War Victim Wants to Find Her Friends
Her name was Betty Straus. Nazi boots marched into her small village of sHeerenberg, Holland, when she was 13 years old.
At first, the occupation troops weren’t too bad, weren’t too brutal.
The oppression was something that increased by degrees.
But for Betty and her family, the degrees came more frequently than for most of her schoolmates and neighbors. The Strauses were Jews.
There were special rules for them. They had to be in by 8 o’clock at night. If they had bikes, the Nazis took them. They took their copper, silver and gold.
These were the first steps.
Then, all those of Jewish descent in the community were forced to wear the Star of David badges on their chests at all times. That made it easier for the occupation forces to pick them out for special treatment.
Gradually, they took stores and homes and businesses away from the Jewish families. Betty’s father’s store was among the first to go.
Next, it wasn’t just possessions that they swallowed up. It was people. They’d pick them up and lead them away to slave labor camps and concentration camps. There again, it was done by degrees. The men between 18 and 35 went first.
On Feb. 11, 1943, the word was spread that the Germans were going to take away all the remaining Jews, the youngsters like Betty and her brother and sister, the old ones like her parents.
So that night Betty’s father wrapped his three remaining children (one, who had been a major in the Dutch Army, was already in a concentration camp) in their warmest clothes and led them into the forest. He supplied them food and a note to a friend in another village who might hide them.
Betty’s father insisted on staying behind. He had been a leader in the small community. “I can still help some of the others,” he said. Betty’s mother stayed, too. She wouldn’t leave her husband.
A short time later, both died in concentration camps.
Betty and her brother and sister moved from place to place, wherever they found fellow countrymen willing to risk their lives by hiding them.
Once, the two girls were separated from their brother. But a short time later, they joined him in a farmer’s barn, just three miles from the German border. It was to be their home for the next year and a half.
The girls were moved there by the underground. They arrived just a few days after an American Air Force navigator named Albert Stern, whom the underground saved after he was shot down, was moved out.
Betty’s brother talked about Stern, the American from Pittsburgh. She had studied English in school and said how much she would have liked to have met an American. Then, in the spring of 1944, she got her chance.
One night, a U.S. bomber crash-landed in a meadow near the barn. Most of the crew had bailed out, but two -- Merle Spinnet, the pilot, and Carl Glassman, a navigator -- stayed with the ship.
They were moved in with Betty and her brother and sister. Betty, in her halting English, was the first, in fact, to inform the two confused airmen that they were in Holland, not Germany, and were in friendly hands.
In the five days that the men shared the hide-out, Betty learned a lot about them, and about America. Spinnet, tall, blond and 21, wanted to become a dentist. She remembers that. Glassman, short, thin and 23, was from the Bronx. They taught her to sing the Army Air Corps song.
On the fifth night, the airmen were secreted out by underground forces and taken to the southern part of Holland. It wasn’t too long after that that Betty was liberated.
Letter, Food, Gifts
After the war Betty’s brother got a letter from Stern, reporting that he eventually was captured and later freed by advancing Allied forces. Betty and her brother also got a big package of food and gifts from Spinnet and Glassman.
After the ’52 floods in Holland, they heard again from Stern. He sent a telegram asking if they needed anything. They thanked him and replied that they didn’t.
Then they lost track of each other. Betty married another Hollander, Rudi Cohen. Three years ago, she and her husband came to this country.
They live in Los Angeles now. He works as an electrician.
She called me yesterday and asked me if I might help her locate Stern or Spinnet or Glassman. She thought it would be nice to meet them again and relive some of the few pleasant moments she spent as a fugitive from Hitler’s hate.