Survivor Profiles: Ruth Gilbert
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Ruth Gilbert was born in 1938 in Lodz, Poland. Her father was a businessman who worked in shoe manufacturing, and her mother was a homemaker. Upon Nazi occupation of Poland, Ruth and her family were placed into the Lodz Ghetto. Ruth’s father recognized how the increasing danger of the situation, so he went to the black market to purchase fake IDs for Ruth and her mother. In 1941, Ruth’s father bribed a guard to let him sneak Ruth and her mother out of the ghetto under the barbwire.
Ruth’s father planned to make his way to Russia and join the Russian army. However, this did not end up happening–the last time Ruth saw her father was when he helped her and her mother escape the ghetto.
Ruth and her mother rode the trains of Poland for six weeks. They had little food and no access to a bathroom. Nazi officers frequently patrolled the trains. Any Jews caught on the trains were dragged outside and shot.
One day, Ruth’s mother met a Polish woman on the train. After hearing that Ruth’s mother was a widow without a home, the woman invited the two to her apartment. Upon their arrival, the woman’s husband knew that Ruth and her mom were Jews, but he never turned them in. Instead, he suggested that Ruth’s mother find work as a maid, which she immediately did.
Over the years, Ruth’s mother worked as a maid for six different families. Most of these families were extremely anti-Semitic. Both Ruth and her mother had to endure a constant barrage of hate speech directed towards Jewish people. Whenever Ruth’s mother felt that her employers suspected that they were Jewish, she and Ruth would leave the home immediately, sometimes even in the middle of the night.
One of the final jobs Ruth’s mother had before the war ended was as a maid to a countess in a wealthy suburb of Warsaw. Every weekend, this countess would entertain high-ranking Nazi officers. However, the countess was not a Nazi sympathizer. She and her husband were actually agents for the Polish underground. Whatever information they could learn while hosting the Nazis was relayed back to the underground. Ruth and her mother were unaware of this the entire time they were there. They would only find out as the war was coming to an end when Ruth’s mother would reveal to the countess that she and Ruth were Jewish.
In 1945, Ruth and her mother returned to Lodz. However, they only stayed there for one year because the city was in such bad shape after the bombings. The two left for Germany shortly after. They lived in Munich for three years, and in received sponsorship to come to New York in 1949. After a short period living in New York, they joined an aunt in Chicago.
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Photo credits: John Pregulman