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AUG 30, 2018

Child separation during World War II: How an exhibition at L.A.'s Museum of the Holocaust resonates today

By Carolina A. Miranda, Los Angeles Times

Child separation during World War II: How an exhibition at L.A.'s Museum of the Holocaust resonates today
Bea Green, right, prepares to leave Germany on the "Kindertransport" during World War II — an effort that rescued 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi territory. (Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust)

 

Karola Ruth Siegel was just 10 years old when her mother put her on a train from Frankfurt to Switzerland. It was winter, sometime in January 1939.

“I remember my mother hugging me,” she recalls. “I remember my grandmother running when the train pulled out. My grandmother was a very religious woman. She said, ‘Trust in God. We are going to see each other again.’”

They never did.

Siegel — now better known as Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer, the popular sex therapist — was one of the 10,000 Jewish children who fled Nazi Germany on the “Kindertransport,” an international, non-denominational rescue effort that got Jewish children out of Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1938 and 1939, right before the outbreak of World War II.

Like the majority of Jewish children who fled Nazi territory on the Kindertransport (German for “children’s transport”), Westheimer was the only member of her immediate family to survive the war.

Of her girlhood life in Frankfurt she retains only memories — and a small washcloth bearing her initials.

“The only thing I took was a washcloth,” she says via telephone from New York City, where she has lived since 1956. “For whatever reason I do not know.”

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, then almost 6, in a portrait to mark her first day of school in Frankfurt. Four years later she would escape to Switzerland on the Kindertransport.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer, then almost 6, in a portrait to mark her first day of school in Frankfurt. Four years later she would escape to Switzerland on the Kindertransport. (Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust)