For most of her life, she’s been called Ruth. But this Holocaust survivor, whose parents died in Auschwitz, was called Bela for a short time after being orphaned during the war. Keren Blankfeld, writing at the New York Times, shares Ruth’s personal story of how she went from being an orphan in occupied Berlin to a thriving Jewish kid growing up in New York, all thanks to one American soldier.
In the late 1990s, when Ruth decided to file for reparations with the Claims Conference, which negotiates with the German government on behalf of Holocaust victims, she and her daughter began piecing the story of how she landed in New York. On the April afternoon I visited, Beth laid out dozens of clippings and more than 120 copies of letters and telegrams that Sergeant Simons wrote to his sister while he was in Germany . . .
Three months of incessant hustle after their initial contact, Sergeant Simons officially adopted Bela [who he started calling Ruth]. Two weeks later, despite Americans’ profound ambivalence to refugees, President Harry S. Truman issued the Truman Directive on Dec. 22, 1945, which allowed limited immigration from war-torn Europe.
“He really did believe that the U.S. should live up to its reputation as a beacon of light,” said Alan Kraut, a professor of history at American University. The directive emphasized displaced persons and that the majority of refugees coming in be orphans. Still, it took almost four months before Berlin’s newly opened U.S. consulate awarded the first visa . . .
“He was an average guy, nothing special,” said Ruth. “He was special to me because of what he did, but he was an average person.”