Sunday, 26 January 2014

National Holocaust Memorial Day- the fate of Ruth Schmerler

The theme of Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27th year will be “Journeys”. The Memorial Day originated in 2001 with the aim of remembering the crimes, racism and victimisation committed during the Holocaust are neither forgotten nor repeated, whether in Europe or elsewhere in the world. It has been commemorated every year since.

The young woman whose picture that looks out at the reader is Ruth Schmerler whose journey began when she left her home in Poland as a 14 year old in 1939 moved to a home in Manchester for Jewish Refugee Children with her brother Klaus. Her family had lived for generations in Galicia in Poland. Ruth worked as a Land Girl picking fruit in Worcestershire. She was found murdered her body found at Counslow in late September 1944 on the Alton-Cheadle road. She was 20 years of age, her journey had ended.

She was last seen receiving a lift from an Army vehicle at Selly Oak in Birmingham on 21st September. She was intending to see her brother in Manchester who was working as an optician’s assistant. When her body was discovered she had been stabbed as well as an attempt made to strangle her. Her clothes were disarranged and a stocking was missing. Robbery was not thought to be a motive. Ruth’s suitcase and other belongings were found 150 miles away at Shap Fell in Cumbria. Her murder was unsolved despite the best efforts of the Cheadle police. It was the first case that mine detectors were used in a vain attempt to find the weapon that killed Ruth.

Ruth’s story is a poignant one. She escaped the persecution of the Nazis who had killed all her relatives in Poland, for her to die brutally and her body to be thrown into a Staffordshire ditch. Her story is just one of the many millions of people who were forced from homelands where communities had lived for hundreds of years to be either killed or resettled distances away from their birthplace. The Jewish community of Eastern Europe ceased to exist and cities which had sizable minorities such as Prague, Warsaw and Lvov were entirely purged. Only 150,000 Polish Jews survived out of a population of over 3 million by 1945. After the war vast movements of populations occurred. Tony Judt in his seminal book on Europe “ Postwar” estimated that over 30 million people were dispossessed from 1939 to 1950 including 11 million Germans, millions in the Soviet Union such as the Crimea Tartars thought to be enemies of the state, Poles, Hungarians, Italians and many other groups in a massive attempt at “homogenising” vast swathes of the continent. Many Jews moved to the new state of Israel, but also to unbelievably escape further persecution in Eastern Europe . Some of the displaced people of Europe found homes in England as the Polish community at Blackshaw Moor testifies.

Writing about a massacre of Jews that took place in Stryl in Galicia in the summer of 1943 Schaje Schmerler concluded with this prayer. “Their extinguished souls that ascended to heaven and were transformed into stars shine now together will the souls of all those unlucky Jews martyred-- al kiddush hashem --they shine down on us lest we forget what was done to our people”.

Ruth Schmerler lies in a Jewish cemetery in Manchester. Perhaps some passer-by can say Kaddish for her and her people?