Project Witness is a non profit Holocaust resource center, dedicated to Holocaust education. Their mission is to create a better future, one that has learned from the horrors of the past, through the communication of Holocaust survivor stories. Through Project Witness, the WHSAD community was blessed with the privilege of hearing Holocaust survivor, Ruth Gruener, speak. Organized by the WHSAD Humanities Department, this event was held Wednesday May 13th, via Google Meet, with a plethora of special guests, students, and WHSAD faculty. In a video call lasting a little over an hour, Ruth Gruener was able to share something special with us that greatly impacted the WHSAD community.
Over 50 people took part in the virtual event. Students sacrificed their class time, teachers the same, and superintendents, as well as other educational officials outside of WHSAD, came to be a part of the meeting. I also shouldn’t fail to mention the appearance of Deborah Lauter, the Executive Director of Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes as being present as well. Then, of course, there were people from Project Witness; Founder Ruth Lichtenstein, Education Director Deborah Schechter, and Researcher Faigy Zweig who helped organize the meeting. Out of all the great people who joined the Meet, the title of most notable falls to Ruth Gruener.
Ruth is an 87 year old woman who was born in Lvov, Poland in August of 1933. At three years old, she had her first brush with anti-Semitisim when Ruth’s young nanny referred to her as “Dirty Jew”. Despite this, Ruth lived a normal childhood before the war. Her parents owned a candy shop and a nice 3 bedroom apartment. She could sing, dance and practice her religion freely. However, It wasn’t long before this was all ruined, by a regime fueled by hate. Her hometown was taken over. First came the Soviets who restricted the people and their ways of life, then, the Nazis who torture, killed, murdered, and massacred. She lived in the ghetto where sorrow was seen and lived on a daily basis. Children could no longer be children. Perpetuated hate forced Ruth into hiding, separating her from her parents, killing the rest of her family, and massacring her neighbors
When she was eight, Ruth was able to hid in a confined space at the Szczygiel family residence for 8 months. This was how she survived. She spent every day in fear, knowing that any moment she could be found and killed, and there was a time when she came very close. But, by her faith and prayer, Ruth survived to tell her story. Ruth is the only member of her Kindergarten class that wasn’t killed, and she and her parents were the only ones out of their entire family to survived.
Clearly, Ruth Gruener has seen a lot in her lifetime. She hails from a perilous time when being a particular religion or nationality was sanctioned by death. She’s seen the power of hate and lived through despicable atrocities committed in its name. She is of a dying generation who has suffered unjustly from deplorable actions, and know true fear more than anything as they were forced to live it. Yet, Ruth leaves us with the message of peace. She wants us to forget hate because she knows the consequence. She wants us all to find peace with each other to ensure we never let another Holocaust happen again. This was the message that made this Meet so inspiring. When you take into account everything the woman has survived, its easy to understand her views. No one deserves to suffer. Everyday we strive to create a better world and Ruth’s story helps us remember why.
Throughout the call, multiple acts took place. We began with Ruth passing her words of wisdom down to the youths and sharing her insights. A few students were then given the chance to ask her questions, which she thoroughly answered. Many students had also prepared pieces of artworks and poems for the meet, but due to the closing of the school, where they were kept, they didn’t have access to them. Fortunately, students Mayerli Barzola and Joseph Lorenzo had access to theirs and were able to read them for Ruth, and, it’s safe to say that she enjoyed them. I think I speak for everyone in the Meet when I say, it was an honor, to hear the voice of an important generation and testimony of such an experience.
This article was originally published on Whsad.org