My Yiddish name is Riva. I was born in Lodz, Poland. I was thirteen years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and filled my life with pain and horrors. I lost my mother, my three younger brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers and friends. I survived, and share my past with young people through my books—The Cage, To Life, The Holocaust Lady—and by speaking in schools. The kids learn about pain and horror and about devotion amidst degradation and about holding on to hope when it was easier to give up. I pass on my mother’s legacy: As long as there is life there is hope.
I hear often: I could not survive what you did survive, having your mother torn away from you, becoming the legal guardian, at age 16, of your little brothers. I answer, we do not know how much strength we have until put to the test. Heroes or cowards are not born that way; they are created by circumstances. The kids tell me that when they ask about the Holocaust they are always told “it was terrible.” I take them by the hand and take them with me through the journey of hate, pain, survival, hope.
I had given a presentation in a school one day and as I was leaving a boy stopped me and asked. How old were you when all that happened. I looked at him and said, thirteen.
He turned pale and said, I am thirteen and he hugged me.
A young girl sent me an e-mail telling me that she had cancer and what helped her endure the pain and hold on was reading The Cage many times and the saying; As long as there is life there is hope. She will always hold on to hope. I do too.
I feel that by sharing personal experiences of pain and endurance we can teach young people to hold on to hope and learn from the past.
Ruth Minsky Sender, born 1926 in Lodz, Poland, came to the USA in 1950. She is a retired principal of a Jewish Sunday school. Remember Your Name, My Friend, poems she wrote in Yiddish in the concentration camps and translated into English is still unpublished.