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Betty Lauer: Survivor


The phrase "Holocaust survivor" signifies the worst of human experience: the most harrowing, frightening, intense struggle for life. Even by that standard, Betty Lauer's story is extreme. She was born to German Jewish parents in 1926. In 1938, she, her mother Ilona, and her sister Eva were expelled from Germany, and forced across the border into Poland. The following year, the Nazis occupied Poland. Betty and her family spent the ensuing six years masquerading as Polish Catholics, assuming a new language, culture, and religion. This passage describes some of the difficulties they faced. 




"First, we had to find someone to give us fabricated birth certificates," she recalls. "Then, under false names, we applied for IDs, which were hard to get because the Nazis were very strict. And also we didn't have the money to pay for them. We were not native to the part of the country we were in, so we didn't know anyone or have any contacts."   


Even their dark hair was a threat. Ilona and Berta dyed their hair blond, to match their assumed identities. (Eva refused.) Obtaining peroxide was a constant challenge; the Nazis didn't want Jews masquerading as Aryans. 


Throughout her exile, Berta suffered from what was later diagnosed as a stress-induced pre-ulcerous condition: "I walked around in pain. The one thing that you could not show was weakness. You had to be strong. But the pain -- I was in constant pain."


The Weissbergers did have one big advantage: they were female. "If you were male, you didn't have a chance," she says. "I saw the Nazis pull people into doorways and order them to pull down their pants. If they were circumcised, they were taken away immediately."  


The family was forced to move repeatedly. Each time, they had to establish false identities, find a place to live, and find work. "The tension was continuous -- on the street, in our home. The Nazis had supreme power, and there were collaborators in Poland." She adds that there were also Poles who were helpful to the Jews, to the point of risking their own lives. 

Eva was lost in the fall of 1942. "I last saw her a day or two before her birthday, which was September 12th," she says, her smile fading, her voice cracking. "She wanted to go out. My mother discouraged her, but she wanted to go. I never saw her again. We don't know what happened to her." The search didn't officially end until a few years ago, when the International Red Cross closed Eva's file. 

Read the rest of the story in my book, including Lauer's account of the Warsaw Uprising, her visit to Auschwitz just after the war, and her new life in the United States. 
I highly recommend her own book, Hiding in Plain Sight. I tried as best I could to express her story, but there is so much to her experience that it takes an entire book to tell the whole story. And it takes reading that book to get a full sense of it. The book is available through various online retailers, including Amazon and Powells. 
Read a transcript from our interview in which Lauer talks about her life since World War II and how her wartime experience has affected her.  

Contact me by e-mail at john (at) johnswalters (dot) com.