Swastikas displayed in Brussels as part of a light show recalling the Nazi era..
(photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR)
Ruth Lubitz, at age 95, is embarking on a new journey in an eventful life. Ruth is moving from South Florida to Las Vegas to be closer to her family. She is leaving my congregation and I wanted to tell her story because it deserves to be told.
Ruth Berdass was born in Chemnitz, Saxony, in Germany.
Up until age seven, Ruth’s life was idyllic. She was close to her parents Else and Max, as well as having a comrade in older brother Fritz. In her unpublished memoirs, written so her progeny would know what she endured, Ruth describes her father coming home on a Friday afternoon and ushering in Shabbat by giving her mother candy and flowers before he recited the Kiddush and the family sat down for a festive meal. She writes in her memoir, “As you can see my early childhood was very pleasant and uneventful.”
But the idyllic existence ended for Ruth in 1930.
Years before Hitler came to power, Nazi Brownshirts set upon her father Max with billy clubs and fractured his skull, murdering him near his home. As Ruth writes, “The year I was seven years old the bottom fell out of my life.” As she heard the commotion in the street, she sensed a “terrible tragedy” and the crumbling of her world. One of Max’s brothers died fighting for the Kaiser in the First World War, but this heroism was forgotten by the Germans.
Ruth’s German friends stopped talking to her because she was Jewish. Public places had large signs with the words “Juden Verboten.”
Seeking refuge from this hate, Ruth joined Jewish youth organizations and found a certain joy in the cultural and sports events it sponsored.
But life in Nazi Germany was difficult and harrowing. Ruth and her mother lived in fear, especially after windows of their home were shattered by the Germans in Kristallnacht in 1938. Else remarried to a very strong and sturdy man – Julius Lichtenstein – but the Nazis sent him to Buchenwald, eventually releasing him. The terror of the concentration camp left him a broken man.
Ruth and her brother Fritz were fortunate that they found a way out of Germany before the outbreak of war.
While Fritz made his way to America, took the name Fred, married, and eventually served in the American armed forces as an interpreter, Ruth was saved by friends of her family in England.
Ruth successfully convinced the British authorities that she was not a German spy but an actual refugee running for her life. She pursued study as a nurse, lived in England until she completed her studies with distinction and immigrated to the United States. While she pursued her nursing career for a short time, she met Frank Lubitz, they married, and the story of her life in America could be the basis of another essay.
In her years in England, the fate of her mother and stepfather was always on Ruth’s mind. Julius Lichtenstein was deported to Theresienstadt.
He died there. Ruth’s mother Else died in Auschwitz in 1943. But for Ruth Lubitz, the horror began with the murder of her father, a harbinger of what was yet to come. That she lived through this and emerged alive to tell her story is inspiring. I wish her all the best on the new leg of her journey.
The author is rabbi of Congregation Anshei Sholom in West Palm Beach, Florida.