Strangers answer social media appeal to make a minyan at funeral of 91-year-old Holocaust refugee

Betty Shane died in a fire at her home. Dozens of people attended the funeral at Bushey Old Cemetery


Dozens of people responded a social media appeal to ensure a minyan at the funeral of Holocaust refugee Bertha “Betty” Shane at Bushey Old Jewish Cemetery on Friday.

The 91-year-old died in a fire at her Hampstead maisonette last week and the appeal for mourners was made by the Association for Jewish Refugees, which Ms Shane was closely involved with in her final years.

Her niece Dawn was among the small number of family members at the funeral, telling the JC: “Betty was a character, a one-off, a poet and a fiercely independent woman who was still fiercely protective of her independence. She was not a shrinking violet; she wasn’t afraid of anybody.”

Born in Antwerp on June 2, 1931, Ms Shane was the youngest and last survivor of seven children. The family remained in Belgium until May 1940, when they fled with her aunt.

At her aunt’s pleading, her father, Moishe Shayngesicht, waited in Antwerp for her husband, Mr Shayngesicht’s brother. Both were found by the Nazis and were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz.

In her later years, Ms Shane donated up to £500,000 to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in his name.

Addressing mourners, her niece said: “Betty absolutely adored her father and had a very special bond with him. Throughout her life, she never stopped thinking and talking about how he used to cuddle and take care of her and how close that bond was. In many ways, he was the love of her life.”

Settling in London, Ms Shane was evacuated during the Blitz and placed with a couple who helped her learn English. English language, literature, and poetry became her great love in life.

In 1942, she joined her mother in Market Harborough and later signed up with a Jewish organisation in London to learn shorthand and typing. At the age of 17, she was the family’s breadwinner.

From 1956-61, she lived in Israel with her Sephardic husband. The marriage did not last long but her time there had a profound influence.

In the last decade of her life, she worked on a memoir about that period, working with a friend of more than 40 years, Dudley Miles, who was among the mourners.

Ms Shane returned to the UK to gain a BA Honours degree from the University of London and teach O- and A-level English, where she “changed the lives of many”.

According to her niece: “After her retirement in 1996, many students still wrote to her and sent her Christmas greetings. It gave her such joy to read these letters and see how their lives had developed.”

One letter, from a former student called Rosemary, was read out at the funeral.

It said: “I just wanted you to know that I will always be grateful for the time Betty spent teaching my friends and me and we will remember her kindness and generosity for ever.” 

Another mourner was Esther, Ms Shane’s social worker for the last 18 months of her life.

“I am devastated,” she told the JC. “She always made me laugh. She was so independent but would usually be complaining about one thing or other, usually technology. I will never forget her and our time shared together.

“Last time I went to visit her, she told me a story from her childhood. In tears, she relayed a memory that upon leaving Antwerp as a child, she told her best friend: ‘I’ll play with you again when this is all over.’

“But that was the last time she ever saw her friend. Her losing her father and best friend, and others at that time in her life, remained a trauma for her for the rest of her life.”

AJR chief executive Michael Newman was “devastated to hear of Betty’s passing in such tragic circumstances. She was a lovely and cultured lady with a deep interest in poetry and literature.

“She was also determined to ensure that her father was remembered. It was our honour and privilege to support her with our holistic social welfare services and to pay our respects at her funeral.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive