Remarks of Rut Wermuth

Grand Prize Winner

David Ben-Gurion Polish Jewish Remembrance Competition

September 6-10, 1999, Plonsk, Poland


 Oy!  I am feeling stage fright.  I have never had to speak to such a large or distinguished audience before.  To be honest with you, I tried giving this speech before a mirror at home last night, and I found I couldn’t do it.  So I decided to write it down what I wanted to say.  I know that this part of the proceedings is called Heart to Heart, and I feel that it shouldn’t really be read from a prepared text.  So I hope you will forgive for using this written support.

***
 Good Morning.

 My life has been dominated by a number of very unusual accidents.  Even the fact that I am alive today is an accident, if you think about the probabilities against the six million.  Of course, I should not be here at all now getting old.  But here I am.  And during my life, a lot of exceptional things have happened.  One of them is that I should be here in your beautiful city getting the first prize in the competition named after the man who was born here, the man who went on to be one of the founders of Israel – that I should get the Ben Gurion Award.

 It only underlines the theme of unusual accidents that I did not hear about the competition from the newspaper, from the radio, or from any other official media.  No, it was just one woman talking to another.  In this case, the woman was another contestant who has now been honorably mentioned by the judges.  She is here in this room with us.  I want to take this opportunity to thank her.

***

 I was born long ago into a world that does not exist any more, a world that does not exist because it was murdered.  There are now very few who can remember and tell of that world.  I am one of them.  But fifty years would have to pass before I could open myself to tell of that world.  I would never have been able to do it without those who had shared my fate, my fellow members of the Children of the Holocaust in Poland, an organization which, as with so much else important in my life, I encountered only by accident.  I had been hiding my background for many years after the war, since I was afraid of coming out to the world from my proverbial closet.  Only then, when I found myself in a group of people similar to myself, could I do so.  We, who survived, were not branded by facial features such as the nose or brown eyes, but we were branded by the fact that we had no family.  When we were still young, everyone else had somebody, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, at least school friends.  We had nobody.  So when, after many years and after political changes in the world and in our country, we were finally able to meet, by now as old people, we decided to be a family for each other.   At first we were few, but, strange to say, even we were getting older, and people were leaving us for ever, nonetheless our family grew and grew.  Do you know from who I got the first congratulations when the results of the competition were announced in the press?  From one of my fellow members and his wife who had seen it in the paper while they were on vacation in the Mazur lakes area.  Now they too are here with us to share my great joy.

 Then, after I had come together with my new family, another of the wonderful things in my life happened.  I was able after 53 years to find my brother.  Sadly only for a short time, only for two years, because he was older then me and by then already had a weak heart.  He lived in England, while I live in Poland, so when after 53 years we found each other, we were only able to spend a total of three months together.  Could three months replace a lifetime, could they replace the years in which we lived far from each other, in different countries, in other cultures, knowing nothing about each other?  No, obviously not.  So we wrote to each other, or rather, I wrote to him, because it was difficult for him to write Polish after all those years.  Those letters were the germ of my Memoirs.

 And there was something else.  I was never able to, and I still do not know, how to talk about these things with my children.  So I decided to write my memories down and then give those memories to my children to read.  That way it was easier both for them and for me.  So I wrote down everything I could remember.  Maybe that is why my Memoirs are not so much about the horrors of those years, although those horrors lurk in the background all the time.  Rather, I tried to give them the feel of a story about that vanished world, to show, in contrast to the standard stereotypes, that we were normal people, who lived in normal families, with problems similar to those around us.

 Then I realized that not only my children and grandchildren, but also other young people should also learn about this.  Young people in our own country and all over the world.  Perhaps by reading it, they could understand better what happened it, and how it should never happen again.  Never again not only Majdanek or Oswiecim, but also never again Babi Yar, Kolyma or Hiroshima.  Sadly, we know that does happen again and again. Kosovo is perhaps the best proof of that.  But not just Kosovo.  Although these events are not comparable to the genocide which took place in the heart of Europe in the first half of our closing century, they make you feel as if the cruel lessons of history have taught mankind nothing at all.

 So we must tell the whole story, and must tell it loudly and clearly, even though it is painful and difficult to do so.  We must give our testimony as to how good people can behave in terrible times.  We must give our testimony of those who, despite the sea of hate which surrounded us, did not fail, often at risk even of their own lives, to offer us their helping hands in our struggle to survive.  We few who did indeed survive thank you with our testimony.

That is what I have described in my Memoirs.