Bea did not stay in the convent for much longer. After the war, OSE tried to find any living family members for the children they had sent to hideout in convents. Bea’s parents were nowhere to be found. It took several years after the war for Bea to learn that her parents were sent from Gurs Concentration Camp to the death camps in Poland. OSE found Bea’s aunt and uncle in London, and Bea and her sister were sent to live with them. At the age of thirteen, Bea had to learn an entirely new language and adjust to a normal life. Her aunt and uncle sent her to school. Since she only had one year of elementary education, Bea found school to be difficult. She had a hard time sitting in class and paying attention. She earned low test marks and struggled to keep up with the rest of the students. At the age of fourteen, she decided to leave school and work as a salesclerk in her uncle’s textile business, selling purses her uncle made to different vendors throughout London. She enjoyed the freedom of being able to travel via subway all around town.
In late November of 1947, another aunt and uncle who lived in Queens, New York sent for the two sisters to come to the United States. When I asked Bea about the ship to the United States and how long it took them to arrive, she surprised me by telling me that they actually flew in a plane, a rare and expensive way to travel in those days. The sisters’ travel was funded by a generous Jewish family who helped Jewish refugees start anew in the United States.
In Queens, Bea was required by law to attend school until she was sixteen. The teachers in the school Bea attended knew about the hardships Jewish children endured in Europe, so they provided extra help, especially one teacher who took a special liking to Bea. “She was an English teacher, and she was good enough to stay after school and help me. And I became rather good at English. After a year or so, I went into the Honors class. Thanks to her, really.” Surprised by her own academic abilities, Bea actually enjoyed high school and graduated in 1950. She even had the option of going to college, but Bea’s heart was set on having her own family. “By then, my husband and I had become pretty serious with each other. And so two weeks after I graduated, I got married” (Interview Karp 11). Bea did not regret not going to college because she wanted to start a family of her own. She knew that the only way she could avenge the death of her parents and the loss of her community, was to have children of her own and raise them to be proud of being Jewish. Bea and Bob Pappenheimer were blessed with four girls: Rosanne (named after Bea’s mother, Rosa), Jeany, Debbie, and Nancy.
It was Bob’s occupation in the grocery store business that led them to the Midwest. After stints in Winter, South Dakota, O’Neal, Nebraska, and Sioux City, Iowa, the Pappenheimer family finally made it to Omaha, Nebraska in 1976. Bea remembered the date because they moved to Omaha on the same day the Six Day War broke out in Israel. In Omaha, Bea continued to tell her story. In Omaha, she also met other Holocaust Survivors. Furthermore, her storytelling became more than just an occasional event. In Omaha, Bea came to dedicate her time to educating others about the Holocaust and the dangers of blind hatred. Even today, Bea speaks to students of all ages, educators, church-goers, professors, and clergy members throughout Omaha and neighboring towns.
During an interview with Beth Saldin Dotan, the Executive Director of the Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE) in Omaha, I learned the great impact and vastness of Bea’s words on the Omaha and nearby communities. Beth has been working with Bea for over eleven years and described her drive and dedication: “She is a consistent speaker in the schools and every year there has been an increasing amount of requests for her to speak. In a given week, we get anywhere between three to five requests for speakers, but really she is the one who covers most of the schools. We really try and encourage her not to talk more than three times a week.” Beth illustrated Bea’s storytelling ability and how the audience, especially middle school students, find her compelling and personal and how she manages to read her audiences’ feelings and know what details or stories to tell for each audience (Interview Dotan 1). “She is like a rock star,” Beth told me with a smile.
Beth also informed me that Bea was given an honorary degree from Creighton University and showed me the certificate, medal, and newspaper clipping (Insert picture). Even though Bea never attended college or university, she is constantly asked to speak at them. Beth recalled several occasions when Bea was asked to speak at University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). The latest occasion was September 27, 2010 when Bea spoke with future educators who were going to teach Holocaust education in their schools (Kaldahl 1). “That [first hand] interaction is more powerful than any history book,” Beth explained the importance of Bea’s work and effect on her various audiences (Interview Dotan 2).
Although Bea understands the importance of her work, she is less likely to take recognition for it. During our second interview, when I mentioned the honorary degree she received, she waved it off as if it never happened. I respected her modesty. I still do. I also feel honored to have been allowed to listen to her story, be invited into her home, peer into her history, learn about her four daughters and seven grandchildren, and help her document it all. I cannot help but admire her courage and persistence. I cannot help but admire her for building a life for herself from the ground up, never forgetting what she endured, where she came from, or her parents’ teachings and constantly educating her community about the mistakes of our past, as well as the prospects of our future. She did all of this, and so much more, with delicacy, calmness, and a constant, genuine smile.