Ruth Lehman

"Be alert in life and preach against hatred and injustice for all mankind.  For all people to have peace and liberty all over the world.     People who have a guilty conscience should come forward and confess their sins and beg for forgiveness.  We survivors may forgive but never forget.  We all wished for redemption from Hell.  It came May 14, 1945 by the British.  Thank G-d I am still alive."

Name at birth
Rachela Holcman
Date of birth
03/11/1921
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Lodz, Poland
Name of father, occupation
Berek Holcman, Manufacturer men's socks
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Bluma Taub, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents, Hannah, Rachels (me), Motek, Abraham, Mayer and Chaim
How many in entire extended family?
95
Who survived the Holocaust?
Me, Motek, Abraham and one cousin
When they closed the ghetto in 1940, we were all confused.  Different families were put together in apartments with each other.  Instead of carrying suitcases with our things, people carried furniture, tables, and chairs.  They thought they would be able to go back and forth to get their things.  When they closed the ghetto, they put up electrified barbed wire.
 
Rutabaga was the main food of the Lodz Ghetto also of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.  What did it taste like?  It was nauseating!  It was not good but we had no choice.  It was starvation even with the rutabaga, it was insufficient calories.  People were swollen from starvation.
 
What was the ghetto like?  It was hell!  There were constant Selections.  If you looked good, they took you to build the Autobahn, the highway.  The ghetto was starvation and beatings.  If you looked bad, you went to Auschwitz or Chelmno.
 
They did horrible things not to discuss.  It was unbelievable.
 
The hygiene was bad due to lack of soap, toothpaste or baking soda.  No soap to wash clothes.  Toilets were outhouses because we were in the slum, the poorest section of the city, called Baluty.  The Jewish police were bad to us.  Once I tried to go from one house to another to hide my little brother to save him from a selection, I was kicked so hard, so badly; but I was able to save him.  When they closed the ghetto, he was caught and sent to Auschwitz by himself; he was only 12 years old and had been in the ghetto for four years.  His work was straightening out the bent needles for the tailor shops.  My mother was caught in the street like a dog.
 
Chaim Rumkowski, the head of the Jewish Council, tried to save the Jews of the Lodz Ghetto by providing labor for the Germans but they also forced him to deliver people to be killed.  We had a meeting at the bus depot, he announced to everybody, give up your children.  For the teenagers, 16 and up, he would supply work and would try to save them.  But for the parents, 40 and up, he had the cemetery. 
 
My grandmother, Hinda Sarah Taub, with her daughter were taken to Auschwitz during the main selection, the Shpera, when they were closing the ghetto.
 
My father died of starvation in the Lodz ghetto.  I loved my father so very much.  First I loved G-d and then my father.  I couldn’t live in my house without my father.  It was 1942, I was 21 years old.   I went to live with my girlfriend.  In 1944, I decided to get married to my boyfriend, Ted Rothman, who was also a Zionist like me.  On our honeymoon we were sent to Auschwitz.  Rumkowski married us in an assembly line with other couples; each one got a half a loaf of bread as a gift, which was like a million dollars to us because we were so hungry.
 
I had been living with my parents and all the kids except Chana, who was later killed in Warsaw.  She was stuck in Warsaw and couldn’t get over the border to Malkin to Russia.  She was married to Henry Zuckerman and had a little baby girl.
 
A Nazi gave me a half of loaf of bread when we boarded the train, he liked my looks. The whole train said you will be all right.  I saved the bread for later and they took it away from me at Auschwitz.  
 
I met my “friend” Mengele when we came to Auschwitz.  They separated the men, women, and children.  We went to an assigned barrack.  They took away everything, they made us disrobe, we were naked, there were no valuables we could save.   
 
All of the women’s hair was shaved off, but not mine.  The reason?  I ask G-d.  I had curly blond hair and I don’t know the reason why they left my hair on through the rest of the war.  I was lucky I had hair, I was chosen for easier work at the labor camps because I looked different from the others.
 
At the end of the summer of 1944 I left Auschwitz to go to Bergen-Belsen.   I asked a friend if I should stay in Auschwitz, someone in “Kanada dietchek,” a foreman assigned to charge of taking away possessions from the people when they arrived, knew me.  I wrote him a note with the ditch diggers.  He sent me a babushka for my hair, a pair of leather shoes, and a piece of paper and a tad of a pencil.  Asked him if I should here at Auschwitz or not.  I actually had more food at Auschwitz than in the Lodz ghetto.  A girl who was a supervisor in the infirmary was in love with someone who she thought was my cousin.  She had me sent to the infirmary where she arranged for me to have milk and horse baloney.  I had so much food; I had to give it away.  My friend in Kanada said he could not advise me. 
 
Then there was a Selection to go to another camp, the camp was Bergen-Belsen.  On the way there, we went three days without water; I had a hunk of bread, salty baloney and no water.  We stopped in Hamburg for some reason: I was by the cattle train in Hamburg.. The guard there liked me too and let me go down to get a pail of water for train.   I was so dehydrated, I put my head in to drink, a Nazi soldier approached me, “you pile of sh**, who told you get the water, like a horse. No one got water; they fought over it, spilled it, and didn’t let us out on the train.  The guard offered to give me a piece of fruit to have sex, I refused.  
 
At Bergen-Belsen, We slept on wood shavings, but got new blankets. On the floor in a tent, we found pieces of paper in the shavings that said, “Jews hold out, the war will end soon.” Then we went from tents to barracks that had a lot of lice.  Barrel was the toilet, at the end of barrack, there was no chair to go up to it.  
 
We got rations and were counted, in the rain at 2:00am in the morning. We were sitting on our knees, erect in the mud to be counted, 2:00 or 3:00am, mostly in the rain because it was fall. It took about a half hour and then we were sent back to the barracks, we were drenched and cried.
 
After Bergen-Belsen, some got assigned to ammunition factories. Those who did came back yellow from the sulfur.  
 
I had guts to put my blanket under my striped dress like a tallis (Jewish prayer shawl), to try to keep warm during the zeilappel, the German woman, Irma, overlooked it and didn’t punish me. I was assigned to cut wood for the stove for the kitchen, privileged job, I could steal a potato, or beets and put it in the dress.  The leader from the camp an SS man, caught me stealing the beets, and I expressed myself in an intellectual German like my mother taught me, to forgive me.  And he didn’t hurt me and I promised I wouldn’t do it again. Other women were punished with a cold power water hose until they passed out.  
 
I was assigned for work; I walked miles in wooden shoes.  We walked to the burned out woods, shook the trees, put in a pile and burned them up. The Germans called us dirty, Jews.  
 
At one point, I carried the rifle for an older German, SS guard. He trusted me, because I had hair, I was “privileged.”  The group told me to kill him but if I shot him, they would have killed all of us.  He said to me, if you see the leader, give the rifle back to me.  
 
I was liberated in Bergen-Belsen, the dirty camp. Lice made me throw off the clothes; I walked in my underwear and socks.  I was very sick, people didn’t believe that I would survive, I had awful diarrhea, like the others, because we drank contaminated water. 8000 people died a day in Bergen-Belsen.
 
After liberation my first thought was, I’m alive and Hitler’s dead.  He cannot do any more killing.
 
The Swedish Red Cross took us to the town of either Bergen or Belsen. I was put in clean barracks.  We were liberated by British.  They gave us heavy food, 8000 people died a day.  The food was too heavy for us.
 
I had a close friend, Rosie Moskowitz in Bergen-Belsen.  I said to her if we survive, you’ll marry my brother.  She helped me a lot.  She also taught me Hungarian.  She gave me pictures of herself.  She asked me to give the pictures to anyone from her family if I ever found anyone who survived.  I never did.  Rosie passed away in Sweden in 1946.
 
Very sick people were taken to Sweden.  Rosie was very sick with tuberculosis.  I said I was her cousin so that I could have medical treatment in surgery.  I was sick too but not as sick as Rosie.  I needed gall bladder surgery but I was afraid to have the surgery in Germany by a German doctor.
 
I had surgery for gall bladder in another city in Sweden; I got a letter from Germany saying that my two brothers Abram and Motek were alive.  My brothers came to join me in Sweden. 
 
I had rehabilitation in northern Sweden. I gained weight with good care.  I met my husband at a dance for young Jewish people.  We were married in 1946.  

(In photograph with her granddaughter, Emily Baker, 2000, Emily is 16, 17 years old.  Ruth is holding a photograph of her family from Kozienice, Poland: Family Moskowitz from, Uncle Abraham Moskowitz, Aunt Faiga, cousins Moishe, Shaya, and Yankela; Grandmother Dina who also lived with them.  All were killed).
Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
When did you come to the United States?
April 7, 1952
Where did you settle?
We first came to New York and then to Detroit
How is it that you came to Michigan?
My late husband’s cousin, Albert Goldberg, brought us to America.
Occupation after the war
Window decorator
When and where were you married?
1946 in Sweden and 1978 in USA
Spouse
Manela Levi; Manfred Lehman
Children
Bernard, cardiologist Betty, pharmacist
Grandchildren
Four: Noah, Sara, Emily, and Molly
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Be alert in life and preach against hatred and injustice for all mankind.  For all people to have peace and liberty all over the world.  
 
People who have a guilty conscience should come forward and confess their sins and beg for forgiveness.  We survivors may forgive but never forget.  We all wished for redemption from Hell.  It came May 14, 1945 by the British.  Thank G-d I am still alive.
Interviewer:
Charles Silow
Interview date:
08/04/2004
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