I left Nazi Germany – Here is how I handle hate in America

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To: All Young People

From: Ruth Gasten

Charity: Student Education Loan Fund

Sponsor: The Unsealed will give $2 to the Student Education Loan Fund for every new monthly contributor that signs up and writes "Ruth" in the space that asks "Which story inspired you?"

To people of all races and religions,

In 1939 my family escaped the Nazis in Germany and came to America to stay alive. We were Jewish. My dad’s family had been in the same small German town since 1753. He didn’t want to leave, but he saw that there was absolutely no choice. While living in America has always been much better than Nazi Germany, America has experienced and is still experiencing terrible crimes of hate and endless discrimination. At 86 years old, I am continuing to combat the mentality my family came here to escape. I want you to understand how you can help.

Let me explain…

young girl
Ruth’s family moved to Chicago.

Armed with a sponsorship letter from her aunt in the US, my mother  got my father released from Buchenwald, a concentration camp. We came to America by ship and settled in Chicago, where we had family. My father tried to find a job, but it wasn’t easy because it was the end of The Great Depression. He was ultimately hired to pull feathers off of chickens in a kosher butcher shop. It was a crummy job, but it paid enough to get a tiny apartment. My mother’s cousin helped her get a job cleaning houses.

I was 5 1/2 years old and started school. While I waited for my parents to get home from their jobs, I went to Douglas Park Day and Night Nursery, which was, in part, an orphanage for kids who didn’t have any parents. Some kids stayed there at night and other kids were just there during the day while their parents worked. A few of the older boys bullied me because I only spoke German. They thought I was a Nazi.

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They used to say to me, “Nazi, go back to Germany!”

“We hate you!”

“We hate all the Nazis.”

But Alfred, who was much older than I, was different.

He was a night kid, which meant he lived there all the time.

One day, Alfred saw me sitting in a corner of the nursery crying. He didn’t understand German, but there was somebody who worked in the kitchen who did. He asked the kitchen helper if she would translate for him so he could figure out what was going on. She did.

He then told those boys, “If you bother Ruthie, I’ll deal with you. You better leave her alone.”

Alfred took care of me. He watched out for me.

Two years later, Alfred joined the army.  One day he knocked on our door in his uniform.

He hugged me and he said, “When I fight the Nazis, I’ll think of you.”

At a young age, I knew discrimination and I knew how valuable friendship was in fixing it.

Ruth got married and had two children.

While I grew up, got married and had two children, I never forgot that lesson.

After my first husband got his Ph.D., we moved to Livermore, California where he was hired to work in a lab. I got involved in the formation of a Head Start program, which provides resources to low-income families and free pre-school for their children. I knew what it was like to be poor and need help; so I became the first president of that program.  It made me feel good to know we were helping children whose lives were much like mine when we came as refugees to the United States.

Then, in 2001, after our country was attacked by terrorists on 9-11, the way some people in our community began to treat Muslims reminded me of the way Jews were singled out and discriminated against in Germany.

Muslim children were bullied at school. The girls and women who wore hijabs were yelled at by guys in cars when they were walking on the street. There was an attack on two Sikhs who were in a park in Hayward. They weren’t even Muslim, but since people thought they were, the violence took place.

I could just feel the hurt. Some of the people being treated in this miserable way were my friends. They were and are such good people.

What I realized is that a lot of children are taught to be afraid of blacks or be afraid of people in turbans or be afraid of people who worship Allah. They don’t have enough information. People are afraid of what they don’t know or what they don’t understand.

But just like my friendship with Alfred, change starts with communication.

Research by Stanford and The University of California, Berkeley says that even talking to somebody for ten minutes helps break down prejudice attitudes.

At a young age, I knew discrimination and I knew how valuable friendship was in fixing it.

So Abdul, my Muslim friend, and I decided to start an interfaith group.  It is called Interfaith Interconnect.

We’re not trying to convert anyone to another religion. Instead, we just want people to understand each other better. We have a monthly religion chat and our leadership committee decides on the topics.

Ruth says simple conversations can bring people together and eliminate hate.

For example, most religions tell us to be kind to the stranger. This month we will have two speakers, one from the Methodist church and another from the Baha’i community  to explain how their faith responds to the “other.”

We always break down into small groups and I tell everyone not to have their small group discussion with people from their congregation. I want them to find people they don’t know and talk to them.

Now, we have 22 different synagogues, churches, mosques, Hindu temples, Bahai, Sikh, and Jain communities in our valley involved.

We all have learned  so much from each other, like the fact that Baha’is don’t drink alcohol. Neither do Mormons, Hindus, Jains nor Muslims.

We also learn a lot about the tenets of other people’s faith. When my granddaughter had her bat mitzvah, Abdul, my Muslim friend, along with his wife and their children came to our synagogue.

He said, “The prayers are so similar to our prayers.”

Neither of us realized the similarities until that day.

Even in our group meetings, I’ve seen a lot of breakthroughs. People who were just strangers will lean in and talk to each other happily, with eye contact. And when it’s time to end, they just keep talking – Muslims talking to Jews and Christians talking to Hindus.

Ruth held start Interfaith Interconnect to eliminate hate and discrimination in her community

It’s so important that our interfaith group or even just our welcoming attitudes continue to thrive.

As a little girl, I left Germany where millions upon millions of people were murdered, including relatives of mine.

Neither time nor distance protected me from witnessing or experiencing discrimination, as it still happens today in America to many people, including Jews.

I want you to know you can help. You can be a part of progress.

If you meet someone who has a different faith or is of a different race or is just different from you or the people you know, you can stop the hate by simply starting a conversation.

If you do, I truly believe we will all witness less violence and enjoy more friendships.

With love and acceptance for all,

Ruth Gasten,

Written with Lauren Brill

Respond to my letter. I want to hear from you. Tell me your stories of discrimination and what you have done to create a more united and kind world.

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Nothing like maintaining a positive outlook! When i need to fight off despair i set goals. It is a great way to fight off negative thoughts and feeling!

Very interesting! Opinion at a later date!

Crazy that this still goes on. I fear for my safety almost all the time. Black or brown males are subject to arrest and violent behavior. I just read a article where a former New York cops claims they had to arrest more people of color to get a promotion. This is sick and I'm tired of living in fear. People are going to start fighting back.

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I think me and your grandpa would have been friends. I been a type 1 diabetic since three years old. I would have said the same thing waking up and seeing two nurses. Do I get to choose. I'm pretty sure I've done that before.

I have learned over my Fifty-Eight years of life, and more specifically over the last 10 that FDR's words about fearing only fear itself ring true; to me, they do, anyway. And, at the same time, how the words of the 23rd Psalm comfort me and my abundant faith in G-d allows me to fear only fear, knowing full well that He is always with me. Growing up in a Non-Orthodox, yet Observant Jewish family nicely brings both together and not only makes me feel more protected but commands me to believe so. You see, I have lived a different kind of life, as we all have to some degree, but mine changes daily. Not that I am ANY BETTER than anyone else, in fact, probably less so... I stray from my stories often. I shouldn't, but since my Stroke in 2012, I have somehow developed some sort of ADD, so please bear with me, the end will justify the means and I will *try* to stick with my story; for you, my readers. I moved my family of the ex-wife and four children Cross-Country in 2002 to be closer to my dad who was turning 75 that year, and while I could not afford both financially as well as mentally to move back to Southern California (where he and my mother lived), I chose the Midbar (Hebrew for Desert) of Arizona. Within just a few short weeks of moving here, I woke up one day with some of the most severe abdominal pain I had ever experienced. I found a local doctor and made an appointment to see him that day. I arrived at the appointment and was ushered into an examination room by their PA (Physician's Assistant), who is supposed to be the same as a Doctor, but not really (?). I was examined and Prescriptions for a Pain Medication and an Antibiotic. They continued to treat me in a like manner for almost six months when I ended up in an Emergency Room, where a CT Scan was performed and Colonoscopy was scheduled. I was then diagnosed with a grapefruit-sized obstruction and abscess in my colon that would require surgical intervention. Surgery was scheduled for two days later, on a Friday in Mid-March 2003. I arrived at the hospital at the designated time, 5:45 am; was admitted to the hospital; told them about ALL my allergies (including a BIG ONE, an allergy to a particular anesthetic agent), and taken to a room where I was put into one of those awful gowns and told that they'd be "right back" to take me to surgery. They promptly came back at 10:30 in the morning and took me to yet another room... to wait some more. At 11:45 the Anesthesiologist came in to talk with me. He informed me that he was going to use Propofol for my induction and that he was planning on using the EXACT ANESTHESIA TO WHICH I AM ALLERGIC to maintain me through surgery! "NOT ON ME, YOU'RE NOT", I exclaimed! "I'M ALLERGIC!!!" On my wrist sat a red band that clearly said ALLERGIES: CEVOFLURAINE. I then proceeded to give him a list of anesthetic agents that I knew to be safe. He tapped me on the knee and said: Okay, Smart guy, put yourself to sleep and quickly left the room. I awoke from the anesthesia on the following Wednesday evening. In addition to the NINE small incisions from various attempts to perform the procedure of removing 18" of my diseased colon through a scope, I also had one 6" cut in my belly that began around my navel and continued to just above my groin. I also began experiencing severe shortness of breath. The staples were ripped out of my skin by the Butcher Surgeon two weeks later, but my breathing difficulties continued. After being examined by one doctor after another, I finally decided to be examined by The Mayo Clinic. Over a ten-day to 2 week period, I was examined by multiple physicians, underwent numerous tests and procedures and was finally ready for my Report Appointment. I would learn the results of all of the tests and procedures and hopefully have a clear diagnosis and prognosis. The verdict had come in. Diagnosis: Terminal COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Causation: Bacterial Pneumonia due to Malignant Hyperthermia caused by induction of Detrimental Anesthesia Prognosis: 5% chance of Five-Year Survival I then took my report to a highly regarded Pulmonologist for Follow-Up Care, but not before enrolling in Rabbinical School in New York City. I had, (since age ten) always wanted to be a Rabbi. It was now or never. On the advice of the Pulmonologist, I began taking Prednisone (a Steroid) that would open up my Bronchioles and make it easier to breathe. The normal dosage for a man who is 5'9" and weighs 150 pounds (before I got sick, I weighed 174 pounds, all muscle, by the way) is <100mg per day. My STARTING dose was 100mg THREE TIMES a DAY. the dosage was increased every few months for the following THREE YEARS, when, on Sunday, September 9, 2007, at the weight of 340 Pounds (the Steroids had been increased to 250mg Four Times a day), I collapsed and at Mayo Hospital, was intubated where my organs began failing. Two nights later, on the First Night of Rosh haShana, the Jewish New Year, and while being mechanically ventilated, I went into Full Blown Total System Failure, and suffered a Cardiac Arrest for 14 minutes, followed by a Coma of several weeks duration. During my Coma, I felt as if I was in a box. The box had four dirt walls and smelled like the Morning Dew. In the upper right corner of the box sat a red square with a white X inside of it. "If only I could click on that X, I might stop this program", I thought to myself, but I could not move; I could not stand; could not reach, and could not scream for help. I lay in this place crying out in fear for what seemed like days and weeks and months. Suddenly, my cries were replaced by Psalms. I was reciting Psalms, some of which I had never even read before! And the Psalms turned into Prayers; The Kol Nidre, chanted at the beginning of our Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; every other prayer recited on this Holy of all Holy Days; the Prayers for the Sukkot Holidays that follow the next week and the Readings for every single Torah Portion of the year. I somehow knew them all. By heart. Without hesitation of memory and obviously without any text to look at. I kept reading and chanting day and night; night and day and resting in between. Really resting. Sleeping... until one day, I opened up my eyes to see my beautiful son Zac sitting at my side on my bed. Covering the holes in my throat and on the side of my neck, I managed to spit out "C'était le rêve de dix minutes le plus étrange que j'aie jamais eu"! I told my son that was the weirdest ten-minute dream that I have ever had in FRENCH, my first language and native tongue. He then told me that it had been over two months, and I was in a Hospice Facility. The night before, I had begun to breathe on my own a minute or so after being disconnected from the machines that had sustained my organs since September. A few days later I was wheeled to an ambulance outside to be transported to the truly amazing HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Scottsdale. The sun kissed my face as I felt like I was pulled up into a body of love. It spoke. In Hebrew: Don't worry, it said. "You and I are going to be okay". I spent the next six weeks learning to do things like eating and holding a pencil; how to shower and dress. I learned how to return to life. Six weeks after leaving HealthSouth, my dad died. In July 2018, my mom joined him. I have had many trials and tribulations over these last twelve years. A Stroke in 2012 took my ability to project my voice loudly; I've been hospitalized many times and know how very precious time is. I do not live for today, rather, I live for tomorrow. I do everything I can do today to help others, and pray that I am again awakened tomorrow to do more good. And if so, great! And if not; if G-d decides to take me tonight, I will hang out with my parents and loved ones forever. I win either way. President Roosevelt was right to believe in only fearing fear. Psalm 23 is even more so, as Faith follows all of us.

Funny my mom passed in 1991 as a 13 year old it was hard but she was much more then beauty. She was a fighter from the beginning and I will never be able to explain her impact. It shows you came from a strong famiy and I'm glad you had both a mom and dad because a lot of people don't. I pray your truth can make a difference

This is trying to scare us with more misinformation then actual information but thank you for giving us your reality. I like it a lot.and people just wash your hand like you should be doing anyway 😂

Great discussion, as well as some interesting numbers which I'm not sure are meant to calm us, or install even more fear. I have many of your same concerns. Just yesterday I scheduled a work trip to Miami for late next week, but am unsure if it will happen or not. And while i say or act like i'm not concerned, sub-consciously, i am quite sure it is weighing on my mind each time i cough, or sneeze, or feel "a little warm", or if someone around me does. One of the biggest fears i have is that with all of the media coverage and the additional testing becoming available, the numbers are sure to skyrocket, and this is going to really set some people off. Our country is going to go absolutely bonkers . We are all guilty of taking limited amounts of information and either talking about it like an expert, or completely overreacting. Here's hoping that the number stat to level out, and then drop. Lets hope that the American people can follow simple suggestions. Lets hope that countries from around the world can work together to come up with a viable plan to slow this train down. And last but not least, lets hope our politicians can come together to provide our country guidance as we all try to get through this. Lets hope they can forget about the presidential race for just a minute to remember what their job really is; to serve the American people. And now is their time to really step up and lead by example.

Lauren, like you I have to balance my fear and confusion. I work directly with the public and I have an immune system that is partially suppressed as a by product of treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis. I fear for my Father the most as his body is much weaker than even mine. I visited the Cleveland Museum of Art on Sunday just to learn three people were positively diagnosed on Monday in Cuyahoga county. You aren't alone in that fear. I think that we must turn to hope to keep us in this trying time. We have to...

Terry, As a man who has lived and breathed baseball, your letter was an absolute joy for me to read. What young boy wouldn't want to be in the clubhouse with his Dad? During your time as manager I've been to quite a few games in Cleveland. None though were as special as July 12th 2014. That was the day I celebrated my 30th birthday. Though the day centered around my birthday it saw me doing something for someone else. It was the day I took my Father to the very first professional sports game in his 59 years of life at the time. It was so touching the certificate that he got from the wonderful folks at Guest Services. And although the home team lost to the White Sox that day, it will always remain one of the best days in my heart. Letters like yours only serve to renew my love for the game of baseball. Thanks for sharing it with the little boy still inside of me wanting to throw that 0-2 curveball to the best hitter in the league.

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Sweet Lauren, I agree completely with the promise that Brian asked you to make. Frankly, it is the only way that I know to love; totally, completely, wholly and unconditionally. You deserve nothing less, nor does your future love.

Wow. What a truly moving and powerful story. We often take for granted the small gifts we give each other just by being present. I'm sad for the heartache. I'm glad you stayed and became. Who knows what little girl or boy will be attributing their life's purpose to some kindness you shared. Peace and Sunshine

You’re welcome Lauren looking forward to all the future stories :)

Thank you Tony. I appreciate all your support.

Thank you Tony. I appreciate all your support.

I’m sorry to hear about Brian but he was right you are too beautiful to not receive roses Lauren:)

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Thanks for this! So what movie set did you get on?

So nice Roger <3

Pat, Your letter touched me in a very profound way. It left me in tears in the middle of my work day. It made me want to share something with you. On a July morning in 2007 a police officer answered a 911 call I had made when my Mother went into cardiac arrest. Between that officer, my best friend and the fire fighters who showed up minutes later they were able to restart her heart, however at the hospital she passed away an hour later. At the end of his shift that officer stopped by my home to check on the situation and cried when I told him the unfortunate news I received only 4 hours prior. He tried to apologize to me. I looked at the anguish in his eyes and asked him directly what for? He described the ways he felt sorry. What I want to leave you with was my reply to him. I told him he had nothing to be sorry for because he answered the call in what was the darkest moment in my life. I told him that he was a hero regardless because it takes a special person to answer calls like that. You are a hero to people Pat. No one can ever take that away from you. I understand the process you're going through as I've been there myself and like you I still struggle with it when no one is looking. You aren't alone in this. I hope your healing process continues on and you can regain the happiness in this beautiful life. You'll always be a hero to those people, because you were there when the call came Best wishes Roger Chamberlain

Ruth, your letter moved me to tears. Once upon a time I was very closed off about the LGBT community but over a course of several years, I turned my fear into understanding and I actively stand with the community for their equal rights because it is the right thing to do.