Ruth Lachs (nee Ganz) was born on 7 March 1936 in Hamburg. Her father was born in Borken and his father was from Holland. He was a cattle dealer and his wife sold haberdashery. Ruth’s mother was from Cologne and her father was a wine merchant. Ruth’s father had a more religious upbringing than her mother. He was one of 10 children whilst her mother was one of 3. Her father became a textile merchant and they moved to Holland in 1939. Ruth has no memory of Hamburg. In Holland they lived in a first floor apartment in Southern Amsterdam and her father continued his business supplying the interlining of fur coats. Her mother’s parents also moved there and her grandfather took her out each morning. She was happy there and started the Jewish school. Her younger brother Karel was born in 1940. She wore a yellow star but the restrictions did not impinge upon her life. She could still go to the park and play. However her father had to give up his business and he took a voluntary job in a Jewish Old Aged Home to avoid being deported.
Then in 1942 arrangements were made for the family to go into hiding. She and her brother were put with a working class childless family in South Amsterdam and her parents went to a family in Grachten. Ruth accepted this had to be done. The family, Annie and Wim Linden were very good to them and they pretended that they were orphans from the bombing of Rotterdam. They changed their names to Rudi and Karel Klein, which was their mother’s maiden name. It was a common Dutch name. They went everywhere with the family, including on holiday and they received letters from their parents. They did not go to church nor eat any pig. After 9 months they were denounced and taken to a school opposite the adult collection point of Schouwburg. Annie was arrested but let home the next day. She warned Ruth’s parents and arranged for them to go to a relation of hers in Leeuwarden, where they stayed until the end of the war. A worker at the school recognized Ruth and put her in the sand pit where she would not be counted by the Nazis. However her brother contracted polio and could not go with her. A student picked her up from the sandpit and took her to a Catholic family in Limberg. This family had two children and the mother was pregnant. She had to go to church with them.
She was only there two weeks when she became ill with polio and was sent to hospital. The Director of the hospital knew she was Jewish but took her in. She was there for 11 weeks but had nowhere to go on discharge. The same student took her back to Amsterdam and put her in a home for severely disabled children in Emmastraat. The matron, Sister Middleton, was hiding 5-6 Jewish children there. The student who was working for the underground was later shot.
Ruth was not very happy in the home. They were not allowed out and had to help in the kitchens. Some of the nurses were not very sympathetic and had no time for the Jewish children. Ruth was dismayed at the severe handicaps of the other children and witnessed a number who died. The Jewish children kept together and reminisced about their homes and parents. They had no outside contact. They were still at the home at liberation on 5 May and were allowed on to the streets to celebrate. Ruth then had to wait weeks until her parents found her and was one of the last to leave in June. That was a very hard time for her not knowing if they were coming back. Her parents could not take her back with them because they had no proper accommodation and so she went back to Annie and Wim for 3 weeks and then moved in with her parents who had taken 2 rooms.
Ruth’s brother was transported to Auschwitz and perished and her grandparents perished in Sobibor. Ruth settled back into a normal life with her family. Her father took her for medical treatment and physio because of her polio and it much improved. He re-established his business and they later moved to a first floor apartment near their original flat. Ruth attended the local primary school and passed her exams to the Jewish High School. In 1947 her mother had another boy, Marcel, and Ruth was like a second mother to him. She enjoyed her life and made many friends. She belonged to Tikvateinu youth group and B’nai Akiva. At 18 she left school and attended a summer school at Wittingham College in England to learn English. Then she did a medical technician course for 3 years in Holland. She belonged to the Zionist Student Organisation and a Society like BBYO. At 21 she went to Israel for a year. Her family were ardent Zionists. She returned for her brother’s Bar Mitzvah. She then came to Carmel College for a summer school to keep up her Hebrew and she met Werner Lachs, a refugee from Germany, who was widowed with a daughter. They married in 1962 in Holland and she came to live in Manchester.
I had a name in the war. Klein was my mother’s maiden name. When I went into hiding I had to find another name. Rudi Klein sounded more Dutch and more common.
My parents were preparing us for going into hiding. They wouldn’t take families of 4 – we had to be separated. They tried to explain that we couldn’t go together and that after the war we’d be together again. They’d try to see me occasionally. I had to help look after my brother who was 3 years younger, who couldn’t understand the situation at all.
No child likes to be separated. But I understood it was a necessity. My mother kept saying that I had to help to look after my brother who was 3 years younger & couldn’t really understand the situation at all. And we were very lucky we met a very nice family who were willing to take us. They had no children - couldn’t have any children and were longing to have children – and I think in the back of their mind they thought if something happens to my parents they’ll keep us.
[My parents] tried to explain that after the war we’d be together again & that they’d try to see me occasionally. And I took it reasonably in my stride. I got up & was getting dressed & my case was packed for me & I was allowed to take my dolls – not too many toys but I was allowed to take some, & the same with my brother. And then my parents took me & we had to stay. They were very nice people & they made me feel at home."
The people where my parents were they weren’t really all that good. They gave us away. They knew that… because I think they thought my parents had financial… were in a good way. We got picked up one morning. [The SS] interviewed us. We kept saying that we were from Rotterdam, but still they took us on to the Schauburgh. And that Dutch Schauburgh was for the grownups to be sent to Westerboerk. There was across the road a school & they gathered children in the school.
When I got there, there was one of the helpers who used to look after us in the afternoon. So she recognised me & my brother & when it became evening she came to us and she said: ‘Get dressed and I’ll take you to the sandpit.’ And she put me there. She said: ‘Someone will come & take you away & bring you away into hiding again. But in the evening the Germans are coming & they count the children & I don’t want you to be counted. So sit here.’ So she put me in the sandpit outside & that’s where I sat till somebody came."
The matron had one room where she hid Jewish children, about 4 or 5 of us. I was basically very unhappy there. She made us help in the house, taught us how to sew. When there were holes in the sheets, we had to put pieces in. She made us peel potatoes just to keep us occupied. We played together but that wasn’t really a very happy time. I stayed there till after the war. I had to accept it. I made friends with other [Jewish] children. I got quite close to them. We were just like a little group because the others [non-Jewish patients] were terribly disabled & mentally disabled. So we couldn’t communicate with those children at all.