Before I first met with Ronnie Breslow, the Holocaust survivor I interviewed, I did not know what to expect. But from the first moment I opened the door and Ronnie greeted me with a hug, I felt welcomed me into her home. Over the course of our interviews over a semester, we discussed her experience as a Holocaust survivor, but also modern problems and politics. I always looked forward to our weekly meetings, and I now consider Ronnie a friend. She gave me advice about moving across the country for college and emailed me links to articles she thought I would find interesting.
Ronnie was born Renate Reutlinger in Germany in 1930. She was raised in Kirchheim, a small city in southern Germany. Her parents owned a dry goods stores and she lived a comfortable middle class lifestyle. When Hitler came to power in 1933, life began to change for Ronnie. First, the Nuremberg Laws, discriminatory laws towards Jews, meant the family store lost business. During Kristallnacht, Ronnie and her family were only terrorized more and decided to leave Germany. Ronnie’s father was able to leave, and Renate and her mother searched frantically for any options to escape.
Ronnie and her mother considered themselves lucky to find passage on the S.S. St. Louis, a ship leaving to Cuba. However, when the boat arrived in Havana, the Jewish refugees with valid landing documents were denied entry. Despite furious negotiations, the options for the refugees were exhausted. Ronnie distinctly remembers seeing the shimmering lights of Miami Beach in the United States as the St. Louis turned back to Europe. Ronnie and her mother were placed in the Netherlands in a detention camp called Rotterdam West. Ronnie was separated from her mother and faced hunger. Luckily, Ronnie and her mom were able to leave the camp and board another ship to the United States. Ronnie left the camp to find asylum in the United States exactly one year after Kristallnacht.
I thought that Ronnie’s story, like most stories I had heard about Holocaust survivors, would conclude with Ronnie’s arrival in the United States. For Ronnie, her experience adapting to a new culture as a teenager, learning a new language, and building her family up again were the most defining moments in her life. I most admire Ronnie’s pride at being American. Despite getting turned away on the St. Louis, she still was able to find refuge and build a life in the United States. Today, she continues to speak to school groups and work with students to advocate and educate about the Holocaust. I am inspired by Ronnie’s courage, her determination, and her passion.