Why We Need to Hear Ruth Kessler

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Through the years, people emphatically stressed, “Joan, have you read this great book about the Holocaust? You simply must!” My response: “Read it? I lived it.”

I believed I had “Holocaust overload.”
I’m a first-generation American. I trace my lineage through many generations in Germany, from which parents and grandparents fled the Nazi regime in 1939. My father, Arthur, lived across the street from Hitler in Frankfurt. In 1938, my mother, Suzanne, witnessed Kristallnacht in Stuttgart.
“Never forget what you are seeing here tonight,” her mother, Henny, whispered as the glass shattered.
Many relatives perished. Many escaped and survived. Miraculously, their lives moved on and thrived in Washington Heights, N.Y., where I was born in 1956.
Through the years, people emphatically stressed, “Joan, have you read this great book about the Holocaust? You simply must!” My response: “Read it? I lived it.” I was on “Holocaust overload” for decades.
All of my grandparents’ friends and most of my parents’ friends were survivors. The Holocaust permeated my life.
In March, my three daughters, husband Ted, and I visited Waibstadt, Germany, and met the Schmids, a Christian family with deep roots in Waibstadt as well. The Schmid family had been best friends with mine going back centuries.
I saw firsthand all that Germany has done to repair the damage of the Holocaust. The local cemetery has been maintained by the family of Hermann Weil, a successful businessman who in 1927 donated money to build a mausoleum. Later his son, Felix, continued the renovations and were completed in 2009. The cemetery’s survival is truly a miracle. My visit was nothing short of an emotional pinnacle. I am euphoric and most of all, thankful.
The cathartic experience reignited my appreciation for having people like the Schmids who never wavered in their support. And it brought up the staggering, somber and much-mentioned fact: Soon my parents’ generation will all be gone. It is clearly essential that we hear survivors like Ruth Kessler speak of their experiences.
Ruth was born in safety in Vienna, Austria, in 1933. She was devastated by two events: the Anschluss and Kristallnacht, both in 1938. On May 12 of that year, Ruth was one of the 10,000 kindertransport children taken from their homes in Europe and transported to Liverpool Station in London, where they were met by foster parents.
Five-year-old Ruth lived with the Webber family until 1945. The following year she left for New York, where her father had immigrated. However, he could not afford to care for her, and Ruth was ultimately placed in five foster homes and many schools until she married Louis Kessler, a loving and caring man, in 1952.
Her memoir, The Blue Vase, is her story of resilience after great tragedy. Come join me to hear Ruth speak and answer questions about her experiences on Friday, May 6, at the National Liberty Museum.
It’s time. If not now, when?
Joan Bodenheimer Borowsky lives in Lafayette Hill.

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