Ruth Steinfeld- Holocaust Survivor
It was an honor to hear first hand from Holocaust survivor, Ruth Steinfeld. There was such a gentleness to her that outweighed the horrors she endured. Her memories moved me to tears and at that moment I agreed, to remain silent is to do nothing.
To speak of the terror and heartache she witnessed as a child was none existence. In her experience, being a Jew meant being marched to a cattle train for deportation. Her identity meant death. However, that changed when she was invited to Israel.
Kristallnacht- The Night of the Broken Glass.
A night forever etched in her memory. Nazi soldiers stormed their home and tore it apart. Along with the destruction, they took their father, Alfred Krell, forever ripping the family apart. This began the ripple effect of everything being torn apart.
Ruth, her sister Lea and mother, Anna Krell, were also taken and herded into cattle cars with other women and children. Their ultimate fate was the holding camp where many would stay before entering the gas chambers in Auschwitz.
“I remember there was a barrack by our barrack where women were screaming all the time and I was scared of them,” Steinfeld said as she shook her head. “My mother had told me that they had finally gone crazy.” “Many people went crazy. Imagine, losing everything.”
In an ultimate sacrifice, their mother, Anna, made a decision that would ultimately result in them living to tell their stories to this day.
An organization went undercover into the camp, as the French Red Cross, pretending to do humanitarian work. Their goal was to rescue the children.
They convinced their mother that they would protect the children at all cost if she would let them go. Ruth was only seven years of age when her and her sister,Lea (8), were entrusted to a French-Jewish philanthropic organization called the Oeuvres de Secours aux Enfants (OSE). It was the last time that they would see their mother.
Lyon, France farmhouse
She spoke of how they were given false identities and had to move around in secret from orphanages to orphanages in fear of the Nazi’s. One of her fond memories is that of a French family, Jean-Marie and France Chapot, who took her and her sister in and cared for them.
They lived in a small farmhouse in a Catholic community, Faverges-de-la-Tour (Isère), outside of Lyon, France. It was so small that it wasn’t on the map. She and her sister attended Catholic school and would try to mouth the prayers in order to blend in. Eventually, the Catholic priest suspected their true identities and they had to move again.
It took her a long time to forgive the priest who betrayed them. Both were eventually moved to another orphanage, where they remained until war’s end. At 13 and 14 years old, Ruth and Lea came to the United States in 1946 after her remaining grandfather Jakob Kapustin, who was living in the United States, saw their names among a list of war orphans and brought them over.
Years later she received an invitation to speak at the Yad Vashem in Israel. With reluctance and persuasive insistence from her daughter, she went. This moment brought all the pain of the past and her lost identity to a collision of healing.
She looked and searched the records for her parents names but they were not listed. All these years she never had a document with their name. She never had a link to her parents. She never had proof that she existed until now.
Just so happened, that very same day, a gentleman completed his research on the names of people who perished where she grew up. (The Germans kept very good records.) 80,000 people were listed and among them were Alfred and Anna Krell. Along with their names were Ruth and Lea. She got her identity back.
She then went on to look for the French family, Jean-Marie and France Louise Chapot, who took them in as a child. However, the couple passed years before she could thank them. The only survivor was their daughter, Paulette.
She had only one picture with a first name, that she used to track down Paulette. By memory, she recalls the mother telling her, “Listen, in twenty minutes you will hear the bomb go off.” By that timing she set the distance from the main city.
Eventually, she found the town and Paulette. They embraced, hugged and cried. Paulette said, “I knew you would come back one day.” When asked, by Ruth, “How was it that your family was so brave to take in two little girls knowing the consequences, all she said was ‘wouldn’t you?'”
Ruth made sure to honor Jean-Marie and France Louise Chapot for their heroic act. On February 25, 2014, Yad Vashem recognized Jean-Marie and France Louise Chapot as Righteous Among the Nations
Ruth received her identity and healing. She now shares her story to honor and remember each child murdered in the Holocaust.
1.5 million children under the age of 14 were murdered immediately upon arrival. One butterfly is for one child lost in the holocaust.
The Butterfly Project is a call to action through education, the arts and memorial making. It uses the lessons of the Holocaust to educate about the dangers of hatred and bigotry and cultivates empathy and social responsibility. Participants paint ceramic butterflies that are permanently displayed as symbols of resilience and hope, with the goal of creating 1.5 million butterflies around the world—one for each child who perished in the Holocaust, and honoring the survivors. (Taken from HHM website)