Betty Grebenachikoff, former Shanghai Jewish Refugee, passed away on February 22, 2023

Time:2023/2/25 18:00:00        


Betty Grebenschikoff, née Ilse Kohn, died on February 22, 2023, at home in Florida. As a mother, author, speaker and consultant, Betty, 93, led a full and vibrant life.

Born in Berlin, Germany, in 1929, she was part of a large and loving extended family. She was preceded in death by her sister, Edith Faris.

Her parents, Olga and Max Kohn, had many siblings. Life in Germany at that time was full of music, family and peace. In the 1930s, all this changed with the advent of the Nazi regime in Germany. Betty’s family's world was severely changed as the citizenship of Jews was revoked.

In 1939, Max Kohn received a summons to appear at the Gestapo headquarters. Just before that could happen, the Kohn family managed to escape Germany and get to Shanghai by way of Naples, Italy, and a ship to China. There, safe harbor was available. Shanghai was the only place in the world at that time to offer a place of refuge for people without passports.

Shanghai eventually came under axis control during WWII, and Jewish refugees were put into the Shanghai Ghetto. Betty wrote a book, Once My Name Was Sara, that was originally meant to give her family her full life story, and has since become a part of Holocaust studies around the world. The little known story of the Shanghai Jews is now more well known due to the many lectures Betty gave to audiences at museums, community organizations, religious institutions, schools and colleges. She is featured in two documentary films: Shanghai Ghetto, which premiered in 2002, and the more recently released Survival in Shanghai. To learn more about Betty’s remarkable life, visit

Betty Grebenschikoff was preceded in death by her husband, Oleg D. Grebenschikoff, whom she met and married in Shanghai. Oleg died in 2002.

Betty was the mother of five children: Jennifer (and David Kirschman) Grebenschikoff, Elizabeth (also known as Sandy) Grebenschikoff, Nina Grebenschikoff (who died in 1984), Irene (and Stephan Broburg) Grebenschikoff and Peter (and susanna cellini) Grebenschikoff.

Eight grandchildren loved their Grandmom: Alexander Kirschman, Natasha (and Michael) Lohrer, Lucas Kirschman, Votan Oca (who died with his mother in 1984), Celina (and Mike) Kurtz, Max Broburg, Anjelica Grebenschikoff, and Nikos (and Pat Pookun) Grebenschikoff.

As did six great grandchildren: Macchia Lohrer, Malia Kirschman, Keanu Kirschman, Seth Lohrer, Olivia Kurtz and Sophia Kurtz.

Cousins who treasured their Auntie Betty are: Steven Faris, David Faris (deceased), Janet Faris, Susan Grebenschikoff, Barbara Grebenschikoff,and Holly Faris.

Betty’s many friends and colleagues around the world enriched her life and the entire family, as she did theirs.

The family is grateful to all of you.

There are no services. Please remember Betty Grebenschikoff, if you wish, by familiarizing yourself with the Shanghai Sonatas Foundation (, of which Betty was a Board Member.