76 year-old retired lawyer who tried to enhance safety and protections for women and child victim/survivors of violence (and some men as well). Ruth was born in NYC in 1944, the child of holocaust survivors. Their stories have shaped her life.
My mother was on one of the last sailings of the ‘Queen Mary’ as a passenger ship, in December 1938. Soon thereafter this Cunard line ‘Queen’ became a troop ship. By the time my mother’s journey began, Czechoslovakia, her homeland, had already begun to be carved up. Chamberlain’s ‘Peace in Our Time’ speech legitimised Germany’s occupation of Sudetenland. At the same time the Hungarians had annexed the country’s eastern areas including the Carpathian region where my family lived.
To begin to understand my mother’s actions, you need to know some things about her. She had never been to school but was very smart and canny and high strung… and she didn’t give up, ever. She knew how dangerous things were for the Jews around her, how limited the escape pathways. And she wasn’t travelling alone. She had two sons (ages 3 and 18 months) whom she was solely responsible for. Her goal was clear: She had to get herself and them to Cherbourg, the Queen Mary’s embarkation point for America.
My mother had never been out of her small town, Munkacs. The journey to Cherbourg was 2,220km and there were dangers all along the way involving passports and visas and corrupt guards at borders. And there were the worst fears of what could happen while the train passed through Germany. Ironically, for my mother and my brothers, the worst involved something which began very innocently. They were sharing a compartment with some young German soldiers who began to talk and play with the boys. My brother Seymour didn’t really speak yet, but Harold, the three year old did and his sole language was Yiddish.
My mother became terrified that Harold would blurt out something that would mark them as Jews. So she took Harold out into the corridor of the train and beat him up, repeatedly telling him that under no circumstances should he make a sound.
Sixty years later, at Harold’s funeral, my mother tells this story for the first time and then breaks down and cries, asserting no one should ever hit children. We, her two remaining children, try to comfort her. Anyone would have understood her actions. She was afraid and trying to save all their lives. But she couldn’t forgive herself. She had just buried her oldest son and nothing could assuage her guilt.
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