Seniority / Nazi concentration camp survivor shares past
Updated 9:01 am, Monday, April 30, 2012
Editor's note: This is one in an occasional series of chats with local seniors about their lives, youthful aspirations, sources of pride and regret, plus a bit of wisdom to share with younger folks.
The saga of Janet Beasley, 76, began when she was born in Berlin and bullied from the age of 5 and tormented as a Jew. She and her mother had to wear the Star of David on their clothes. That symbol of Judaism was glued to the door to the apartment they shared.
During this Seniority interview, Beasley also related that her father, a decorated soldier in the German army, had been killed in action, and she and her mother wound up the Nazi's Terezin concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. As a treat for her eighth birthday, Beasley ate chocolate pudding her mother made with water.
During the interview, she shared how she and her mother escaped the gas chambers because their keepers could not seal the gas-oven doors. She also recounted moving from a refugee camp to New York after liberation from the concentration camp.
In New York, she went to school while her mother worked. When Beasley reached 16, she went to work in a tie factory, making 65 cents an hour. She had some other jobs before making her way to Westport.
Beasley has lived in Westport 33 years and is married to Dr. Albert S. Beasley, a retired pediatrician who practiced in Westport for half a century.
Q: Are you retired?
A: Only from a paying job. I just left Earthplace after almost 26 years of volunteering, which included seven years as a trustee. During those years I also volunteered for several years in pediatrics at the Norwalk Community Health Center and spent a number of years on the board of Friends of Animals. Incidentally, Westport's Top Dog Contest is based on a fundraiser I developed for Friends of Animals.
Q: What did you do when you worked full time?
A: Eventually, I worked as executive secretary/translator for an international industrial chemical company. After that, I worked in the medical field, last as office manager/assistant to an ophthalmologist.
Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?
A: An archeologist.
Q: What was a significant memory or defining moment in your childhood?
A: I was born in Berlin, Germany. When I was going on 6, while playing with children on our street, a neighbor woman came up, pointed her finger at me, spat in my face and said, "Get away from here you Jew witch, you do not belong here." It was the beginning of knowing I was different, of torment from other children and of being afraid.
Q: What are your main hobbies and interests?
A: Wildlife, wolves in particular, teaching children about the natural world, animal rights, reading, opera, swimming, translating. I am working on several German memoirs right now.
Q: Do you have a favorite work of art?
A: Anything ancient Egyptian.
Q: What music do you listen to and what are your favorites?
A: Opera, old German pop songs and operettas, Spanish zarzuelas. There is not just one favorite.
Q: Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
A: Janet Leigh. My German first name was Jutta, and kids used to chase me on the street, yelling "Jutta, Jude, Jew." My first mission in the U.S. was to choose a new first name, and after several trials, I chose Janet Leigh's name. Eventually I resolved the Jutta issue. The name is now on my license plate.
Q: What is your greatest guilty pleasure?
A: Devouring a special brand of marzipan from Germany.
Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: Rude adults.
Q: What achievement of yours are you most proud of?
A: Not having allowed the negatives in my early life to control the rest of my life.
Q: What, if anything, are you greatly concerned about?
A: The rights of women worldwide. The abuse of our planet.
Q: Best piece of advice for the younger generation?
A: Learn as much as you can about other cultures, learn other languages. The global community is getting even smaller.
Q: What brings you your greatest joy?
A: My husband's company.
Q: What are you looking forward to?
Q: If you had a magic wand, what would you wish for?
A: The deactivation of all man-made means of destruction.
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