January 27, 2020

I had a friend named Ruth who personally knew what Auschwitz was like from 12 to 15 years old.  When the day of liberation came 75 years ago today,  she knew it because all the Nazi guards had disappeared.  There were no liberators to tell them where to go or what to do.  She decided to start her long walk home to Poland to start her life again.  And so she did.

Although she subtitled her book, “The Long  Walk” as  A Novel, it was basically true from her own experiences.

I happened upon an old French movie called “Resistance” a few weeks ago.  I watched it because it reminded me of what Ruth had lived through before Auschwitz.   It depicted a Catholic boarding  school with kids about the age she was before Auschwitz.  They were just rather ordinary teenaged kids studying during the War when Germany had conquered France.

Two main characters became friends.  One was Catholic, and the other said he was Protestant, but was actually a Jewish boy in hiding.  Similarly, Ruth’s mother, desperate to find a way for 12 year old Ruth, and her 6 year old sister to survive, had put them in a Catholic school to hide their identity.

Horrifyingly mimicking Ruth’s story, one day a German soldier came to the school and took the Jewish boy away.  That boy, and Ruth’s own little sister, were never seen again.  Ruth was sent to Auschwitz.

After liberation, Ruth walked back all the way to that same boarding school and talked to the same nun who had been in charge the last night Ruth ever saw her sister’s arms reaching out to her in panic.

When I read that Ruth had actually seen the same nun who had turned them in to the German soldiers, I expected that she would feel rage that the nun had not tried to save them.

But that’s when I learned something else about Ruth that has stuck with me all these years.  She, much like Martin Luther King, murdered so many years later at a date close to the month he was killed, had managed to withhold rage or anger at the violent racists who wished him harm.

When I asked Ruth why she wasn’t angry at that nun, she said simply that she didn’t know what her mother had told that nun when she arranged to leave her two daughters there.  And she knew how much the Jews were hated by Polish Catholics.

Late in life, after writing her book, Ruth poured energy into talking to local high school generally underprivileged kids who were being bullied to pass on her own message that no one could humiliate her and make her feel worthless.  The teens listened carefully to her and some made her strength their own.

She never hated, and passed that on to her own children and grandchildren.  She once astounded me by saying that she had had a wonderful life.   She was a true survivor.

She died some years back before the resurgence of antisemitism in the U.S.  I assume it would not surprise her.  And it would not have changed her belief in her self-worth, or made her hate.

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