Ruth Switzer was born in July 1934 in Vienna, Austria. Her parents were Jews who moved there from Poland so her father could practice medicine in Vienna. Her father's parents were deceased, but her mother's parents lived in a small town in Poland which the family visited. Switzer remarked when Hitler [Annotator's Note: German dictator Adolf Hitler] took Austria, the citizens welcomed him with open arms. Switzer recalls walking with her father to the park and the candy store and then suddenly not being able to go to those places. The Gestapo [Annotator's Note: German Geheime Staatspolizei or Secret State Police] would come to their house looking for her father, but he would always leave before they arrived. Her father's brother worked for the Jewish Agency in London, England. Switzer's grandfather persuaded her father to write to his brother for asylum on the way to the United States. Her mother always regretted not being able to persuade her parents to accompany them. Switzer's grandparents were exterminated. Switzer and her parents rode the train to Dover, England six months after Hitler invaded Austria. Her mother was very worried that they would be stopped and forced to return home, but no one approached them on their journey. [Annotator's Note: A telephone interrupts the interview at 0:11:40.000.] When they landed in Dover, they took a boat to London, England overnight. They remained in England for over six months until they received papers to go to the United States.
Ruth Switzer recalled living in a two family house. Her family lived in the apartment upstairs and another family lived downstairs. She played with the little girl that lived downstairs. She remembers air raid drills. They would go to a place beneath a house. Her mother could speak English, so she began to communicate with her in English instead of German, and Switzer did not understand why. Her mother was constantly worried about her parents, Switzer's father was not around very much because he volunteered as an air raid warden, and her baby sister was always crying. Switzer remarks that her time in London was a very unhappy time for her. Switzer and her parents arrived in the United States and stayed with her other uncle in Manhattan. Her father worked at night as an ambulance medic while he studied during the day so he could pass his boards tests. Her father moved the family to Long Island [Annotator's Note: Long Island, New York] to work as a doctor at the Central Islip Psychiatric Hospital. She recalled that her bus to school always arrived late and the kids would stare at her. She did not have any friends and did not feel welcomed at her school.
Ruth Switzer recalled her father moving the family to a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York to take over a practice. She was relieved to go to a school close to her apartment instead of taking a bus. Switzer remembered that her father received a Yiddish newspaper that listed the survivors of the holocaust. Her mother was hoping to find out what happen to Switzer's grandparents. One day, they received a letter from a relative that revealed the gruesome death of Switzer's grandparents by the Nazis. Her father's practice had a slow start. Many people in the neighborhood resented him because he took over the office of a doctor who had died in the war. Eventually, he began to get patients and they grew to love and respect him. Switzer began dating and soon found out that she preferred dating other holocaust survivors who would understand what she went through. She met and married Steven Switzer and although they never spoke specifically about their experiences until decades later the connection was there.
Ruth Switzer met her husband through her mother and mother-in-law. They never spoke about their World War 2 experience with each other. Switzer does not think of herself as a holocaust survivor because she was in a concentration camp. She does admit that the experience of escaping Vienna [Annotator's Note: Vienna, Austria] affected her, even being young at the time. Switzer believes people should know their history and study what makes people behave the way they do.
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