Ruth Lieberman Drescher
b. Stuttgart, Germany, 1934
There were always people staying in our apartment in Stuttgart. I always wondered why we had a bed in the bathroom. Only later did I realize that we had all this company because the American consulate was located in Stuttgart, and people were desperate to make arrangements to emigrate in 1938 and 1938.
My father, however, had no interest in leaving Germany. He thought, I later learned, that all these people were foolishly disrupting their lives. This Hitler madness was sure to blow over, he said. After all, he had fought in the Great War, and his picture in uniform hung in a place of honor in our apartment along with his well-earned medals. It was not until Kristallnacht, November 9,
1938—when my father came home from hiding in a villa that belonged to a non-Jewish friend of his, who had warned him of what was to happen—that he believed the disaster so feared by others could actually take place.
Finally, my parents agreed that they too had to leave, and the visas were applied for and received. We were to take the train to Rotterdam where we would board the SS Veendam to take us to New York.
There was one incident before we left Stuttgart which has become emblematic of my childhood in Germany. It occurred shortly before we left. I had been playing with four or five children outside our apartment building. One of the mothers came out and gave candy to the children. All the other children were given two pieces, I only one. Why, I wondered aloud, did I get one piece when everyone else got two? The daughter of the woman who gave us the candy said: “It's because you are Jewish.” This, my first direct experience with anti-Semitism, has stayed with me all of these years.
The thing which symbolizes our departure for me was my little red shoulder bag, which I loved and wore diagonally from right to left. I was too young to understand why the men and women were separated at the train station, and I certainly did not understand why my mother and sister Margot (age twelve) were taken into another room. Later I learned that they were strip searched. I, however, was spared that experience, and was greeted by a Nazi official who asked me what was in my bag. As I began to open it, he said something like: “You are a sweet little girl—never mind, you can go.” I can only imagine the relief which my mother must have experienced as she saw that her little five-year-old daughter was not subjected to any humiliation.