On Thursday, Jan. 25, Windward’s History Department, in partnership with the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and student host Senior Dane Wise, brought 96-year-old Betty Cohen to campus. Betty shared her incredible story of survival as she endured not only an extensive time in hiding, but also years in concentration camps such as Westerbork Transit Camp and Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp in Poland.
Betty spoke to a standing-room only crowd for more than an hour about her harrowing experience.
In 1940, Betty, just 19 at the time, met her future husband, Al. Just eight days later, the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. In 1942, Betty and her family were forced into hiding in Hilversum. In 1944, the family was caught and sent to Westerbork Transit Camp, and then six months later to Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp. When Betty arrived at Auschwitz, her head was shaved and her left forearm was tattooed with the number A-52885252, which she showed the students during her presentation. Betty was the subject of many medical experiments at the hands of the Nazi doctors.
In 1945, liberation finally came. Betty and her husband, Al, eventually made their way to the United States, where she has resided ever since.
Betty has spoken at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust for over four years. Her daughter encouraged her to tell her story because she had not spoken about her experience during the Holocaust. She has graciously shared her story for decades as a way of educating audiences on this terrible historical reality.
Dane first approached Windward’s Division Directors back in August 2017, eager to share the exciting work he had done over the summer as a member of the teen board at the Los Angeles Museum of Holocaust. Through a significant amount of commitment and planning, Dane was able to bring Betty to campus to share her story. Dane’s grandmother was at Auschwitz at the same time as Betty.
“This topic is important to me, and I think that it should be just as important to others as we are the last generation to be able to hear about one of humanity’s darkest moments first hand,” said Dane.
At the conclusion of her talk, Betty, who is just two months shy of her 97th birthday, told students that she was a “big fans of hugs.” Following the talk, which extended more than a half hour after school was dismissed, more than 30 students—many with tears welling up in their eyes—lined up for the chance to introduce themselves to Betty and to receive one of her famous warm hugs.