Ruth Bolliger was born in March 1938 in Czechoslovakia. Just seven days prior to her birth, the Nazis invaded Austria, where Ruth’s extended family lived. Her grandfather had received a Nobel Prize just years earlier, and the high standing of Ruth’s family made them a target: those living in Austria were imprisoned that evening. However her extended family’s connections eventually helped her immediate family escape to the U.S.
In October 1938 the Munich Agreement was signed, allowing Germany to seize part of Czechoslovakia. Ruth’s parents knew they had to escape the region as quickly as possible. By November her father had relocated to Prague. Ruth and her mother both had to be smuggled into the city separately. The family struggled to line up the numerous visas necessary to escape the approaching Nazis. The Belgian government allowed the family into Belgium thanks to Ruth’s grandfather’s connections, and after months of paperwork and negotiations they were able to leave Czechoslovakia.
From Belgium, the family moved to France, and then Ruth and her mother were able to escape to England. Her Father had to remain in France because of England’s immigration restrictions on men of working age. When England entered the war, Ruth and her mother rejoined her father in France. Soon the German army began to bomb France heavily and, like many families, Ruth’s parents sought to escape from danger. They hid while trying to secure the paperwork and money to travel to escape.
Finally in 1941 the family secured a spot in the hold of a ship from Marseilles to Martinique, where they endured malnourishment and Ruth and the other five children on the ship contracted whooping cough. From there they travelled to New York City via Santo Domingo City. Ruth’s parents were concerned that immigration authorities would send them back to Europe if they discovered Ruth’s cough, but three-year-old Ruth hid her symptoms and the family was not questioned upon arrival.
When they arrived in New York City Ruth’s family shared an apartment with her grandparents, who had already made it there. Later her parents found employment and moved elsewhere in New York. Ruth moved to Oregon in 1970 and to Portland in 1975. She has been speaking about her experiences for years as an active member of the Speakers’ Bureau and is also a docent at the Oregon Holocaust Memorial.