Holocaust survivor Betty Grebenschikoff spoke to fifth- and sixth-grade students at the Ventnor Middle School on Wednesday, June 12. Fifth-grade teacher Charlene Twiggs became friends with Gredenschikoff many years ago, and every year since then she has invited Gredenschikoff to speak to her students. Gredenschikoff was unable to come last year, so this year, sixth-grade students were also included.
Gredenschikoff, who recently turned 90 years old, captured the attention of more than 150 students for almost an hour with her experiences during the Holocaust. She explained how her father was able to secure passage on a ship to Shanghai, China, to escape Nazi Germany, where her family lived in poverty in the “Shanghai Ghetto” until the end of World War II.
She also told the delightful story of how she met her “handsome” Russian husband, Oleg, at the local swimming pool. He was the lifeguard who taught her how to swim.
Gredenschikoff and her husband relocated to Australia after the war, where they had two daughters, and later moved to the United States. Upon arriving in New York, a total stranger welcomed them to America and bought them all Coca-Colas. Gredenschikoff said she never forgot this act of kindness and encouraged the students to go out of their way to do good deeds for others.
Five years after coming to America, Gredenschikoff and her husband became U.S. citizens. They eventually settled down at the Jersey Shore, and after three more children, she and Oleg bought their first home in Brigantine.
Oleg went on to teach physical education in the Absecon Public School system for 25 years. During that time, they moved to Ventnor, and now Gredenschikoff splits her time between Ventnor and Florida. Her youngest child, Peter, became a Ventnor lifeguard and is an avid surfer, and still resides in Ventnor.
Students were given the opportunity to purchase Gredenschikoff’s memoir, "Once My Name was Sara," in which she tells her story in more detail. Gredenschikoff happily autographed her book during a reception in the library immediately following the presentation.