Ruth's Story

April 29, 2024

Ruth's Story

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed May 5) holds a weight for the Jewish people, particularly in light of the ongoing war in Israel. We recently had the honor of speaking with survivor and JF&CS client Ruth Simon Heinemann, her daughter Susan Heinemann Berman, and her One Good Deed match Dana Wachsmann about Ruth’s story, Yam HaShoah, and the importance of chosen family.

Warmth radiates from Ruth, along with a gentle and patient manner that is a testament to the wisdom of her 99 years. Ruth was only 13 when she escaped Germany and saw her parents and sister Ilse for the last time. She met her husband Fred, a fellow survivor, and they went on to have three children, including Susan. Ruth’s trials and tribulations didn’t end with the Holocaust, and Susan lovingly detailed her mother’s story in her book Challenging Faith: A Young Girl’s Journey to Freedom. In the dedication, Ruth writes, “let our history live on and be a lesson to educate every human being that hatred and bigotry cause unnecessary pain, loss and suffering to everyone including the perpetrators.”

(image: standing: Susan Heinemann Berman, Dana Wachsmann, seated: Ruth Simon Heinemann)

Our Current Situation

Susan’s book was published in 2022. A year later on October 7, 2023, the war in Israel would begin, bringing with it a rise in antisemitism and hatred worldwide. As Ruth reflects on Yam HaShoah, she is pensive. “(The Holocaust) should never be forgotten, that’s for sure,” she said. “I hope Israel survives what’s going on now, it’s very worrisome. There’s a lot of antisemitism in the schools and universities. It seems like the Holocaust is all forgotten now, but it needs to be remembered.”

“So many sacrifices were made (during the Holocaust) to be Jewish,” said Susan. “To keep that light burning despite the hate, we need to love. Our Jewish faith tells us that we are to repair the world, so we must repel that hate and show the world that our faith is a faith of generosity, education, and family, and that we want peace. Yom HaShoah is a commemoration of the sacrifices that were made and the people who died, Jewish and non-Jewish. It needs to be honored and remembered so that we learn from the past and don’t repeat it.”

(image: Ruth proudly holds Susan's book)

“I never thought we’d see this resurgence again,” continues Susan. “It pains me, particularly for mom because she sacrificed so much. It’s an awful feeling that after all these years, and all the contributions that our race has made, people are still so uneducated and intolerant. But we are not going quietly into the night. I’m proud of our heritage and pray that it will continue beyond infinity.”

One Good Deed

For Dana Wachsmann, the Holocaust has had personal impact, too. Her father’s parents escaped Hitler, and she is the first generation of her family to be born in the U.S. While she has been a volunteer throughout her life, she began to look for a more personal way to do so. The extra steps that the One Good Deed program puts into place- not only to make matches but to facilitate real relationships- appealed to her, and she requested to be matched with a Holocaust survivor. Soon after Dana started the process in 2017, Ruth moved to metro Atlanta to be near Susan and was looking for a match, too. The rest is history.

“We hit it off very well, and (Ruth and Susan) immediately made me feel like I’m their adopted daughter and sister,” said Dana.

“The more, the merrier!” laughed Susan.

“Susan is my right hand, Dana is my left,” said Ruth.

Dana smiled. “It’s been a very special seven years,” she said. “I’ve lost both my parents, my grandma- it’s nice to have a new family nearby. Family comes in different packages.”

“I’m very grateful for our friendship,” said Ruth. “She’s part of the family!”

When Ruth and Dana get together, they go shopping, connect with other Holocaust survivors at Café Europa, go to doctor’s appointments, and go out to eat- Bagelicious and Goldberg’s are favorites.

“It’s very important to stay active, and to find people to enjoy things with you,” said Ruth.

As we part, we ask Ruth one final question- what has kept her going all these years in spite of all she has been through? Her eyes sparkle, and a smile forms at the corner of her mouth. “My faith,” she says, “and my family.” Wearing a necklace gifted by her grandson as she holds her daughter’s book while standing between Susan and Dana, we see how true that really is.