Veterans: From Berlin, via Shanghai, to Tel Aviv, 1949

In 1948, the Jews of Shanghai heard about the establishment of the State of Israel and danced the hora in the streets.

ruth shany 88 298 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
ruth shany 88 298
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Ruth Shany remembers Kristallnacht as though it happened yesterday - walking out of her home in a residential district of Berlin to the Jewish school, through mountains of broken glass and burned-down synagogues. The 15-year-old girl, whose family had lived in Germany for generations and whose father had been an officer in World War I, would look at the hideous posters of rapacious, ugly Jews and ask her father: "Are we really like that?" The Nussbaum family did not want to leave, but with the writing so clearly on the wall, they sold off as much as they could and set off, with 20,000 other German Jews, to Shanghai - "the only place that accepted us" - with not much more than the clothes on their backs in 1939. They stayed for 10 years. During that time, Ruth, who had gained a place at the prestigious Reiman School of Art in Germany but had never been able to take it up, worked as a clerk to support her family, was introduced to the Japanese art of painting on silk and married for the first time. In 1948, the Jews of Shanghai heard about the establishment of the State of Israel and danced the hora in the streets. Ruth and Eric, her first husband, decided to come here with their baby son, who was to become the well-known film producer Daniel Waxman. PREPARATION Ruth had considered leaving for America, where her father had already settled, her mother having died five years before in Shanghai. Her marriage was not ideal and soon after arriving here, the couple divorced. Eric, who was considerably older than his wife, begged her not to take their son away as he had decided he was definitely going to Israel and Ruth agreed. They boarded the SS Biancomano in early 1949. THE JOURNEY "I enjoyed it. It took five weeks, as we couldn't go through the Suez Canal but had to go around Africa. Cabins were handed out at random and we got first class. We danced and sang and celebrated crossing the Equator." ARRIVAL "For me it was an absolute culture shock. After Shanghai, the shops were tiny, the life was primitive and there was no style. We went to stay with my husband's sister who had settled in Tel Aviv from Austria in 1933. She and her husband had a laundry business which they operated on their roof, and my sister-in-law suggested I might like to work with her. I politely declined. "It was February when we arrived, and I wore white shoes as everyone did in Shanghai. People stared at me with disapproval. Here no one switched to white shoes until June/July." SETTLING IN Soon after arrival Ruth and Eric divorced and she took a room in a small pension in Tel Aviv and began to work as a waitress, occasionally moonlighting as a model. "I earned well, without knowing any Hebrew," she recalls. She made friends, reconnected with old friends from Berlin and was happy. DAILY LIFE "I worked during the day while my son was in kindergarten. On Friday evenings, there was nothing to do in Tel Aviv and my friends suggested we take a cab to Ramat Gan where there was dancing. They had partners and I didn't. They said they would ask the first man they meet after leaving the café to be my partner. It turned out to be my second husband, Zvi, and we fell in love almost at first sight." In May 1951, they married and moved to a house in Tzahala. Their daughter was born in 1953 and they led a charmed life. Zvi was an officer in the regular army, they had parties with their circle of friends - they were renowned for their Purim parties especially - and life was fun. All this time Ruth had put her artistic aspirations on hold. The silk and other things she needed for her paintings were not available. OBSTACLES "I can't think of anything. I always worked and earned well and people were nice to me. Perhaps one thing, the fact that no one got up to give you a seat on the bus. I wasn't used to traveling by bus at all - in Shanghai we went by rickshaw." THE REST OF THE STORY When Zvi left the army in 1955, things began to go wrong. He dreamed of making money and went into partnership with a friend - in a pig farm. The enterprise failed after a year and a half. The couple moved to Upper Nazareth, where the mayor was an old friend, and opened a grocery store. This also fell on hard times and so did the marriage. After seven years, they parted company, Ruth returning to the center with Daniel, and Lena, the daughter, staying with her father. Ruth, once more single, began to work in a bookstore and stayed with friends in Tzahala until she could buy herself a small apartment in Tel Aviv. She moved from books to tourism and finally, in 1965, was offered a job in the newly opened Hilton Hotel as a chief cashier. She worked there for five years, bought herself a car and aimed to become the public relations person for the hotel. It was by now 1965 and Ruth had been alone for five years. Izzy, the third man she was to marry, also a refugee from Nazi Germany, had risen in the diplomatic service from military attaché to ambassador, and when they met he was on home leave from his posting in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was another romantic encounter - but this one was for keeps. They went back to South America, and now she was the ambassador's wife with all that entailed. It was here that she was able to reconnect to her silk painting and has been doing it ever since, with exhibitions of her work all over the world. In the years that followed they spent five years in Paris and a year in Geneva, opened a gallery in Safed and finally, three months ago, moved to The House in Ramat Hasharon, a protected living luxury home for the elderly. It is here that Ruth's latest exhibition is being held until the end of July. Best Thing about Israel "I found my husband here, and I love living here." To propose an immigrant for a 'Veterans' profile, please send a one-paragraph e-mail to: