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Ruth Rogoff

Ruth was born in Germany and escaped to Czechoslovakia in 1938 after her father’s arrest. Her family arrived in England the same day war in Europe was announced.

Ruth was born in 1933 into a religious Jewish family in the town of Zwickau in eastern Germany. Although the family were very orthodox, they were also strong Zionists and always hoped to be able to emigrate to Palestine. She had a little brother, who was three years younger.

Ruth’s father, Jakub, was originally from Poland and owned a wool factory just outside Zwickau. But after 1933, Jakub was no longer allowed to own his business as he was Jewish. Instead, he secretly helped people to escape over the mountains into Czechoslovakia, which was a risky and dangerous task. In 1938, he was betrayed and arrested. Ruth’s mother, Debora, managed to secure his release from prison and the family themselves fled into Czechoslovakia.

Following both the Nazi occupation of the Sudetenland in October 1938 and Jakub’s parents’ deportation from Germany to Poland, Jakub fled to secure the release of his parents in Poland, leaving Debora and the children in Prague. Prague was not yet occupied by Nazi Germany.

Ruth’s mother desperately tried to secure a route out of Czechoslovakia for herself and the children. She initially secured Ruth a place on a Kindertransport, but Ruth’s brother was too young to go and she decided not to send Ruth away alone.  Debora spent her time visiting various consulates to secure the family the necessary visas. Many offered Debora individual visas for just her to leave, but it wouldn’t allow her to take her children, so she turned them down. Ruth remembers:

“You see the problem is, people saw these troubles, everybody says why didn’t they get out? Well why didn’t they get out, who’s going to give you a visa to get out?”

The family finally secured a visa to go to Britain on 31 August 1939. A woman from the British embassy broke the curfew to deliver the visas and train tickets:

“She said you have to go the next morning, doesn’t matter what, just dress yourself, put as many clothes on as you can… Don’t take anything, just put the baby in the pushchair, take some food and provisions and that’s it.”

The next day, they travelled through Germany to the Netherlands, and they boarded a ferry to England. They arrived at Liverpool Street Station on 2 September 1939. As they stepped off the train, everything went quiet and an announcement over the tannoy declared that Britain was at war with Germany. Ruth, her brother and mother then went to a hostel for women and children.

The following day, Debora took a paper with Jakub’s details and photo, hoping to leave it in one of the men’s hostels to find her husband. She knocked on the door of the first men’s hostel she found in Higham’s Park and, amazingly, her husband opened the door. The family was reunited!

But as refugees from Germany, they were subjected to strict regulations; Ruth’s father had to attend the police station every day to sign a form stating his whereabouts.

After sticking a pin in a map of England, Jakub chose Leeds as the place for the family to settle. There was a Jewish community and Jakub soon obtained work in the wool industry.

In Leeds, Ruth attended school, which she loved, despite experiencing some antisemitism. Ruth then attended university to study languages and became a teacher. She married David in 1955 and they remained in Leeds to raise their five children.

Ruth lost many members of her family in the Holocaust including her grandparents, aunts, and uncles. She is grateful for the opportunity Britain gave her to build a new life.

“On the whole people are very tolerant and it’s a wonderful country to live in, they’re wonderful people to be with and I think people who live here are very, very lucky.”

Throughout her adult life Ruth lived an orthodox lifestyle. In later life, Ruth emigrated to Israel but still maintained a home in Leeds, being always grateful to the country that saved her family, and the city that gave them shelter.

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