Ruth Hálová

29.10.2015 | 22:09
Ruth Hálová

Dreams come true against all odds
The story you are about to read is the story of a woman who is thankful for her life as well as her sister and hundreds of other people to Nicholas George Winton (1909–2015). Ruth Hálová was born on February 26th 1926 in Český Krumlov, as the second child of Leopold and Zdenka Adlerová, her older sister Eva was born fi ve years earlier, in 1921.

Ruth’s father Leopold came from a Czech-Jewish, German-speaking family, while her Mother Zdenka, born as Kohnová, grew up in a Czech-speaking Jewish family in Protivín. When her father returned after the World War I from Russian captivity in Siberia, he fell in love with the nursemaid of two stepson of his older brother Arthur, a fresh graduate of a business school and secretary of a small chocolate factory located in České Budějovice, belonging to Arthur‘s wife Martha. After their wedding, her parents moved to Český Krumlov, where her father worked as a clerk at a paper factory located in Větřní belonging to a Jewish family Spiro. Shortly after the birth of sister Eva, the aftermath of the captivity in Russia caught up to her father, where he during his return, among other things, swam across a cold river with his men. He suff ered from a worsening lung disease that led to serious ischemic heart disease. In the year when Ruth was born, he was already seriously ill and died in December that year. Mother started working for Spiros as a secretary and Ruth’s grandmother Marie Kohnová moved to her daughter, Ruth’s mother, to take care of her household.
Ruth recalls her fi rst encounter with lies that she still remembers today. It started by an encounter with a blind beggar standing on one of the Krumlov bridges who repeatedly, like an old nightmare, brought tears to her eyes every time she thought of him. One night, when she woke up crying, her mother and grandmother ran up to her but because Ruth was too shy to admit she was crying again for the blind beggar, she said she was crying because of her dead dad. That was not the truth and the worried faces of both her mother and grandmother were the cause of Ruth‘s resolution to always tell the truth. Another similar encounter with truth and lies came about in when she was around nine years old, and it involved love. It was the last day of the summer holiday which the girls enjoyed in Ústí nad Labem, with the family of her father’s youngest brother, Hugo, a respected pulmonary doctor and the director of the Pulmonary Sanatorium in Bukov. Ruth enjoyed it there. Her aunt was a capable young lady, her cousin Fritz (who later became an orthopaedic doctor in Israel) was full of life, and his sister Hanna was still a toddler at that time. The last day before leaving, during a walk in the park, Ruth held little Hanna’s hand during her fi rst clumsy steps. Right then she realized that they were supposed to say goodbye the next day. At fi rst, Ruth felt pain, which was soon after replaced with love, it was right then when she felt love for the fi rst time. Although Ruth and Hanna could not see each other for 40 years because of the Nazi and Communist occupations, they try to compensate that now as much as they can. Hanna lives in Israel, is a retired veterinarian and has three daughters and nine grandchildren. Little Ruth of all things loved animals the most. Every time her birthday approached and she was asked what she wanted, she answered “It does not matter what it is, but please, please, may it be something alive.” But that was a problem. Selfl ess grandmother Kohnová took care of not only the household of her daughter Zdena, but also the household of her second daughter Olga, who died shortly after she gave birth to little Hanna. Uncle Sigmund Lederer remained alone to take care of the shop in Krumlov na Latráni, a two-year-old son Jenda and the toddler. His grandmother helped him until he got married for the second time with Klára, who was a good mother to the children (they all died in the gas chambers later during the war). When the grandmother declared that they could only have her or the pet in the house but not both, it was the end of all hope for a pet.
Ruth often mentions that the greatest teacher is love, what she means by that are the various forms of love that we encounter in the times of growing up, maturing and even the times of growing old. In what we fall in love with, we seek the ideal. Ruth fi rst fell in love in the fi rst grade of the German public school with the empathic, great young teacher Martha Schneidewind. She went to a German school because she spoke mostly Czech at home. That decision was made by her father’s oldest brother Maximilian Adler (professor of Latin and Greek who lectured at Prague‘s German University), who took care of the girls after their father died. He was convinced that girls in German schools will come in contact with antisemitism more than in Czech schools and that the sooner they get used to it, the better. Krumlov was part of the Sudetenland, a multilingual town, where more than half of the 9,000 inhabitants spoke German. How true Max‘s words were.
At that time, the family lived in one of the houses in town in Soukenická Street 37, belonging to the business family of Spiro, where the employees of the company lived. It was at the beginning of the second year of the German grammar school (1938), when one morning Ruth’s classmates “welcomed” her by shouting the slogan “Juden heraus”. (All Jews out!) They repeated it until she and Leo Schwelb, the only two Jewish pupils of the school, packed their things and left the class. A big dark cloud of war hanged over Europe. The Krumlov sports organization “der Deutsche Turnverein” fi rst publicly admitted to Nazism under Henlein‘s motto “Heim ins Reich” (home to the Empire). The one percent of Jewish community in Krumlov became annoyance and thus clear target for them. The following few days after her dropping out of school, Ruth spent in fear in their apartment. The young members of the “Hitlerjugend” marched through the streets shouting abusive slogans, so all decent people rather stayed home. At the beginning of September, Ruth’s mother decided to pack the most necessary things, and sent both sisters and the grandmother to Protivín, inland outside of the Sudetenland. Ruth began going in Czech public school. The mother remained in Krumlov and tried to pack the remaining things in their household. When the Spiro family left Krumlov and moved to Prague, they off ered her mother a job, making a companion to the old Mrs. Spirová few hours each day. Her mother agreed. She found her apartment in Prague in Žižkov, where she moved in most of the things from Krumlov and later her family from Protivín. In Prague, Ruth went to a technical school at today‘s Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad, until March 15, 1939, when a sign appeared on the doors of the school, that the school was closed until further notice. The Nazi occupation army and its anti-Jewish measures came into Prague. Ruth does not know how her mother learned about the plans or the offi ce of Nicholas Winton, a 28-year-old employee of the London Stock Exchange and his friend journalist Martin Blake. She only remembers how one day she took her and her sister and walked to Voršilská street, stepped into a long queue with them, at the end of which they fi lled out some questionnaires. That‘s how the two girls got to the list of children waiting to leave for Great Britain. There was another long queue, this time in Dittrichova Street for the issue of passports. The last day of June, Ruth already stood on the platform of Masaryk Station in Prague, where they put a sign with a number on their necks (most of the trains were leaving from the Main Station, then Wilson Railway Station, but this train was heading north through Magdeburg and leaving from the Masaryk Station). Time to say goodbye came – more than 240 children from two and half to seventeen had to say goodbye to their loved ones (Sister Eva left on the last train on September 1st). The train, after several hours of waiting for formalities at the border, arrived at Hook van Holland, where they boarded a ferry that arrived in Dover, England, the next morning.
On the morning of July 1st, 1939, on the birthday of her mother, Ruth sat at London‘s Liverpool Station and waited for her to come. But nobody came. Her soul had plunged into hopelessness despite the fact that before leaving Prague she had received a letter from her future foster parents Jones, who sold ice cream and sweets in Shirley on the outskirts of Birmingham. But Jones could not come and get her. Nicky, however, appeared as a miracle. He led Ruth and the other two “stranded” to the train, took them to a service wagon and asked the train conductor to drop them off at Birmingham. Ruth met aunt and uncle Jones, an elderly couple, kind people who tried to make her happy by all means since the fi rst day in England. Behind the house was a small garden where the old dog named Peggy lived, the only comfort in her fi rst couple of days there. At school, the girls accepted Ruth very friendly, despite the language barrier. The fact that both Ruth and Eva went to private English lessons before leaving changed nothing. At school, the most teaching time was spent on exercising British money, scales, and measurements.
Another “war mother” for Ruth was Ruth Phillis Cleaver, a piano teacher, with whom Ruth lived in Rugby where she attended a renowned high school. By the end of the 1939–1940 school year, Ruth was 14 years old, and in England the compulsory schooling for children ended in this age. Miss Evelyn Sturge from the Friends Society, or the Quaker, who was in charge of the occasional visits of families who took in Emigrant children appeared at Jone’s. A few days later, the news came that Ruth was to move to Rugby. Accompanied by Mrs. Carter (also Quaker), Ruth, with her little trunk and brown paper bound by a rope carrying her things that couldn’t fi t in the trunk, visited the Birmingham Quaker Annual Meeting, where Miss Evelina introduced Ruth to the white-haired man with a cane, Mr. Albright, who just remarked: “So you‘re Ruth? I see. “Only after his death Ruth learned that he was the one who had generously paid for her years in high school. Her sister Eva stayed in Birmingham where she went to a school for nurses near orthopaedic clinic in Woodlands Brimingham.
At the station in Rugby, an older good-looking man was waiting for Ruth, Eric Cleaver, in her new home his wife Phyllis and the children Rosemary and Russell. Ruth was very happy at Cleavers. At Rugby High School, she also met her best friend Anne and an admired female professor of biology, Miss Everett. One day, however, they were visited by the next foster parent, a new “war Daddy”, and Ruth‘s lifelong friend, Jack Boag. Ruth began to hang between the two families. Jack was for a short time married to Isabella, a French teacher and a college student from Cambridge University. They lived in a bungalow on the edge of Rugby, at the times devastating air-raids on the nearby Coventry, her sister Eva lived there for a short while, when she helped in a hospital nearby during the air-raids.
At the end of the school year, Ruth got the Oxford School Certifi cate. Her wish was to become a microbiologist. So, she sent out 23 job application to post as a health laboratorian. However, the hospital was a state facility and foreigners during the war (aliens, as they were called) could not be a public servant. At that time Boags moved to the countryside, and Ruth lived with Cleavers. At fi rst, she worked as a vendor at “Boots the Chemists” later she worked in their books, paper and writing supplies section. She also enrolled in the evening studies of biology, physics and chemistry at local polytechnics. On her 17th birthday she received the most beautiful gift of all: a letter from the Boags who off ered her to live with them in London. Jack worked at Hammersmith Hospital, and in spite of bureaucracy, Ruth took the place in the bacteriology department. Her dream came true, but that lasted only for fi ve months. The head laboratorian, Mr. Jelks, was convincing Ruth that she could be more than a lab technician and wanted her to earn a scholarship at the English University at the Czechoslovak Exile Ministry of Education and Social Welfare. It was the year 1943, the autumn began and with it the next school year. With s heavy heart, Ruth went to Llanwrtyd-Wells, where the hotel at Abernant Lake adapted to a boarding school for about 160 Czech and Slovak students. Ruth fi nished the third and fourth year of grammar school, and in the spring of 1945, she successfully passed the school leaving exam along with a number of Czech and Slovak pilots of the Czechoslovak Squadron RAF no 311 and 312. One dad in May, she received a correspondence letter, written by a pencil, with a Czech stamp of president Beneš. He was from family friend who met her mother in the Jewish ghetto in Terezín. Hope was back, the most desperate of prayers were fi nally heard. The next few weeks that separated Ruth from reunion with her mother on August 25 she got through as though she was in a trance. Mother lived in Teplice then, so after six years they met at the railway station in Ústí nad Labem.
Only when she got home, Ruth found out that her grandmother Mary had died at a Jewish hospital in Prague, after her mother was deported to Terezín. All members of the family were also deported to Terezín, who gradually disappeared in the extermination camps from which nobody left. Only her mother who survived in Terezín, where she got married to blood cousin who was taking care of water supply in the ghetto. When her name appeared on the list of people to be transported, her cousin Ernst Bienenfeld (after the war, Arnošt Bin) married her in the ghetto without admitting that they were relatives. Thus, the mother‘s name was removed from the list, and they both live to see the liberation of Terezín. Mother died in 1976 and Arnošt in her respectable 93 years. The family of Aunt Ida who emigrated to the United States and Uncle Hugo, who left for Norway, also survived. Sister Eve returned from England before Ruth, as a volunteer nurse directly to Terezín, where the typhoid epidemic broke out.
With a sense of patriotic pride, Ruth enrolled as a lecturer at the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the Old University of Charles University in Prague. It is diffi cult for young people to understand her feeling when she entered the academic camp of the Czech university, founded by Charles IV, who survived the German occupation even six years of war, just like hers. She studied natural sciences, she married and has now grown children Petra and Hana. She worked in hospital laboratories in Prague-Motol, Karlovy Vary and Ústí nad Labem. On the eve of her 55 birthdays, more than 30 years ago, she returned to enjoy a well-deserved rest in her native South Bohemia, where she lives since 2005 in Holubov in Český Krumlov. In retirement she became a self-taught painter and in 2015 she had a separate exhibition of paintings in the renovated Krumlov synagogue. In 1996, on her 70th birthday, she fi rst flew to India with her second husband, violinist Milan Hála, because she wanted to know the Avatár Sri Saby Sai Baba and his teachings based on four pillars: truth, justice and its order, love and peace, and these values resulting in nonviolence. In 1963, she began translating his stories from English to Czech and endeavored to get them printed. She visits Ashram Bhagavan Satja Sai Baby in Puttaparthi, South India, every year even after Avatar left his body.


For Památník Terezín, Luděk Sládek

Parents Leopold and Zdenka Ruth at school assembly during the Purim feast Obrázek č.0 Sir Nicholas George Winton a Ruth Hálová Ruth´s picture
„Flower, India“
(2006) Obrázek č.0

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