Longtime Garden City South resident Annabelle Ganz Bettelheim, a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the United States after experiencing firsthand the founding of the state of Israel, died May 6, according to her family.
Bettelheim succumbed to complications from lymphoma, dying in the brick home with white shutters where she’d lived out a postwar American dream for six decades. She was 88.
A former librarian, avid gardener and news junkie, her war experience early in life formed the basis for the theme by which she lived, said her son, Adriel Bettelheim, 53, a journalist from Maryland.
“You never give up, because if you don’t give up, all the good things in life are still possible,” his mother liked to say.
She was born in 1928 in Romania. The Nazis swept up her family in a roundup of Jews in 1943, sending them to the Auschwitz concentration camp, according to her son.
But when a guard discovered that Annabelle, then 15, and her sister spoke and read German, the Nazis moved them to a slave-labor detail at a nearby electronics factory, Adriel Bettelheim said.
As Russian troops neared Auschwitz in 1944, the Nazis forced the sisters to participate in a march to Germany. The siblings were among prisoners American soldiers liberated weeks before Annabelle’s 16th birthday, her son said.
After living in Italy and meeting her future husband, Frederick Bettelheim, the couple took a cargo ship to British-occupied Palestine and, in 1948, experienced the founding of Israel, Adriel Bettelheim said.
The son said his mother participated in the fledgling nation’s defense by helping distribute clothing and stocking air raid shelters, before his parents moved to the United States in 1950.
Annabelle Bettelheim took philosophy and art classes at then-Adelphi College before becoming a stay-at-home mother, raising her son with her husband, a longtime Adelphi chemistry professor. The two divorced in 1987 and he died in 2004, according to the family.
Carol Schlegelmilch, a neighbor of Bettelheim’s for four decades who drove her to some chemotherapy treatments as she battled cancer, said her friend enjoyed chatting about politics and was frank about her war experience.
“She just told me the Nazis kept her alive because she could translate. That’s how she described it to me,” said Schlegelmilch, 67.
The neighbor described Bettelheim as an opinionated, bright and witty woman who would open up once she trusted someone.
“Because of her life experience, it made her who she was. She was a survivor, a woman of principle,” Schlegelmilch said.
Besides her son, Bettelheim is survived by daughter-in-law Jennifer Gavin of Olney, Maryland, and her sister, Tsipora Schneider, of Toronto. The family held a graveside service at New Montefiore Cemetery in West Babylon.