Survivor STORY

“And I heard, all of the sudden, terrible screaming. And they came in, and they beat up that elderly couple because they thought it was my uncle. And then I heard a lot of noise and glass breaking […] and I thought any minute that they would come in to me , but I was very lucky—they passed the door.”

For a Holocaust survivor, Ruth Heyman is lucky. She was never arrested, she was never interned in a concentration camp, and she never faced death due to disease or starvation. Her family survived the war. However, Ruth’s story of survival is no less amazing and miraculous than those of her unluckier counterparts. Ruth defied the odds and managed to escape Germany with her parents during wartime before arriving in America.

Born in Gottingen in 1922 to Max and Rosa Lowenberg, Ruth enjoyed her early childhood. Her father owned a store, enabling the family to live happily. The Lowenbergs kept Kosher, and Ruth went to Hebrew School. Prior to the rise of Nazism, the Germans maintained good relations with their Jewish neighbors. Ruth and her family had many Christian friends and were treated extremely well by them. However, beginning with Hitler’s rise to power in1933, anti-Semitism began to affect young Ruth’s life. Excluded from the Hitler Youth, the Jews of Germany founded the Judische Kulturbund , a youth group for Jews. Ruth and her friends enjoyed participating in the group’s activities, but anti-Semitism began to spread; in 1936, Ruth and her Jewish friends were banned from participating in activities at the local high school.

In April 1938, Ruth’s parents were forced to relinquish their house, and Ruth had to leave school. Ruth was sent to live with her uncle, a dentist, in a nearby town. On November 9-10, 1938, Germans destroyed Jewish synagogues, houses, and businesses in the pogroms known as Kristallnacht , or The Night of Broken Glass. German mobs destroyed Ruth’s uncle’s dentist office and beat up an elderly couple renting a room. At one point, the mobs passed directly by the room Ruth was hiding in, but luckily did not enter. Her uncle fled down a fire escape and ultimately to England, and Ruth remained with her non-Jewish aunt. Ruth’s father was arrested but released when the Germans learned he had been decorated with the Iron Cross for distinguished service during the First World War.

In 1936, Ruth’s brother moved to New York. Ruth and her parents applied to follow them, but were required to wait until their quota numbers were called. After four years of waiting, they were finally permitted to enter the United States in 1940. The family was supposed to leave from Genoa, but was prevented from doing so when Italy entered the war in June. The only remaining way out of Germany was through Russia, then still at peace with the Third Reich. Ruth and her parents took a train to Moscow before boarding a Siberian Express train for a five-week journey to Manchuria. After reaching Manchuria, the Lowenbergs then went to Kobe, Japan, which had yet to attack Pearl Harbor. The family arrived in Kobe on Sukkot and attended a service at a Japanese synagogue. The Lowenbergs then departed for America from Tokyo. After a week-long boat journey, the family arrived in Seattle and took trains to Kansas City and finally New York, where they were reunited with Ruth’s brother Herbert.

Ruth found work as domestic help while attending night school, studying to become a dental assistant. Ruth’s father and mother died in 1944 and 1945 respectively. While on vacation in the Catskill Mountains in 1947, Ruth met a German refugee named John Heyman, who had previously worked as a US Army interpreter. They married in 1948 and had two children. John then worked for a carpet firm and was transferred to Atlanta in 1960. A few years later, they opened a grocery store.

Ruth returned to Germany for the first time in 1979 but did not visit the concentration camps where her aunts and uncles perished. Ruth no longer has any positive feelings for her native country, instead she is a proud and grateful American. Widowed in 2004, Ruth still lives in Atlanta today.

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Ruth Heyman