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Ventnor Woman Provided Closure at Holocaust Museum

Her mother and sister sent her to England from Vienna when she was five, and she never saw them again.

A trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. provided closure for a Holocaust survivor now living in Ventnor.

Ruth Fisch was five years old when her mother and her sister helped her escape from Vienna to England via train in 1939, and she never saw them again.

Fisch, now Ruth Kessler, learned during a trip to the museum on Monday, April 29, that her mother, Charlotte, and her nine-year-old sister, Erika, died in a German concentration camp in German-occupied Poland in 1942.

“I found out a lot of what I wanted to know,” Kessler said in a release issued by the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey this week.

A representative of the International Tracing Service (ITS) at the museum told her mother and sister had been together in a ghetto in Vienna, according to the release.

“She also told me the area where my sister and mother were in (concentration camps) Belzec and Sorbibor, both in Poland,” Kessler said.

They were among the 2,000 Jewish men, women and children deported from Vienna to German-occupied Poland in 1941. They were then taken to Belzec and Sorbibor death camps in 1942.

Jo-Ellyn Decker, of the ITS, told Kessler “they were together, had not been separated and that meant so much to me. It was worth the trip.”

Kessler was one of 80 Holocaust survivors, World War II veterans and their families who made the trip from Margate to the museum in D.C.

The trip, co-sponsored by the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, the Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May Counties and the Jewish War Veterans Post 39 of Margate, was held in honor of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s 20th Anniversary National Tribute to Holocaust Survivors and Their Families & World War II Veterans.

Upon arriving in England as a child, Kessler was placed with with Stella and Michael Webber’s family. Stella Webber worked for HIAS, which was a nonprofit Jewish rights organization at the time. HIAS worked with Kindertransport, a group that focuses on all immigrants’ rights’ issues. She eventually reunited with her father, Henry Fisch, who had escaped to New York early on, but was unable to obtain passports and visas for his entire family.

“The irony of the whole story is she was not supposed to go,” Kessler’s husband, Louis Kessler said. “They wanted older children for Kindertransport. Her older sister was supposed to go but she would not leave her mother and they ended up in the concentration camp.”

He said his wife felt like she finally had closure upon hearing the news.

“It was like a rock off her shoulders to finally know all the particulars that are available,” Louis Kessler said.

Herb Harwood, a veteran living in Atlantic City, happened to meet the daughter of a man he helped liberate during the war. Harwood helped liberate the Flossenberg Concentration Camp, which included a man named Leon Kupferman, who died in 2002. Harwood met Kupferman’s daughter, Jeannette Binstock, on the trip.

“It was such a moving event,” said Dr. Nili Keren, Stockton’s Ida King Distinguished Visiting Professor of Holocaust Studies this academic year. “We are talking about people whose ages are between 80 to 90-plus. And they were so excited. Some of the Holocaust survivors came with their families, including second- and third-generation. … Everything was so well organized – nobody was lost among more than 3000 people who were invited. Everyone was like the only one there.”

Keren is an Israeli citizen.

The museum had people “sit at tables according to their country of origin - Warsaw, for instance,” according to Keren. “People met people who have not seen each other since the liberation in the camps. It was not something heavy, like you would think in a Holocaust event. It was something that showed people began a new life after the Holocaust.

“For me, it was something so important to give on to my students…I told them about it in class: how happy the survivors are to be alive. How important it is to say: ‘What can I do for the future?’”

Five undergraduate students who are earning a minor and two graduate students earning a Master of Arts in Stockton College’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies program also made the trip, according to the college.

“Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration & Complicity in the Holocaust” was very powerful for some students, according to Gail Rosenthal, director of Stockton’s Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center.

“They could identify with it because we all have neighbors,” Rosenthal said. “The students commented that this related to their lives and the importance of not being a bystander when help is needed.”

“The exhibits were fantastic, especially “Collaborators” – about how best friends were able to wholeheartedly turn over their Jewish neighbors to the Nazis  - even without getting a reward,” said Irvin Moreno Rodriguez, 19. “It could (have been) fear or pure hatred - we can only speculate.”

Moreno Rodriguez is working toward his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Criminal Justice, with a minor in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Stockton.

“What was really special was, I actually got to walk around with some of the Holocaust survivors from South Jersey,” Moreno Rodriguez said. “They will relive their lives. You get to interact with them – I don’t even think a museum can do that. You get to see what they’ve been through and how they’ve been able to come back from tragedy.

“When I was with Ruth Zinman, a Holocaust survivor from Transylvania who lives in South Jersey now, she started dancing the tango at a special event outside the museum. It really speaks to you that they’ve been through so much and they’re able to finds the joys of life in anything – including music,” Moreno Rodriguez said. “I think one of the most memorable things she told me was – she’d been feeling ill – but she said: ‘If Hitler couldn’t kill me, nothing is.’ ”

Robert Livingstone May 04, 2013 at 11:51 AM
You mean "German concentration camp", right? Poles was not building concentration camps. Germany invaded Poland at that time (39-45).
Michael Guenther May 04, 2013 at 12:38 PM
Nazi concentration camp in Poland or concentration camp in Poland would have been a more accurate wording. Otherwise a moving story well worth writing.
Jim Przedzienkowski May 04, 2013 at 02:40 PM
To clarify the camps location it should be correct to state that the German Nazis established them on occupied Polish soil. The camps were not Polish as implied by the comment. Please correct the error.
Krakowianka May 04, 2013 at 02:42 PM
Huge historical and geographical faux pas !!! Concentration camps were never Polish. Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939-1945. They were the ones who built all of their concentration camps on occupied Polish soil. Poland as a country did not even exist between 1939-1945 . Russians occupied Poland from the east on September 17, 1939. Please change your erroneous information to concur with historical facts.
Robert Livingstone May 05, 2013 at 03:28 PM
http://imgur.com/tpBbzar
Ed Zietarski May 06, 2013 at 08:21 PM
The concentration camps were NOT Polish! They were under the control of Germans, and on German-occupied territory throughout their period of operation. Please kindly correct your article. Firstly, the camps should be described as "German", not "Polish". Secondly, the phrase "in Poland" should be replaced with a phrase such as "in German-occupied Poland". Thirdly, I note that there are references to Poland in the article, ... but Germany is not mentioned at all ... Thank you in advance for the anticipated prompt amendments.
Red May 07, 2013 at 06:34 PM
I can understand the sensitivity to the words "Polish concentration" camps but you cannot deny that the Polish Jews in many instances were handed over to the Nazi occupiers by their Polish Christian neighbors. That is an undeniable fact and it is quibbling to try to exhonerate the Polish people from their complicity in the destruction of Polish Jewish population.
Red May 08, 2013 at 01:42 AM
. My friend's late father was incarcerated in any number of ways from the ghetto initially to different concentration camps, including Auschwitz. To say he harbored hatred for the Nazis would be a gross understatement. But in all his stories, he held a special hatred for his fellow Poles, whom he often said were even more vicious. I think it is possible, therefore, to correct the reference about the camps being Polish camps (as opposed to them being located in occupied Poland) AND still acknowledge the horrific role many Poles played in the persecution of the Jewish people. They are not, in my view, mutually exclusive.
Frank Insurgent May 08, 2013 at 10:34 PM
Polish Jews were the primary victims of the German Nazi-organized Holocaust. Throughout the German occupation of Poland, many Poles risked their own lives – and the lives of their families – to rescue Jews from the Nazis. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the biggest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. To date, 6,266 Poles have been awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations by the State of Israel – more than any other nation. The Armia Krajowa (Polish resistance) alerted the world to the Holocaust, notably with the reports of Witold Pilecki and Jan Karski. The Polish government in exile and the Polish Secret State asked for American and British help to stop the Holocaust, to no avail. Frank I.
Frank Insurgent May 08, 2013 at 10:35 PM
Some estimates put the number of Poles involved in rescue at up to 3 million, and credit Poles with saving up to around 450,000 Jews from certain death. The rescue efforts were aided by one of the largest anti-Nazi resistance movements in Europe, the Polish Underground State and its military arm, the Armia Krajowa. Supported by the Polish government in exile, these organizations operated special units dedicated to helping Jews; of those, the most notable was Żegota. Polish citizens were hampered by the most extreme conditions in all of German-occupied Europe. Nazi-occupied Poland was the only territory where the Germans decreed that any kind of help for Jews was punishable by death for the helper and his entire family. Of the estimated 3 million Poles killed in World War II, up to 50,000 were executed by Nazi Germany solely as a penalty for saving Jews. After the War most of this information was suppressed by the Soviet-backed regime in an attempt to discredit Polish prewar society and government as reactionary.
Frank Insurgent May 08, 2013 at 10:39 PM
Several organizations were created and run by ethnic Poles and Jewish underground activists, dedicated to saving the Polish Jewish community. Among those, Żegota, the Council to Aid Jews, was the most prominent. The most famous member of Żegota was Irena Sendler, who managed to successfully smuggle 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. Besides Żegota, there were few smaller, less effective organizations, which on their actions agenda included help to the Jews. Some were associated with Zegota.

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