Dr. Ruth – A Holocaust Survivor and Holy Land Hero

Stand for Israel  |  February 13, 2023

Dr. Ruth Westheimer
(Photo: wikicommons/Harald Bischoff)

Millions of people around the world know Dr. Ruth Westheimer from her decades spent as a therapist and a television personality. But not many know that she also not only survived the Holocaust, but served the Jewish people on the battlefield, as a sniper while Israel fought for its very existence.

Born in to an orthodox Jewish family in 1928, Ruth Siegel grew up in Frankfurt, Germany, with her parents and her widowed grandmother. Only 10 years old, the girl watched after Kristallnacht as her beloved father was taken away by the Nazis.

Ruth wouldn’t learn until later that her father survived four long years in Auschwitz before being murdered in 1942. That is more than she ever learned of her mother, who like so many Jewish people, simply disappeared during the Holocaust, murdered and forgotten.

But before she herself was taken by the Nazis in 1939, Irma Siegel made sure her young daughter would survive. Little Ruth was sent on a Kindertransport train to neutral Switzerland. There, Ruth lived for the rest of WWII’s six long years in an orphanage. As a girl, she wasn’t even schooled, although another orphan shared his textbooks, so Ruth continued to learn.

When the war ended, Ruth made aliyah (immigrated) to what was then still British-mandate Palestine. The 16-year-old moved to a kibbutz (a collective Israeli farm) before ending up in the Holy City of Jerusalem, where she studied education.

At the same time, war again interrupted Ruth’s life, as the Jewish people faced attacks from all sides as Israel fought for its independence. Standing only 4-feet-7, Ruth joined the Haganah (the precursor to today’s IDF) as a sniper; even today the nonagenarian can still put together a military weapon with her eyes closed!

On her 20th birthday, as Israel fought its War of Independence in 1948, an enemy mortar shell exploded near where Ruth was stationed. The two young Jewish women fighting next to her were killed, and Ruth was nearly killed. She was temporarily paralyzed, and nearly lost both of her feet. But after many months of recovery, she once again regained the ability to walk.

The following decades of Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s life are probably more well-known – her career as a therapist and her life as a celebrity advisor on love. But it is these first two decades of Ruth’s life that we remember today – that of a Holocaust survivor, as well as a Holy Land hero.

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