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Dear Betty, You Will Always Be with Us

Time:2023/2/28 19:22:25        

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During lunch time on February 23, I was discussing with my colleagues about plans for our tour exhibition in Hong Kong, a collaboration project between the museum and the Hong Kong Kadoorie family. We were hoping to invite Betty to the exhibition, considering she had a memorable acquittance in Hong Kong with the Kadoories on her way to Australia from Shanghai. However, we were not sure if a long international flight from Florida, where she lived, to Hong Kong was bearable for Betty since she was over 90 years old. We tried to look at all suitable options.

At 4:58 pm in the afternoon, I received a message from Sonia in Germany. When I saw this message, all of a sudden, I was shocked and lost.

Just recently, we sent new year greeting emails to Betty and her family, who still kept Chinese New Year traditions. As usual, Betty replied promptly, wishing us all the best. From 2013 when I met Betty for the first time, to 2020 when she sent us a congratulating video for the newly inaugurated expanded museum, I always felt that even with her old age, Betty was a bright, kind, graceful and passionate lady, healthy and optimistic. I never thought she would leave us like this. When I stared at the message from Sonja, so many chapters from the past came to my mind.

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Betty and her daughter at her former home at No.51 Zhoushan Road

In November 2013, Betty and her daughters returned to Shanghai and visited the museum. It was during the visit that Betty told us she still had her wedding dress when she was married in Shanghai. Her two daughters wore the same wedding dress when they got married in the U.S. It was her family heirloom with profound meanings. When my colleagues and I learned about this, we could not help proposing a donation. However, Betty seemed reluctant, saying that she couldn’t decide on her own, since it was also her daughters’ wedding dress. She needed to discuss with them.

The next day we arranged a press conference for Betty at the museum, a full house of excited journalists. Betty announced that after discussing with her children, she decided to donate her wedding dress to the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. Soon after, we received a large box from the US— a neatly folded wedding dress of Betty and her daughters’. All the staff members of the museum were overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.

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Betty sharing her experience at our tour exhibition in New York

In April 2019, we launched tour exhibitions again in the United States. Betty, accompanied by her daughter, flew from Florida to New York to attend the opening ceremony and exhibition at the Brooklyn Library. She gave a wonderful speech, and was interviewed by the New York Times. Betty was arranged to the event under the support of Mr. Ren Meixing of SMGUS. Unfortunately, I only got to meet with Betty at the at the opening ceremony but did not have much time for more chatting. Little did I know that was our last meeting.

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Betty, first one on the leftRen Meixing, first one on the right

At the end of 2020, when the expansion project of the museum was completed and ready for reopening, Betty sent us a video for congratulating. She said, "Every time I come to the museum, it always feels like home”. This video is now part of the exhibition ending, watched by guests from all around the world.

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Betty Congratulating us

In April and May 2022, I exchanged many emails with Betty when reading her memoir, asking lots of questions, and she always gave me prompt replies. When I asked if some of the stories in her memoir could be added to our exhibition, Betty told me to feel free to use them. Many times, Betty expressed her deep affection for the Chinese people. In her email to me on May 23, 2022, she said, “by a stroke of good fortune we had landed in Shanghai and made the best of a new life, helped by the friendliness of the Chinese population around us.”

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Betty’s Memoirs

As we are telling the history of Jewish refugees in Shanghai, inevitably we have always been informed of the unfortunate messages of those Jewish refugees we care about. Every time, we feel heartbroken and helpless.

It is comforting though, that Betty's family, while sending us the sad news, also expressed their willingness to stay in touch with the museum and to donate more artifacts. We were hoping that when Betty and those who share her experience in her generation leave us, they will be remembered by their children and all of us. Let us be friends to each other for long time to come, and together remember the history of the Chinese and Jewish people in distress. May peace be maintained and no more tragedy.

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Sonja said to me in her message, Betty has left us, but her beloved wedding will stay. Dear Betty, we will always miss you.

Chen Jian

Director of the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum

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