Ruth Kohn was born in 1933 in what was then a democratic Vienna, Austria. Her mother was an executive secretary for a fabric wholesaler with accounts all over Europe. Her father worked for a company that made fine liqueur. Both families had been patriotic Austrians for many generations.
Ruth’s first and last childhood birthday party was on February 15, 1938. A month later she witnessed the annexation of Austria to Germany. The Nuremburg laws were implemented almost immediately, which meant that Jews were stripped of their citizenship and were considered racially inferior and undesirable. Friends and neighbors of Ruth’s family became hostile strangers overnight.
Ruth was also witness to the aftermath of the November Pogroms, Kristallnacht, and recollects the shock of having her father being arrested and deported to Dachau. She remembers shuffling along ankle deep in glass that morning while hurrying to the train station with her mother in a vain attempt to find her father.
A month later, armed Nazis ordered Ruth and her mother to move out of their apartment to a hovel in another part of the city. Like other Jewish families ordered out of their homes, Ruth and her mother were forced to leave most of their belongings behind, now the property of the new, non-Jewish owner of their apartment.
Life in the ghetto was tortuous for Ruth and her mother. Nazis came to their door and those of their neighbors often, either demanding work or arresting and deporting family after family. For two winters in that Vienna ghetto Ruth and her mother were dragged out to shovel snow with hundreds of other Jewish women and children.
After two years of enduring the daily terror, Ruth and her mother received an affidavit from an American cousin and they were able to escape. Her father escaped to Sweden and they were reunited in Portland, Oregon in 1940. The rest of the family (grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins) were murdered in concentration camps.
She met her husband, Manfred Lindemann, in Portland. He and his family had fled Germany and spent nine years in Shanghai, China. They raised three children and owned Fred’s Sound of Music on Hawthorne Blvd., which has been in business since 1968. Ruth has published two books of historical fiction based on the many stories she has heard from other Holocaust survivors. “To Survive Is Not Enough” (2016) and “They Will Not Be Forgotten” (2018) are both available at the Oregon Jewish Museum & Center for Holocaust Education. Since 1983 she has spoken to thousands of students as a member of the OJMCHE Speaker’s Bureau and at the Tolerance Education Center in Rancho Mirage, CA.