The fear began for Ruth Lindemann, a Jewish girl growing up in Vienna, Austria, on her fifth birthday.
When her parents turned on the radio that day, she overheard a man screaming about how the evil Jews were ruining the country and should all be killed.
“When that cold knot of fear starts to build in your stomach, it doesn’t ever go away,” Lindemann recently told an audience at the Seaside Public Library. “Once a kid has that feeling, they’re never really a child again.”
Lindemann, who lived much of her life in Oregon and Washington, has written two historical fiction books: “To Survive is Not Enough,” and “They Will Not Be Forgotten,” both based on hers and others’ stories.
Just a month after her birthday, Nazi Germany annexed Austria, and all of Germany’s laws against the Jews were installed. Suddenly, Lindemann said, her working class parents “found themselves living in a strange place, almost another planet.”
“Jews had no rights at all. They could not own anything, and they were no longer people,” Lindemann said. “Anybody could walk into your house or apartment and take whatever they wanted or do anything else, and there was no law protecting you.”
Jews weren’t allowed in public venues, including libraries, stores, restaurants or theaters. Women could shop for groceries only during certain hours before curfew. They couldn’t own radios, bicycles, pets, jewelry or art. They couldn’t be employed and they couldn’t employ anyone else, Lindemann said.
“The guys in the boots and with the guns searched homes to make sure Jewish people weren’t hiding anything. It was a dangerous time.”
In November 1938, Lindemann, who, with her mother, was heading home from Lindemann’s Montessori kindergarten, found herself walking ankle-deep in glass. It was the day after Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass), when Nazis shattered glass windows in local stores, destroyed synagogues and vandalized Jewish homes. Instead of walking on the main street, “my mother insisted on taking the back alleys, and taking short cuts and walking very fast,” Lindemann said.
As they neared their apartment, her mother’s cousin called out to her, “They’ve taken all the men.”
Lindemann’s father was one of 30,000 men arrested that day; he was taken to the Dachau concentration camp.
Her mother, who had lost her job as an executive secretary in a textile company, began seeking permits to leave the country.
“Then one day, right after New Year’s, the men came with black boots. I don’t remember what they looked like; they had guns, and I didn’t really look at them,” Lindemann recalled. “They told us we had to move.”
She and her mother moved to a room in another part of the city. Lindemann attended a makeshift school, but, she said, the teacher was “very cruel. He hit us a lot. It was a culture of cruelty.”
Meanwhile, she said, “People kept disappearing. It was bad when friends didn’t come back to school, but it was worse when kids came to school crying and said their mothers had not come home the day before. Their dads were already gone. They were all alone. ….People were just being picked up and taken away.”
A year later, Lindemann’s mother finally received permits to go to America. Before they left, however, they visited Lindemann’s grandmother in a nearby village. While they said good-bye to her grandmother, aunt and two cousins, a neighbor warned them, “They’re coming to get you!”
They heard boots on the gravel and dogs barking. They banged on the door.
“My mother grabbed me by the hand; we walked down the hallway, and my mother jerked me into a room, closed the door and shoved me under a window seat. She got in there beside me and held me really, really tight. We just sat there, and we heard the commotion outside.”
When they emerged, “my cousins and my aunt and my grandmother were gone.” Lindemann learned later that they were killed in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
They walked across a meadow, flagged down a train, and made it home. A few days later, they sailed to America.
Lindemann’s mother “was able to bribe a lot of people” and paid to get Lindemann’s father out of Dachau. He escaped to Sweden, where he became a dairy farmer. Eventually, the family was reunited in America.
But, said Lindemann, who ended her story with an idea for another book, “It wasn’t easy to be a refugee in America.”