Vol. 15


The Lucky Escape

1939–1940; Brno, Czechoslovakia;(1) Rotterdam, The Netherlands

My great-grandmother Ruthie Small was a little girl in 1939. She was living in Czechoslovakia in a wonderful home, and life was good. One day her family got home to find their windows, mirrors, and chandeliers shattered! Ruthie’s father went to synagogue that evening, and the windows there were shattered as well. That night became known as Kristallnacht,(2) and was the start of the Holocaust.

After that, Ruthie was scared of being beaten and was not allowed to go outside. She had to wear a yellow star on her clothing to show that she was a Jew. If she went outside without it, she risked being killed.

One day Ruthie’s father was captured by a Nazi soldier. Ruthie’s mother had a Nazi friend before the Holocaust had started. After Ruthie’s father was captured, Ruthie’s mother asked the friend to help get Ruthie’s father out in exchange for ownership of their successful family business. The Nazi man said it would be difficult, but he would try. He warned that if he got Ruthie’s father out, they must leave right away.

A few days after her father was captured, a Nazi burst through their door. Ruthie and her sister were home alone. The soldier yelled, “Where’s the money?” Ruthie said she didn’t know. He threatened to find it himself and shoved her aside. He began searching their home, wrecking everything. Ruthie’s mom was clever — she had hidden the money in the bar of the curtains so nobody would find it. That soldier left upset, with no money.

Two months passed, and Ruthie’s father was still not home. The family didn’t have hope for his return.

The next day Ruthie’s father escaped and came running home with bruises all over his face. Their family was so happy that he was finally home! After they hugged, Ruthie’s mother said that they had to leave immediately. While the family rushed to leave, Ruthie’s mom pulled her aside and gave her the money and jewelry from the curtain bars. She told Ruthie to hide those things under her shirt. Ruthie’s mother said that since Ruthie was the youngest, the soldiers wouldn’t check her, even if the family was stopped. Ruthie was not so sure the plan would work.

Ruthie’s parents decided to leave for Holland.(3) When they approached the border, the officers there searched everyone in Ruthie’s family except her. To this day she doesn’t know why they didn’t search her, and she often wonders what would have happened to her family if they had.

After Ruthie’s family arrived in Holland, they took a ship called The Vendome to America. The journey was dangerous, because the Nazis had put explosives in the water. If anyone tried to escape, their ship would explode! Luckily, the captain knew the exact path to take to avoid the explosives. Ruthie and her family made it to America safely and survived the Holocaust.

My great-grandmother still has her yellow star as a reminder of this scary time. She has it hanging on her wall to show everyone that she was lucky enough to escape the war.

Judah Weitzman; New York, USA


1. Today Brno is located in the Czech Republic, also known as “Czechia.”

2. Kristallnacht, known in English as “Night of Broken Glass,” happened throughout Germany and in parts of some other countries on November 9 and 10 in 1939.

3. “Holland” is an informal name for The Netherlands. 



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