Reading or seeing a documentary about the horrendous murders of six million Jews and five million other "undesirables" by the Nazis during WWII is shocking -- especially when we remember that all the victims were individuals who had their own unique history, a life of dreams and hopes. Every Holocaust survivor has a unique story to tell. This definitely includes Ruth Elias in her memoir "Triumph of Hope."
The reader gets a glimpse of life in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia where Ruth Elias, the daughter of divorced parents, grew up. Her family, the Huppets, were members of a vibrant Jewish community. Ruth was taken by horse and carriage to the Jewish grammar school. Every day a needy family ate lunch at their home. Anti-Semitism was quite prevalent in Moravia, part of Czechoslovakia, especially among the young ethnic Germans. The Sokol Athletic Association was notorious for its anti-Semitism.
The Germans invaded Moravia in March 1939. Every day new decrees referring to the persecution of Jews were issued. Ruth's father and her only sister Edith were sent to Auschwitz, and perished there. Later on, Ruth was deported to Theresienstadt - a ghetto where about 60,000 Jews were crammed. It was set up by the German occupiers to be "the kingdom of deceit." The Germans were so successful in their propaganda efforts that even the Red Cross came to believe that the place was a decent, and even ideal, place for its "residents." In reality, the conditions were terrible; starvation and diseases flourished, and the inhabitants were merely languishing before being shipped off to Auschwitz for extermination. Out of 15,000 children only 100 -- less than one percent -- survived. Ruth got married there to Koni. Later on while pregnant, Ruth was sent to Auschwitz. Most pregnant women were gassed and cremated upon arrival. Ruth managed for a while to conceal her pregnancy. Eventually a midwife in a dirty makeshift bed cut Ruth's umbilical cord with unsterilized scissors and told Ruth, "You have given birth to a healthy, well developed girl." Ruth's spontaneous response was, "What for? Why?" When infamous Joseph Mengele found out that Ruth was very close to giving birth, he decided to keep her around for sadistic medical experiments. He instructed a nurse to bind Ruth's breasts with bandages so she couldn't nurse the child. For seven days and nights she watched her firstborn disintegrate. The baby's cries became weaker, and then she became too weak even to cry. Ruth murmured to her child, to herself: "In the few days you have been on this earth, you have already had to endure so much torment. You haven't committed any sin, yet you are being punished so severely. Is there anything that I as your mother can do? Do I have the right to even think of ending both our lives? How can you and I live through this?" On the seventh day, Meca Steinberg, a Jewish prisoner, told Ruth: "I have brought you a hypodermic syringe containing morphine. Ruth protested, "I cannot be the murderer of my own child!" To which Meca responded: "Ruth, you are young, you must stay alive, your child will soon die anyway, inject it into your child." Meca risked her life to steal the morphine. She gave it to Ruth, saying, "I, as a doctor, have sworn the Hippocratic Oath and it is my duty to save human life, your life. Ruth, you must save your own life." Ruth injected the morphine into the baby and killed her painlessly. Thus, Mengele turned Ruth into the murderer of her own child.
Ruth survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and other forced-labor camps. Back in Czechoslovakia, not many people could comprehend or show an interest in what she had gone through. The living hell she had survived gained few ears willing to listen to her travails, even in Israel, the country of her coreligionists, the land of her ancestry that she had been yearning for. As a Holocaust survivor myself, I grieve with her and feel her pain; the incomprehensible to many is very comprehensible to me.
"Triumph of Hope" is a remarkable book. It is well-written, not by a professional author, but by an extraordinary person. The book is extensively descriptive and at times haunting as it describes in vivid detail, the many challenges the author had to face during the Holocaust and its aftermath, as she tried to start a new life in Czechoslovakia and eventually in Israel. This book was recommended to me by the author's relative in England. I am indeed grateful to him for recommending it to me, and I am sure that many readers will rave about the book, learn from it, and be appreciative of having all those things that Ruth and so many others, under the Nazi yoke, had been deprived of. This book is inspiring; it is insightful and highly recommendable.