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A Remarkable Woman

Moshe and Arielle Spern with great-grandmother Ruth at age 101 on Sukkos three years ago.

Ruth Meyberg, ה״ע

By Marion Blumenthal Lazan

February 7, 2013, would have marked the 105th birthday of our dear and beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother, Ruth Blumenthal Meyberg. That was not to be. Mom passed away in the early afternoon of Thursday, December 27, 2012, after a brief illness.

Eldest of five sisters, Mom was born in Stallupoenen, East Prussia (Germany). My grandfather was not pleased about not having any sons. From a classified ad in the newspaper, Mom took a bookkeeper’s job in the small German town of Hoya. Walter Blumenthal became her employer. It was only two weeks after Mom began work that a proposal of marriage was made to her by Walter. Mom, a bit shocked and disconcerted, left Hoya to consider the proposal. She soon returned and Ruth and Walter were married in December 1931.

Already in the early 1930s, there was unrest in Germany, making this a difficult time for the Blumenthal family. My brother Albert was born in 1932, and stones were thrown at his carriage. It was only a few short years later that we found ourselves in transient and concentration camps. Mom demonstrated great courage and strength in keeping our family alive and intact during our years of incarceration in the Nazi concentration camps of Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen. Liberation for our family occurred on April 23, 1945, when the Russian Army liberated the “death train” in which we were traveling towards the East. My mother’s beloved husband, my father, passed away from typhus just six weeks after our liberation, leaving Mom a 37-year-old widow, weighing just over 60 pounds.

The six and a half years of transit and concentration camp life left Mom weak, stricken with typhus, penniless, stateless, and not knowing what the future would bring. How would she possibly care for two sick and undernourished children, Albert, age 12, and me, age 10? However, no challenge was ever too much for Mom.

Upon our family’s return to Holland, we all learned to speak Dutch. Mom, after intensive training, became a masseuse.

Albert and I were placed in a youth aliyah home (a children’s home), where we became reacquainted with life in its normal state. We began formal schooling for the first time, and prepared to make aliyah (emigrate) to Palestine, which became the State of Israel.

However, instead of aliyah, our diminished family of three emigrated to the United States, arriving in Hoboken, New Jersey, on April 23, 1948, exactly three years to the day since our liberation. Through the help of the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, we soon found ourselves living in Peoria, Illinois. Mom made it a high priority for each of us to quickly learn English and for Albert and me to do well in school. Mom worked early on as a day-cleaning lady for Jewish families. An added bonus was bringing home leftover food and hand-me-down clothing. I recall wearing one of those beautiful dresses to synagogue on Yom Kippur in 1951, where Nathaniel and I first met. I was 16; he was 19. He walked me home at the conclusion of services, and has been walking me home ever since.

From that day on, Nathaniel would call every evening on the telephone. After talking a short period of time on the phone, Mom, in not too low a voice, would say, “Genauch,” enough, it’s time to say goodnight to him. When Mom realized that it was getting serious between Nathaniel and me, she contacted a cousin in Great Neck to ensure that the Lazans were a reputable family into which to marry.

An excellent cook from childhood, Mom became a talented seamstress. At one point in her life, she worked for Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and helped alter suits and clothing for famous male actors. In our home, Mom, well into her nineties, would sew on buttons and even threaded her own needles. She folded laundry, dried and put away dishes, and made every effort to be useful and productive. When there was something she could no longer do, Mom would say, “Old age is for the birds.”

Mom’s vocabulary was extensive and precise. When living in San Francisco some 20-plus years ago, her letters to us were so eloquently descriptive of that beautiful city on the bay that we thought she must be the publicity director for the S.F. Chamber of Commerce! Mom was a voracious reader in both German and English.

We arrived in America with little money, to say the least. Being frugal, and never living above our means, Mom never asked for or required financial help. On the contrary, Mom graciously helped others whenever the need arose and enjoyed giving family members beautiful presents. She always gave Nathaniel practical and useful gifts, such as a Swiss Army knife and leather travel slippers, both of which he takes with him on our many trips.

There was never a trace of anger in Mom, but, at times, a feeling of having been deprived of a normal family life. She often reminisced of her courtship days in Hoya, where Mom met my father.

As previously related, Mom was the eldest of five sisters. There was my mother, of course, Bianca, Ilse, Ulla, and Annie. Ulla made aliyah to Palestine in the mid-1930s and worked as a pioneer. Bianca emigrated to England prior to the war. Ilse, after her husband of only eight months was shot to death, became a partisan in the woods in Poland. Annie perished in Auschwitz. And Mom, Ruth, spent those six and a half horrendous years behind barbed wire.

After the war, Ulla lived in Tel Aviv, Bianca in London, Ilse in New York, and Mom in San Francisco. In the spring of 1967, just prior to the Six Day War, all four surviving sisters gathered in Tel Aviv for their one and only reunion since childhood.

When Mom stayed with us for Shabbos, she was extremely careful to be quiet so as not to disturb anyone, closing doors ever so gently. Mom carefully made her own bed and dressed herself neatly, enjoyed all the meals, and always complimented me by saying everything is delicious—but “please, don’t give me so much. This is more than enough.” Mom would even tear a napkin in half to economize, brushing off our “Mom, that is not necessary.”

Mom had a sweet tooth, and enjoyed chocolate, cake, and ice cream. She actually preferred her own warm and cozy apartment, keeping it spotlessly clean, with everything neatly in place. She always made sure to be fully and neatly dressed in the morning.

Mom had quite a collection of clever and witty sayings, some in German, a few in English. One was, “You should always have 10 cents more than you need.” When talking about children, Mom would say, “When they are young, you could eat them up. When they are older, you wish you had. Let your children grow over your head, but not out of your hands.” And, “Schtutse den Baum so lang Ehr schtat,”—support the tree as long as it stands.

Mom rarely went to the doctor; what an incredible blessing that was! The only medication she took was for high blood pressure. (I don’t consider Tylenol medication.) It was just a few years back that we finally persuaded Mom to take vitamins.

Mom loved the United States. She loved everything about this country—the people, the national parks, the democracy, Washington DC, Williamsburg, and especially San Francisco, where she lived for close to 20 years some 22 years ago. While living in California, Mom loved watching the Rose Bowl parade with its beautiful floats adorned with magnificent and colorful roses.

While living here in Far Rockaway, when the Concorde SST was still in service, Mom was thrilled to watch from her 15th-floor apartment the Concordes flying to and from JFK Airport. Mom knew their schedule and would look for them at those precise times.

Mom often clipped and passed on to us interesting articles from newspapers, some dealing with health and family issues, others about Israel and the world in general.

When our son Michael and his wife Rachel were about to make aliyah some 18 years ago, Mom wrote a letter to Michael, chiding him for leaving the U.S. But she never mailed the letter to him. She just had to say what was on her mind. A very unusual and wise lady!

Mom loved the arts, architecture, music, the sea, mountains, and nature, especially the change in the seasons. Mom loved to travel. She enjoyed Tauck Tours. Mom bought picture postcards of places she visited, saying, why take a photo when you can get a better one on a postcard?

This was a woman who was modest, hardworking, industrious, caring, and very wise. The Serenity prayer was her guiding principle—“G‑d, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

At one point in later life, she said she had lived long enough; time to go. But then she added, the longer I live, the longer the Germans will have to pay social security and restitution to me. Let them keep on paying! (For the record, for all that Marion endured, there is no continuing restitution.)

We children called her our role model of role models, a true eishet chayil, woman of valor. Her three grandchildren and respective spouses, David and Lisa, Susan and Rob, and Michael and Rachel, cherished and adored their grandmother. Mom’s 10 great-grandchildren, Arielle and Moshe, Joshua, Gavriel, Dahlia, Yoav, Jordan Erica, Hunter, Ian, and Kasey Rose, were in awe of their indomitable great-grandmother. And Mom’s great-great-granddaughter, (our great-granddaughter), Leah Tova, received countless kisses and gentle hugs from this incredible matriarch. We are fortunate to have good photos of the two together. It was Leah Tova that made us a five-generation family of women.

A short story of when my mother was staying with our own children in 1969 when we traveled to Hawaii. Mom, who was then living in Kew Gardens, volunteered to be their temporary guardian. Since school was in session, it should not have been a problem. But then it snowed, and snowed, and snowed some more. School was closed for almost the entire week, and the kids became rambunctious (so we were told). When we returned home and entered the house, there was Mom, with coat on and suitcase in hand, telling us, “Please take me home, now!”

Our family has had the love and support of many through the years, for which we are eternally thankful. We also need to thank a few who became close to Mom and helped make it possible for her to live out her life in the comfort of her own apartment. Included among these were Lucy, Mom’s dear friend, companion, and loving, dedicated aide for the past seven and a half years; Dr. Henry Zupnick and the fine doctors of South Shore Medical in Lynbrook; and Hatzalah, who, with speed, compassion, and dedication, have been there for Mom when needed.

On a more personal level, I wish to thank two longtime friends, Judy Friedman and Sheila Goldberg, who have called and spoken with Mom regularly over the years. On an even more personal level, I have to thank all our children and grandchildren for always being there when needed.

May Mom’s memory serve as a blessing to you all, and may my beloved mother rest in peace. Amen. v

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Posted by on January 3, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.