Ruth was born in 1935 in Ostrowiec, Poland, in a traditional Jewish family. Her father was a photographer who owned a photography studio. Ruth’s grandmother also lived with the family. Her other grandparents and family members lived only a few doors away, allowing the family to gather every Shabbat. Ruth’s grandfather was a Cantor in the town.
Ruth was four when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. The happy childhood Ruth was accustomed to drastically changed. Her parents would no longer allow Ruth to walk outside freely. She was to remain at home or in close vicinity of her father’s studio under strict watch. Ruth’s family lived in a constant state of anguish and fear. On one occasion, Ruth saw her grandfather crying. The German soldiers had cut off his beard.
In 1940, the Nazis formed the Ostroweic ghetto. The ghetto perimeters encompassed Ruth’s home. Although they could remain in their home, other family members would make accommodations to share the living space. Ruth’s sister, a pianist, returned from her conservatory in Warsaw to the ghetto. Her extraordinary talent even caught the eye of SS officers who would come to the ghetto to hear her play. Arrangements were made for her sister Helen to disguise her identity and live with a family outside the ghetto. Ruth’s parents suggested the same to Ruth, but she declined the offer to leave and remained with her family. Her grandparents and other family members were on the first transport to Treblinka and never heard from again.
Ruth’s parents worked at the Botsohov (Bodzechów) work camp, where her father worked in a factory and her mother in the kitchen. Children were not allowed in the camp, and Ruth was kept hidden with other children smuggled in. She remembers experiencing many miracles in Bodzechów. When rumors circulated of upcoming transports, mothers would hide with their children in the forest for the night and return after selection. On frigid nights, they would walk throughout the forest as not to freeze. One particular night, the police were alerted upon suspicion of Jews hiding in the woods. When they encountered the officer, to their surprise, he informed them of a safe camp nearby. The very camp from which they were hiding. One evening, Ruth refused to hide in the forest and remained in the camp. The women hiding in the woods that night were discovered and never returned. On another occasion, Ruth was hiding with several of the other children under a pile of potatoes. An officer found the children and quickly demanded they show themselves. Instead of punishment, the officer instructed the children to wait several minutes before exiting their hiding place until the camp’s transport trucks left and they would be safe.
After moving between five ghettos and work camps, Ruth and her mother were sent to Auschwitz in August 1944. In October 1944, her mother was transferred, leaving Ruth alone and devastated. While in the children’s barrack, someone told Ruth that her father was alive and arranged for the two to meet. Ruth saw her father through a fence. He wanted to help and threw over cigarettes so she can trade them for food. Ruth was able to see her father several times after. Her father did not survive the war.
Ruth was liberated from Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. She and the other surviving children were placed in an orphanage in Krakow. Having already found her sister Helen, her mother tracked down Ruth and put them both in a children’s home in Bielsko-Biala for safety. The three escaped to Munich and immigrated to Toronto two years later to live with distant relatives. Ruth’s father and 35 family members perished. Ruth married Mark Webber in 1956 and moved to Detroit, where she had three children and five grandchildren.
What does Auschwitz mean to you?
Auschwitz is a giant cemetery, but a cemetery without any recognition of the individuals who perished. All who come here walk upon their blood, bones, tears and ashes.
My message for future generations is…
Continue to educate children about this horrific past so it should never happen again. Education and not teaching or showing hatred is the key.
There is the history, with its coldness and its calculating perpetrators, and there is the loss. We would like our children to know about those so they can avoid being victims and avoid being perpetrators. Professor Sidney Bolkosky, University of Michigan- Dearborn, August 18, 1987.
Who will be accompanying you on this journey?
Susan Webber (daughter) – official companion, Shelly Webber (daughter), Nathan Chesterman (grandson)
The best thing I will leave behind are my children and grandchildren. Having children and grandchildren is part of what helped me heal, and I trust them with my life. I’m fortunate to have some of them here with me now.