Betty Goodfriend, 81, escaped Nazis

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 08/05/08

Betty Goodfriend had no memorabilia of the life she was forced to quit in Lithuania during World War II. But she had memories.

In America, she refused to let go of her past and made sure to pass along the traditions of Eastern European shtetls to her children, grandchildren and friends she met in Atlanta.

Alison Church/Special
Betty Goodfriend (left), chatting with Alona Solomon at a concert, survived war’s horrors and then lived life to the fullest.

She did it through storytelling. She did it through synagogue. Most of all, she did it through Jewish food: matzoh ball soup, brisket, blintzes and tzimmes.

In May, she made a video with her caterer son Enoch Goodfriend for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s “Cooking Jewishly” Web page.

“Do not stir. Or it will become mush,” Mrs. Goodfriend commanded her online audience who might want to try her grandmother’s recipe for tzimmes, a hearty stew with carrots, potatoes, prunes and beef.

She added white sugar, brown sugar and honey to her dish and during a filming break told the videographer that the tzimmes would bring sweetness to the lives of those who ate it.

But when her son asked her on air why she sweetened her stew so much, Mrs. Goodfriend quipped: “If you don’t like it so sweet, don’t put so much sugar or honey in.”

That was the way she was: She said what was in her heart at the moment. She was passionate and opinionated. She didn’t hesitate telling a friend that she would be beautiful if only she’d apply lipstick.

She was a lifelong supporter of Jewish causes and was known as a queen among Holocaust survivors in Atlanta.

Betty Goodfriend, 81, died at St. Joseph’s Hospital on July 28 after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

Burial was last Thursday in a cemetery outside Jerusalem. Family members accompanied her body to Israel.

Mrs. Goodfriend’s inner strength grew from a brutal past.

She was born in Vilkija, Lithuania, in 1927, the seventh of nine siblings. In 1941, after German soldiers marched in, she was sent to a Jewish ghetto in Slabodka, where she managed to stay alive by working in a German hospital laundry. There, she smuggled guns brought in by the wounded to partizan fighters in nearby forests.

Her son Perry Goodfriend of Atlanta said that years later his mother met a man in Israel who thanked her for smuggling a gun he had used to escape the Nazis.

In 1944, Mrs. Goodfriend was sent to Poland’s Stuttof concentration camp. When the Germans began fleeing advancing Allied forces, Mrs. Goodfriend, then only 17, was forced to march to Germany. One night, she hid in a barn and escaped death. She smeared animal fat on her cracked skin so she would not look like the concentration camp survivor that she was.

She met her husband, Isaac Goodfriend, a survivor from Poland, in a displaced persons camp in Berlin. They were one of the first Jewish couples to marry in Germany after the war.

Mr. Goodfriend, 84, who was the cantor at Ahavath Achim Synagogue until his retirement in 1995, said his wife survived the Holocaust because of her determination. “Never give up, never give in,” Mrs. Goodfriend liked to say. She lived by that motto the rest of her life.

Iconic in the local community, Mrs. Goodfriend thought an overlooked tragedy of the Holocaust was that an entire way of Jewish life was in danger of disappearing.

In every spoonful of her rich red borscht was a story of bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother) and zayde (grandfather). Her culinary creations were like family heirlooms, served for all to treasure.

“She never served a cheese sandwich,” said friend Saba Silverman, whose father’s family knew Mrs. Goodfriend in Lithuania by her Yiddish name, Bunya. “It was always a seven-course meal.”

Other survivors include another son, Mark Goodfriend, of Winston-Salem, N.C.; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.