Lehman (Holcman), Ruth (Rachela)
Lodz (Poland), Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Sweden, Detroit
Ruth Holzman Lehman was born in 1921 in Lodz, Poland. Lehman was one of six children, having four brothers and one sister. Before the war broke out, Lehman was going to school and working part time bookkeeping. She wanted to be a certified public accountant but that all changed when the war broke out. Lehman’s family was very traditional and Orthodox, having dinner every Friday night and keeping kosher. Lehman’s father went to the synagogue every week, praying every day. Lehman’s brothers went to the local Jewish school. Her family was very involved in the religious community. Lehman attended a public school for Jewish girls but even though she was mostly surrounded by fellow Jews, she recalls anti-Semitism. One night, Lehman’s father was coming home from work when he was jumped by a small non-Jewish boy. The boy continued to knock off his glasses and punch him in the nose. Newspapers produced anti-Semitic feelings as well.
Lehman first heard that the war broke out while listening to the radio and after that moment her life changed drastically. Lehman and her family were sequestered in the Lodz ghetto. Lehman’s sister did not join the family in Lodz; she was in Warsaw with her husband and infant child. They did not survive the war. Living quarters in the ghetto were small and cramped and there was no running water. Food came in small portions and was of poor quality. But Lehman’s family made due of what they had. Lehman describes her family as very peaceful; they didn’t fight like other families around them. Every time food came into their possession, they weighed it on a scale and divided the portions evenly. Lehman’s family worked hard in the ghetto, all of them having factory jobs. Unfortunately, in 1942 Lehman’s father died of starvation. After her father’s death, Lehman worked in the tailoring factory as a clerk. Lehman stayed in the ghetto until its liquidation in the fall of 1944. Lehman was on the first transport to Auschwitz. When Lehman and the other Jews on the train arrived at Auschwitz, they saw the current inmates of Auschwitz. Lehman and the others asked these Jews who they were and where they were from, but they didn’t answer. Lehman thought they were deaf. Little did she know the horrors they had seen, experienced, and been accustomed to. Lehman remarks that “they lured us to Auschwitz.” Miraculously, Lehman was selected twice for the gas chambers and both times she was sent back. Lehman also recalls standing naked in front of men after undressing; she says they were “treated like animals.”
Lehman met her aunt in Auschwitz and learned that her mother and little brother were both selected and picked up by the Germans but at different times. Lehman’s daily routine started at two a.m. when she woke up. She would then go outside to be counted. Afterwards, Lehman and the others would receive rations. After a while in Auschwitz, Lehman begged the guards to let her work. Finally, after about two to three weeks in Auschwitz, Lehman was taken to Bergen-Belsen for work. Upon arriving at Bergen-Belsen, Lehman received a dress, shoes, and was allowed a shower. The soap Lehman used was stamped RIF, Reich Industrie Fett (State Industrial Soap).
On several occasions, Lehman stole objects like beets but was fortunately never punished because she was blonde. Some of the guards consistently told her that she was not Jewish because she was blonde and had green eyes; she didn’t respond. When planes would fly over the camp, Lehman and the other inmates would wish that the planes dropped bombs because no one wanted to live anymore.
Right before liberation, Lehman had a dream that the war ended and she was soon carried out of the camp on a stretcher. The people holding the stretcher wanted a good look to see who it was and her rescuers would be her brothers. This incident did occur except her rescuers were soldiers.
In April 1945, Bergen-Belsen was liberated. After recovering from an illness, Lehman went to Sweden with an ex-inmate. She stayed in Sweden for seven years. In 1952, Lehman came to the United States. Lehman still “live[s] in fear.” Her wish is for all Jewish people, young and old alike, to be aware of anti-Semitism and of their surroundings. She hopes all Jews will unite because it could happen again.
Date: February 11, 1987
Interviewer: Esther Weine
Length: 39 minutes
Format: Video recording