Ruth Gruener is a Holocaust Survivor. She has lived through Soviet occupation and Nazi Rule, spending 8 months inside a cramped closet space to survive the latter. Through Project Witness, a Holocaust education and resource center, we were able to hear Ruth speak once again.
Ruth began by retelling her story, recalling her feelings of loneliness, fear and gratitude for having survived such a calamitous event. She managed to endure isolation by telling herself stories and talking to God. “I felt that God was my friend, why not talk to God, ” she said, as she didn’t have anyone else. Ruth was often left alone and ignored in the Schziggle household, the Polish Christian family that braved the risk of hiding her. As Ruth puts it, “I guess they didn’t want to be reminded that because of me, they would be killed.”
I was quite intrigued by Ruth’s story and even more so by her recurring message of Love despite all she’s been through, so I asked her: “What does love mean to you?” She replied “Love is first of all to treat everybody like you would treat a relative whom you love like a sister or a brother or a child or parent of yours. And not to think about how they look, what country they come from, what religion they practice. If they are kind people and they want to be my friends and spend time with me, I love it. And I want to be friends with anybody who wants to be my friend, I appreciate it after suffering in hiding so very much alone. I appreciate people who want to see me and talk to me and spend time with me.”
Seeing how Ruth has lived her life so lovingly despite all she’s been through inspired me. It also made me think of cycles of violence and how we often perpetuate them. If someone harms us, we feel we are entitled to seek revenge on them or even take it out on someone else. But Ruth doesn’t endorse that. It’s very easy to be consumed by hate as it blinds you from reason and rationality, making it so dangerous. When we think about it, hate really boils down to ignorance and anger. I however want to make clear that I am not gaslighting those who may hold anger in their hearts because of something they may have suffered or fallen victim to. When you have been wronged, it is not your fault nor are you prohibited from having feelings. That is your right. I think you just need to find a healthy way to cope with it.
This is why I asked Ruth how she healed from her trauma. She responded: “Well it didn’t come overnight. I still was sticking with my parents as much as possible, and it took time for me to learn to appreciate the fresh air I was finally able to inhale, and the sunshine, and the moon again. It was just so wonderful to come back to a normal life and it took time but I finally did it. So, I want to pass on this feeling of being happy and alive and being able to appreciate the beauty of sunshine, the rivers and oceans where we can bathe and swim and so on”.
Being that Ruth is a member of a dying generation, I cherish the opportunity to hear her speak and spread her message. Drawing on my point from earlier, hate is a dangerous combination of ignorance and anger. Naturally, through the message of tolerance and understanding, hate can be combated. Realistically speaking, I think hate will exist in this world as long as there are people. Genocides are still tragically practiced even today. But as long as there are people left to spread the message of love, there will always be hope. Everything has to be balanced. We are only human, so it’s natural for us to have anger but we cannot let it stay within us for longer than is healthy, nor allow it to lead our actions. We must never allow hate to fester in our hearts; we must always keep our ill thoughts and negative emotions in check.
It all really starts with the youth. The people who grow up to be politicians or authority officials and regular adults all started out as kids. The ideas that were fed to them are what they naturally adopted. That’s why it’s important to not only teach love but also critical thinking. We need to be more conscious of the people around us. The same way a kid grows into an adult, uncomfortable assertions disguised as “jokes” can turn into blatant hate and fatal actions. Even normalizing jokes at the expense of another can easily turn into something rotten, if not for the perpetrator then the victim. I think that’s why Project Witness does what they do. If you want to change a society, start with the youngest generation. Teach kids to love one another and dissuade them from ostracizing their peers in any way.
From Ruth, I’ve learned that love takes time and patience, but it is always better than hate. Hate only knows how to kill and harm, it can never satisfy you the way love does. Love is as natural as two flowers growing beautifully in a garden, as Ruth would say. Our differences on the surface As I close, I leave you with a memorable analogy Ruth drew between people and flowers to illustrate my point:
“God created people of color just like flowers. If anybody likes flowers and admires the beauty and I would ask a girl, ‘what color is your favorite flower” and she said oh I love pink flowers. And I would ask the same question to a boy and he would say ‘my favorite color’s blue’ so I say ‘would you plant a blue color next to a pink color? Do they destroy each other? Do they hate each other? No they grow beautifully”
Click on the link below for the full video of Ruth’s talk with the WHSAD community: