Tag Archives: Dr. Albert Beasley

Remembering Janet Beasley

Janet Beasley — the wife of Dr. Albert Beasley, and a longtime Westport resident and volunteer — died Saturday, after a long battle with cancer. She was 82 years old.

Janet was a staunch protector of wildlife, through Earthplace and other organizations. She was an avid member of the Westport Weston Family Y, where she loved swimming.

Janet and Dr. Albert Beasley

She was also a Holocaust survivor, who spoke out about the horrors she endured.  She participated in Stephen Spielberg’s project to collect testimony from survivors.

In 2013, the Connecticut Jewish Ledger profiled her. The story said:

Nearly 200 years ago, in 1826, the Jewish community of Berlin, Germany opened a school for boys, moving to a newly constructed building at 27 Grosse Hamburger Strasse in 1862. The school would thrive for 80 years, until the Nazis transformed the site into a deportation center for the city’s Jews from 1942 to 1945. After the war, under East German authority, the building was used as a vocational school.

By 1993, the city’s Jewish population had grown enough to re-establish a Jewish high school. After extensive renovation, the building opened again, this time as the Jewish High School. From 27 students in its inaugural year, the school now boasts nearly 300 students of all faiths, ranging from middle school (grades 5-7) and high school (grades 8-13). The curriculum comprises both Judaic and secular studies, with Jewish holiday observances and kosher lunch regular parts of student life.

This year, on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, the Jewish High School published a book tracing its history. Included among the articles is a story about a special visit to Westport in 2009.

In 2006, Westport resident and German-Jewish Holocaust survivor Janet Beasley donated wartime artifacts, documents, and photos to Jewish Museum Berlin. She was invited by the museum to lead workshops for two groups of German high school students on her experiences as a Jew surviving in Hitler’s Berlin. The first group comprised 13th-grade art students from the Jewish High School, led by teacher Sabine Thomasius.

Janet Beasley

In November of 2006, a workshop took place in the Archives of the Jewish Museum Berlin, where students in my art course met with Janet Beasley. Janet grew up in Berlin, the child of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, and as an 8-year-old was deported to Theresienstadt with her mother. The personal memories which Janet Beasley shared with great candor and intimacy led to the creation of paintings and collages during the lessons in the classroom. These were exhibited in the Jewish Community Center Berlin during the summer of 2007.

Janet Beasley was so touched by the students’ pictures that she arranged for an exhibit in her hometown, Westport, Connecticut.

Through this exhibit and reports in the newspapers, many people in her area learned for the first time about the details of this chapter of her life story.

We were invited to the opening of the exhibit in Westport and along with the exhibit opening, we had a tight schedule of meetings arranged and supported by Aubrey Pomerance [chief archivist, Jewish Museum Berlin], Janet Beasley, [Westport artist and German-Jewish Holocaust survivor] Steffi Friedman, and the host families. We had the opportunity to meet with and have lively conversations with students from totally different social spheres as well as with youth groups from a Jewish congregation [Kulanu Stamford]. In particular, the youths in Connecticut wanted to know how Jewish life in Germany is shaped now. The program included conversations with witnesses to history as well as visits to artists in their studios and a trip to New York.

The students’ paintings, depicting incidents from Beasley’s childhood in Berlin and in Theresienstadt, were combined with artists’ statements and copies of the archival materials Beasley donated to the museum, into “Memories of a Childhood Lost,” an exhibit shown at Earthplace in Westport in April 2008.

Janet Beasley gave interviews about her experiences during the Holocaust. This is a still image taken from one.

Janet Beasley’s story is a unique one. She was born Jutta Grybski in Berlin in 1935, the child of Käthe, a Jew, and Hans, a Catholic. Jutta’s parents divorced when she was three, when Hans wanted to serve in the German army. He remarried three years later and had a son.

As long as Hans stayed alive, Jutta, Käthe and Käthe’s parents were safe, though they were rounded up every month or so and taken to Nazi collection centers, only to be released a few hours later or the next day.

In 1941, Jutta’s maternal grandfather, a decorated World War I veteran, was taken to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and shot to death. Two years later, her grandmother died in Auschwitz or on the way there.

In 1944, Hans was killed in action and Jutta and Käthe were taken to Thereisenstadt, where they spent nine months before the camp was liberated. They returned to Berlin and lived with Hans’s father, then emigrated to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1946. Jutta changed her name to Janet, partly because Americans didn’t know how to pronounce Jutta, partly because children had taunted her with the nickname “Jutta-Jüde,” “Jutta-Jew.” She moved to Norwalk in 1964 and to Westport in 1973, the same year she returned to Berlin for the first time since emigrating. Her mother died at the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield in 1992. Janet is married to Dr. Albert Beasley, a longtime Westport pediatrician.

“What is really weird for me is that, when the Nazis closed the school, it became a collection center for Jews before their deportation and my mother and I were sent to the concentration camp from there,” Beasley says. “I had an idea that that was the place but wasn’t sure until I read in the book’s index that it was indeed used for that purpose. It stirred some very vivid memories.”

(Click here for the Connecticut Jewish Ledger story. Hat tip: Bob Knoebel)

Unsung Hero #53

Last week, Staples Tuition Grants handed out over $300,000 in scholarships to more than 100 graduating seniors, and high school alums already in college.

It was a warm, wonderful evening — a celebration of very hard work by the recipients, as well as all who make the grants possible.

But the highlight may have been the keynote speech, by Dr. Albert Beasley.

Speaking without notes — and without missing a beat — the 90-plus-year-old retired pediatrician talked about the importance of STG, and what it means to him personally. One of the oldest named awards — initiated 45 years ago — honors his late wife and fellow pediatrician, Dr. Jean Beasley.

After the Staples Tuition Grants ceremony, pediatrician Dr. Albert Beasley and his wife Janet (3rd and 4th from left) posed with 4 former patients (from left): Nicole Greenberg Donovan, Dan Woog, Dan Donovan and Lynn Untermeyer Miller. (Photo/Paddy Donovan)

In his 65 years in Westport, Al Beasley has watched the town grow from a small artists’ colony, through the baby boom, into a suburb filled with businessmen and Wall Street executives.

But he has seen it all through a unique perspective, and with a background different from most people who live here. He shared some of that last week too, in his low-key but inspiring way.

Al’s grandfather, a Harvard-educated Boston attorney, helped found the NAACP.  Al’s father also went to Harvard – and became a doctor.  His mother graduated from Radcliffe. Those were proud accomplishments, in an era when educational opportunities for black men and women were limited.

Al’s parents wanted him to have a well-rounded education. He got one, at the Walden School and Columbia  College. He married a high school friend, Jean.  Both earned medical degrees – Al from New York University. Both became pediatricians.

As a captain in the Air Force during the Korean War – based in Houston — Al first experienced overt prejudice. But he persevered, and in 1953 the Beasleys moved to Westport. He wanted his children to experience the same freedom he’d found at the Walden School. The Beasleys rented a home on 11 acres, for $90 a month. They were one of only 5 or so black families in town.

They bought land from a fellow physician, Mal Beinfield. The Beasleys had trouble getting a mortgage – the banks’ excuse was “they did not like contemporary dwellings.” But Westport Bank & Trust Company president Einar Anderson said to the Beasleys’ request for $20,000: “There’s no problem.  Let us know when you want it.”

Four years ago at the Staples Tuition Grants ceremony, Dr. Al Beasley posed with Megumi Asada, a graduating senior who received the Dr. Jean Beasley Memorial Award. Megumi was considering a career in medicine.

In addition to his professional accomplishments – private practice as a pediatrician; co-founder of Willows Pediatrics; associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, and an emeritus staff member at Norwalk Hospital – Al immersed himself in community work.

He was a pediatrician for the Intercommunity Camp; a member of the Selectman’s Committee for Youth and Human Services; a board of directors member for the United Way; member of the scholar selection committee of A Better Chance of Westport; trustee of Earthplace, where he organized the Green Earth series on  health and the environment.

Al’s wife Jean died in 1973.  Six years later he married Janet, a native of Berlin and a survivor of a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

Al says:  “When Jean and I moved to Westport in 1953, it was a magical town. It opened its arms to us, welcomed us, and made us feel special.”

Al adds:  “My birth certificate said ‘colored.’  Then the preferred term changed to ‘Negro.’  Later it was ‘black,’ then ‘African American.’  I am a man of color, but I like to be accepted for what I have to offer.  The town has done exactly that.”

Looking back on his career, Al says,“I’m an activist.  I tried to give my utmost to the community, and I think the community appreciates that.  This is a wonderful town.  I thank everyone who entrusted their most precious commodities – their infants, their children and their young people – to me.”

And we thank Dr. Al Beasley, this week’s Unsung — but Very Deserving — Longtime Hero.