Ruth Rosenfeld

Her Personal History

My name is Ruth Rosenfeld. I was born Roza Kriszer-Weinlez on November 12, 1940, in Wadowice, Poland to Sala Gelbwachs and Arik Kriszer-Weinlez. I have a sister Halinka, a year and a half older than I.

My parents’ wedding, father’s family: first row left to right: my father Arik, my mother Sala, Grandfather Feivel Weinlez, my aunt Hava; second row standing in the back, Roman, Esta and Matilda (uncle and aunts)

Image courtesy of Ruth Banker Rosenfeld.

My father came from a loving, close-knit family. My grandfather, Feivel Weinlez, kept a very religious home, one steeped in Jewish tradition. As a milkman, he was responsible for bringing kosher milk to Jewish households in Wadowice. He supervised the milking on Christian farms to ensure there was no mixing of pig’s milk (non-kosher) with cow’s milk (kosher).

My grandparents had eleven children; my father was their third child. Sadly, his mother passed away on September 10, 1919, after delivering a second set of twins. After his mother’s death, his 14 year old sister, Hava helped raise her siblings, taking care of the home and the cooking.

My father, Arik, met my mother Sala (Sara) Gelbwachs. They were married in 1936, and moved to the town of Bielsko, not far from Wadowice.

My sister, Halinka was born in May 1939. In September, when the war came to Poland, my father saw the Germans come into Bielsko Biala. Becoming frightened, my parents returned to Wadowice and moved in with my maternal grandparents, Renee (Rachel) Landau and David Gelbwachs.

This is the door to their home in Wadowice. They lived across the street from the town’s synagogue.

Image courtesy of Ruth Banker Rosenfeld.

My maternal grandparents were very religious as well. While my parents were observant, they were becoming very modern. My father was a Zionist, and both my parents thought of going to Israel, but unfortunately, that never came to pass.

In early 1941, when I was just a few months old, our family was forced to move from my maternal grandparents’ home into the Wadowice ghetto. We lived in the ghetto until 1942 when it was liquidated by the Germans. As the aktion began, my father hid with Halinka and me in a small space he had created in the attic of a nearby building. I don’t know why my mother did not go into hiding with us. Instead, my mother Sala, my grandparents Renee and David, my Aunt Rosa and my Uncle Aaron were taken to Auschwitz where they were murdered.

I’ve been told that when the aktion ended, my father took Halinka and me from the attic and carried us to the home of a Christian woman friend, an innkeeper in Bielsko-Biala, and asked her to hide us. This righteous woman took us in, but after a few days she and my father decided that it was too dangerous for us to remain in Bielsko-Biala. The four of us boarded a train going to Czechoslovakia where they thought we might be safer. Unfortunately, the train was stopped by a German convoy; my father Arik was recognized as a Jew, removed from the train and shot.

Julia Wala with an unknown child on the farm in Buczkowice, Poland.

Image courtesy of Ruth Banker Rosenfeld

The Christian innkeeper took Halinka and me back to her home to care for us. Periodically, the Germans would search her house, suspecting that she was hiding Jews. At those times we were taken down to the cellar, hidden in large wooden barrels and covered with poppy seeds. I can remember the Germans poking their bayonets into the barrels to see if anyone was hiding there.

Realizing that it was only a matter of time until the Germans would find us, our guardian found two sisters who were willing to hide us. They lived in a nearby village called Buczkowice. From 1943 until the end of the war in 1945, we lived with these two families: Halinka with one sister, Anna; I with the other sister, Julia Wala. Halinka and I saw each other every day; she took care of the goats and I tended the geese. When German soldiers visited the farms, we were hidden under the floorboards. Even at the young age of three, I was aware of the physical danger Halinka and I were in and the horrors surrounding us.

Halinka and I are shown here at the orphanage St. Pierre de Chartreus, with some of our friends.  

Image courtesy of Ruth Banker Rosenfeld.

A few months after the end of the war, a religious Zionist organization called Poale Agudah found us, took us to a kibbutz-like settlement in Lodz, Poland and then to a DP (displaced persons) camp in Prague. Over the next three years, we moved through a number of orphanages in France. All the while my sister and I remained together.

In 1948, Eleanor and Sam Banker of Interlaken, New Jersey made a trip to our orphanage with the idea of adopting a child who had survived the Holocaust. Because Halinka and I would not be separated, our future parents decided to adopt both of us. On September 1, 1949, Halinka and I, accompanied by our adoptive mother, landed at Idlewild Airport (now Kennedy Airport).

In Paris with our adoptive mother, Eleanor Banker.

Images courtesy of Ruth Banker Rosenfeld.

In the United States, we were given new American sounding names. Halinka became Helen and I became Ruth. Almost immediately after our arrival we began, for the first time, to go to school. I entered second grade at the Bradley School in Asbury Park, while Helen entered third. We took the school bus with the neighborhood children, and before long we were speaking English, making friends and becoming Americanized. Helen and I continued to speak Polish to each other, but our mother tried to discourage this by telling us that this was part of our unhappy past. Because we so desperately wanted to please her, we made a pact to only speak English from that time on. Now I don’t remember one word of Polish.

With Dad on the boardwalk in Asbury Park.

Image courtesy of Ruth Banker Rosenfeld.

In 1962, our uncle, Isaac Gelbwachs (my biological mother’s brother who had escaped to Russia while we were living in the ghetto and was now living in Israel), recognized my sister Helen in a photo that appeared on the back cover of a book written by Lena Kuchler-Silberman, entitled One Hundred Children (the photo of the children standing in front of the bus in the square in Prague). My uncle eventually traced us and my adoptive mother was told that we had family in Israel who were looking for us.

Poland 1991: Here I am with my Christian family:  Wadislawa, me, Maria and Stanislaw; Maria’s granddaughter is in front and Wadislawa’s husband is standing in the doorway.

Image courtesy of Ruth Banker Rosenfeld.

Finding our biological family has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. We are blessed with a large, loving family of aunts, uncles and cousins. Through them we have received pictures of our parents and grandparents, heard stories about our family and received letters written by my mother and grandmother during those terrible times. It is comforting to hear my mother’s and grandmother’s voices from the letters that my uncle received when he and his brother Jacob had escaped to Russia.

Thanks to my Aunt Matilda, we found the Christian family that hid us in Buczkowice. Since then I have been in regular correspondence with them and have visited them twice in Poland. Three of the children, Wladislawa, Maria and Stanislaw are alive and have shared stories from the time that I lived with them.

Image courtesy of Ruth Banker Rosenfeld.

Now that you have met my Christian family and have visited my birthplace, it is time to leave the memories and places in my past and visit the present. My husband and children are my future and I would like to introduce you to my beautiful family.

I met my husband, Dr. Gerald Rosenfeld, in 1960 during the first week of my first year at Boston University. We were married on November 11, 1962, and were blessed with three wonderful children.

We were fortunate to continue to have a close, loving relationship with my family. Sadly, my mother passed away in 1978 at the age of 67 from breast cancer. My father lived for many years afterwards, first with Helen and then with me before he died in 1999 at the age of 93. Now I am a grandmother with six beautiful grandchildren.

Wadowice’s central village near the church where Pope John Paul II was baptized.  I’m with our relatives from Israel.

Image courtesy of Ruth Banker Rosenfeld.

Through miraculous situations I continue to uncover people from my past. I have also reconnected with other “children” who were in the orphanage with me. Getting together with these wonderful people from my past gives me back my life, and fills some of my emptiness.

Our children learned at a very early age about my experiences during the Holocaust. I know how lucky I am that there were good people who loved me and were willing to risk their lives for me. The courageous acts of kindness by the righteous Christian family who took me in not only saved my life, but have enabled me to live the rest of my life with optimism and hope knowing that goodness does exist. Each of us has the power and obligation to make a difference in this world. This is what I have tried to impart to my children.

I have been involved with Holocaust survivor organizations and speak at schools whenever I am asked in an effort to share the message that “Hate destroys”. It destroys both the hated and the hater. We must stand guard against bigotry, intolerance and extremism.

My sister Helen and I returned to Wadowice in 1995. This is a picture of us at the site of the ghetto apartment of our family.

Image courtesy of Ruth Banker Rosenfeld.

I pray for the unity, strength and well-being of the Jewish people; I hope that we have the wisdom to rise above the things that divide us and remember that we are all Jews and must always be there for each other. I hope that while we take care of our own, we do not close our eyes to the injustices perpetrated on others. I hope we reach out our hand to people in need, recognizing the humanity in all, realizing that even a small act of kindness--relieving one child’s fear, even for an hour, or one man’s hunger, even for a day, or restoring dignity to a fallen person, even for a moment, is of immense significance.

Chhange educates, inspires, and empowers individuals to stand up to injustice.