The Heavens are Empty.”
“Beyond Trochenbrod” chronicles Gold’s experiences in Trochenbrod, a Nazi-occupied town that was 99 percent Jewish – until the Nazis murdered nearly all of its 5,000 residents in August and September 1942. It also deals with her post-Trochenbrod years, including her time in Cleveland.
In 2005, Gold interviewed at the Maltz to be a docent and met Martha Sivertson, the executive director at Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood and the former director of volunteers at the museum.
They formed a close friendship, Sivertson said. She added Gold was funny, quirky and committed to recounting her experience. Gold taught her interesting things about Judaism and being Jewish.
“She was dedicated to getting the message out,” Sivertson said. “She was extremely generous with her time and resources.”
Nancy Wilhelm, a former teacher at St. Ignatius High School in Ohio City, met Gold at the Maltz in 2007, striking up a professional relationship that eventually turned into a friendship. They shared many memories and Wilhelm helped convince her to write the book that became “Beyond Trochenbrod.”
“Whenever she told her story about survival, it was never for sympathy,” Wilhelm said. “She let people know that everyone is capable of being good.”
Gold also spoke to Wilhelm’s students and had a profound impact on them, Wilhelm said, noting it was eye-opening for them to hear a Holocaust survivor’s story the first time.
“The message was loud and clear,” Wilhelm said. “If she could overcome evil, certainly they could as well.”
Louise Freilich, director of Face to Face, the Holocaust education program at Shaarey Tikvah, heard Gold many times and said she will be sorely missed. Her remarkable story always kept audiences captivated, she said.
“Betty was just so wonderful and giving,” Freilich said. “I’m really glad, especially for Betty, that the memories can live on.”
Ariana Starkman, 16, an Agnon School alumna and a member of the shul, met Gold while working on her bat mitzvah project, which was to twin herself with Ariana Darm (z”l), a Polish girl about the same age who was murdered by the Nazis before she had a chance to become a bat mitzvah. Gold met with Starkman to help her get a sense of what life in Poland was like for a young girl. She heard many Holocaust speakers before, hers was unique and always stood out to her. Gold told her “to always remember and never to forget,” which always stood out to her.
“We are so saddened to hear about the passing of Betty Gold,” said Starkman’s mother, Debby Rosenthal.