Ruth Levenson, Cecily Burke, and David Taussig

Recorded May 9, 2010 Archived May 9, 2010 01:19:55 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: SFB000801


Ruth Levenson (87) talks to her son David Taussig (60) and daughter-in-law Cecily Burke (61) about her life as a Holocaust refugee and eventually immigrating to the United States.

Subject Log / Time Code

Ruth’s family came from Stanislaw, Poland. They were heavily involved in the fur business and came to Leipzig, Germany in the 1880’s.
Dodi (David) Blye warned family of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power and convinced them to leave Germany.
Ruth and her family travel throughout Europe and South America trying to get a Visa to come to the United States.
Arrived in New York at the age of 19 and remembers seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time.
Remembers various moments of anti-Semitism from her childhood: none of the other children wanted to play with her because she was Jewish.
Ruth does not consider herself a Holocaust survivor, but rather a Holocaust refugee.
Came to live in California at 2004 after she had a bad fall in her house.


  • Ruth Levenson
  • Cecily Burke
  • David Taussig

Recording Location

San Francisco StoryBooth


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00:01 I'm Cecily Burke age 61 today is the 9th of May 2010 in San Francisco. I'm conducting this interview with my husband David taussig and my mother-in-law Ruth Levinson.

00:18 And I'm David taussig. I'm 60 years old today is also the 9th of May hasn't changed the location to San Francisco and Ruth Levinson is my mom and Cecily a burke is my wife.

00:30 My name is Ruth Levinson. I'm 87 years old today is the 9th of May 2010 and I'm in the wonderful city of San Francisco, and I'm the mother of David taussig and Cecily Berg.

00:53 Oh man, we want to talk a little bit about your life in the Nuggets going back to Germany and pre-World War II and your family there. And since we had some questions Ruth, I particularly wanted to do this interview because you're early life was pretty amazing you lived in four different countries running from one to the other before you were 20 years old more than four countries.

01:20 I'll come to that later more than 4 okay, there may be things. I don't know about let's start with your grandparents. And I know the names of two of them pulling on shop tie Rapaport her maternal grandparents. I don't know the other names, but I also know that your family was involved in the fur business in Leipzig and I talked about them and how both sides your family came to Leipzig and from where and how they got into the fur business.

01:52 Well, my family comes from Eastern Europe.

01:57 My father's family. This was known at the time and ask Alicia part of Poland that took religious ones. When is in Spain and one is in Poland as so that's where they came from to from, Stanislaus Poland.

02:17 And then they move to Leipzig and they may have been in the furniture business which was my father's business until he married my mother and then he got into the fur business as my mother's family entire family was in the fur business.

02:38 At this point I just like to mention that at the me when I did some research at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. I came across some information that since the Middle Ages Jews had been furriers in Leipzig. There is a middle-aged so I don't know how long I've had that family been in life. Sick too. Long time your mother. Yes. I think it probably got there in the 1880s.

03:11 Came from for from a town called and Mesa rates in German or Miss Ridge in Polish and they came to live chick in the 1880s.

03:23 To my mother was a baby when she came to live chick and she went to school there was born in Poland mostly or any of them born in electric some were born in Leipzig. I think after my mother or her sister pony until her brother Joseph were born in Leipzig, their overall in children.

03:56 Yeah, your mother Esther was one of nine children. Yes, the descendants of those nine children are scattered all over the globe. I mean they're in vs. Correct in Belgium Israel. There's some in New Zealand and even one in Thailand. Josephine's brother, right? Yeah, let's talk about how that happened. You know, when who died in the Holocaust who emigrated where and why how did this family get? So scattered different people made different decisions. Well the devil lot of girls in that family that was six girls and three boys and

04:42 But with girls got married to different parts of Europe.

04:47 For some reason maybe it was done through a marriage broker could be and I understand that.

04:59 Daddy's Daddy's father that came from Moscow and he went to life check on some kind of business and there he met your Mother sister Rosa. Yeah and him that's how he he meds rules that he married her and she had to move to Moscow but you didn't where she didn't like it and she had studied as a child and

05:28 And and he was the owner of a large chemical Factory was a chemist and one day had to payroll with him.

05:39 He was driving it sketch a stagecoach. I believe with the payroll and some robbers came and asked for the money. He would not hand over the money. So he was killed he and his wife were killed and only the baby was left alone. And that baby was your cousin Jody. Yeah, and the grandfather came to Moscow to pick him up and took him the grandfather meaning except I wrap up what I picked him up and took him to live chick where he was raised by her by his grandma's Lee's grandmother and their brother pulling.

06:28 Simple and Surround hooray hooray stem and their Magics walking walking around. My mother tells me that right now. Let's talk about daddy because daddy is really the reason your family got saved. Yes, you left Germany in 1936. You've told me for kristallnacht and you said told us that your family had been warned of the danger of Hitler by your cousin. So,

07:07 But why don't you tell us what you told us a few weeks ago about him being a stateless person and how he got a Portuguese passport and also about how he realized that Hitler was a serious danger to let's talk about daddy. She was very bright and tea here are mine come in other books early on. Yes.

07:38 And he said that Germany was not the safe place to live in and that he wanted to grow it to go abroad to live abroad to leave Germany.

07:52 Because it was extremely dangerous. What year did he say that you have any idea?

08:03 After I guess after Hitler came to power.

08:07 After 1933

08:11 And 30 is reported that the first the family they were all together in business in the fur business. I did not want to go along because the business was happened to be very good at that time. And if you go to unknown country, you do not know what your future will be your financial future. So they were afraid so. He said, I don't not care what you say, but I am going

08:48 So they followed him. They realized that you were smarter than the rest of the house. So they said he go to England before they did or time is my stiff being probably around nine 2:30 or so. He he went to England for a job which gave him a better perspective of the political conditions and stay in England cuz he liked it. But the British authorities would not allow him to stay so he had to go back to Germany reluctantly and that's where he began to dislike conditions in Germany.

09:37 Why was he a stateless person? You told me he would he was the stateless person that he had to finagle to get a Portuguese passport.

09:47 I don't know exactly but he came from Russia originally from Russia and that probably had something to do with it because Russia versus Soviet state, so possibly that did not recognize Russian.

10:08 Nationality, you know?

10:11 Different ways to do have Russian nationality or were you considered? Did you not really have any Russians and you don't know how he got the Portuguese passport? So he went to the Portuguese Consulate in the name Rappaport means Rabbi of Porto. It is originally a Portuguese Jewish name. Yes, so he would probably somehow use the yes. So how did how many of the family left and everybody decided to get up and leave and wanted to find it says quite a number

10:49 Joe

10:51 That was Joe and Elda right and my family my parents in myself is 5.

11:00 And thought I was single at the time he didn't she live in Belgium. So she stayed in Belgium. Yeah.

11:11 And she died at the Hop she died in the Holocaust. She survived a part of my family was from Belgium was in hiding and Sarah the youngest went to Israel when she went away before Hitler. She left in 19 1924 with her husband. And the reason they left was as they belonged. They were a very early scientists.

11:46 End

11:49 They wanted to go to Israel.

11:53 End

11:57 The reason date

12:01 That's a reason and one reason they went to Israel was because

12:07 My uncle who was an engineer could not get a job or was let go from a job because because he

12:20 He was Jewish. You couldn't get a job even at that time. So they decided to go to Israel, which was not Israel than it was Palestine, right? They went to Palestine because even in the 1920s this anti-Semitism in Israel with an in Germany was so strong 90 in the 1880s and 90s. There was a lot of anti-Semitism in Germany, and she said her name was Esther, but she called herself Elsa so that people wouldn't know she would ride the way that she was Jewish.

13:04 I'm so so they were in Israel in one group in Belgium Antwerp. They look they died under the Nazis. That's right. Yeah, I heard that they were in hiding also and that the people who were hiding them and gave them away.

13:27 The end like I am Frankie, yes, and that included the little girl who was at the most 10 years old.

13:36 Okay. Now what about and the oldest that says nine children Abraham you said died as a young adult in London? Yes. So let's talk about Child Number 3 Max. He married to Bertha and they'd stayed in England didn't they?

13:56 Yes, they stayed in England.

14:00 They they were the parents of Dorothy whom you know.

14:12 Did did that after World War II or something or during World War II and steamer also stayed in England. Yes. So all of you and you was very dangerous because you know land we lived in London and it was formed we even had the time from in our in our apartment building didn't give that okay, your family went to England in 1936 when you were 14 and you are a teenager and then yes, but before we came to England that was quite the story we didn't go to England directly across the border and secretly in 1930 September 1936 and we went to Marine vert which is in the sudetenland, right and then

15:12 Czech Republic now and then we went from Marine vacth. We went to call spot and some cows spot. We went to Vienna where we spent only a few days and I saw that we went to the book booked and as such a very famous German actors performing St. Joan. Yeah, okay and

15:44 Then we go from there. We went to Italy.

15:48 For short time and from Italy we went to Paris.

15:53 And in Paris, we finally got it. I think it wasn't This Is Us visa to go to England in 1936. It was very hard to get permission to to get out of Germany with the proper papers. Yes. Is there any reason you went to certain cities at certain times? Did you ever figure out I know you were a kid, but why they pick those cities or you couldn't stay in the same place? I mean you didn't just go to one place and wait for a Visa. You went to a whole bunch of different cities thing to do with the winter coming off because we left in September and then we went most house.

16:49 How long does it take till you got the from September till you get the passports to get into from September to January and you were aware that you left your money for goods and just walked out of the house with whatever you could and then left would you leave furniture and all kinds of stuff in the house and nobody took it over for me or you just left it with no notice was all secret. Nobody knew we were leaving. Okay, except I told my organization my group Eliza Young Girl 19. I told her what was he supposed to go to be surprised. She didn't say much, but she didn't alert anybody know.

17:42 So if anybody knew my friends didn't know nobody knew feel about your leaving Germany, you told me your parents were reluctant. But how did you feel? Well, I think by the time we left my parents will probably no longer relaxing because they realize you know, she was from from Poland didn't have that what this word is Kenichi to Germany to Germany 4th of July to say the complacency more afraid, you know, and I think my parents were relieved by that time. They were really well-written. They were ready to leave. Where is I was too immature, you know, their feelings like that. I wanted to be with my girls. I knew I was losing my my girlfriend's right that didn't realize that I would meet them again.

18:42 And then when you were in England, did you right away your parents right away start to want to come to United States or do they decide after awhile business in England? Okay. So Thursday's I'm just saw it was because of Hitler and the the bombings that they decided it was too dangerous to stay in England. What day did he is making plans to come to the United States and to go to Brazil even while they waited not even to stay in England while they waited for their faces when the business from England and then take a couple of years before they decided. Oh my God forbid. It was peaceful. You know, what's a nice time to lift their right? And then the war broke out in 39. We got the bombs, I think maybe in 40, okay.

19:43 And the and then things will really terrible, you know, very dangerous are the blackout was no fun to live there. It was didn't your parents send you to school in the English Countryside way from them. You told me yes, I went to Brighton for 1 year to a boarding school. Where should I dislike Sarah Lee didn't make any friends there? No, not really. No, no not for your friends know so then they decided to go to the United States. They couldn't get a visa to United States. So we were informed that if we go to to Brazil, we would get a Visa in immediately. We went to Brazil and we did not get the visa immediately. Okay, we spend six.

20:37 Pretty miserable months in Rio de Janeiro and we were told that if we go to San Paulo we would get a Visa immediately. So we went to San Paulo did not get did not get the graduate about four months. So you told me where in Brazil 10-month Somalia here. Yes. Yeah, right and then you were 18. Yes. And what were you doing during the time you were in Brazil? You told me yesterday. I took classes in shorthand stenography. Let's invented the beach lot.

21:26 And there is with other German Jews there to oh, yes. Yes. Yes. I had to couple of friends and first most of them. I think one went to England the others know something directly to Brazil. German-speaking. Yes. Yes. He had we lived in the boarding house. We never had to know in the apartment or anything like that just in the boarding house and

22:06 It also came they didn't have a room for him because they were booked up. So he had this meals there and my parents heard that he came from London. So they immediately questioned him what's going on in London? They were concerned because we still have him a lot of family in London, you know, so he talked to them and

22:32 What's how you got to know your future husband not interested in him because I had another boyfriend.

22:41 Nothing least interested and then

22:49 It's right and then

22:53 Did you get the visa first cuz I know you came to New York by yourself.

23:06 And my parents didn't get it right away. So my uncle suggested that why couldn't Bruce come to New York with them mother's brother.

23:26 So you got a boat and he went with them to vote for tourism or was it about for people who wanted to emigrate from one card to renew your plan was to get off. That's when you had a Visa so you can stay in the United States and then point it was a cruise ship but we had blackouts we had to be very careful and you have a father on the ship myself. He was by himself. And the the reason I met him I think was because at the boardinghouse they gave me a letter.

24:15 That's for him some I deliver the letter to him and I gave it gave him the letter and I remember this word. She said I am also a post office. He said he who is in New York for him when he got to New York. So you head of his family or with other people whenever in Brazil they went they came from London. So Grandma sexuality Amaya went straight from London to my father in the Brazil. He couldn't get a visa from London. Yeah, because he probably has a different. I don't know exactly why he was born

25:10 Turn in Vienna David your birth certificate states that he was born in Vienna. Yes, he will but the parents I don't know somehow they're there but weren't Maya and Lydia his house sisters also born in Vienna. Yes, but I don't know how they'll does. God vs us to come before he didn't hear a different father. So maybe it's cuz he's a different father that he didn't have the same nationality of it. I don't know why you couldn't get to visit with them. So you came with your and your uncle in the same place with them for a while. I did not arrived in New York. You were in The Dark Night of the Soul, right? Yes yet almost 19 and when I arrived

26:07 Is bendy left the ship? Who was there being allowed to pick me up my friend in love from from Leipzig. She she picked me up. I knew you were going to be on them 1940 and she came from light ticket, but they had to go around about way VIA Japan believe his own love to see her get up and see if she has a job as a domestic.

27:07 I also would you live when you free like they got me an apartment in an English garden apartment in Washington Heights?

27:17 Name of the cruise

27:19 What month it was the SS Argentina?

27:24 And do you remember what month to drive to New York on July 14th nineteen?

27:35 41 right for 1941 the Warriors going pretty heavy at that point in in Europe in Europe before Pearl Harbor and when did your parents come how much after that they came in November possibly that came in the mail for 5 months basically go to work when you got here and what was the first thing I went to business school. How was your English then? It was very good better than English in English language and you had job skills. You could type you have music.

28:32 What was what was so you went to school for what for a year or so and then you went to the workforce at that point or and what was your first job was an interesting one. It was with the freight forwarder straightforward Freight forwarding agency and located on Duane Street in Newark, New York City and then

29:12 My bus was very nice isn't matter of fact, and it's a reason he hired me said was because my English accent which I had at that time, but try to get rid of because because I didn't want to be different.

29:29 Okay. So is your accent. A German accent real does it take a selfie and what you do for them, mostly as a messenger in New York City rats get someone from one place to another all over Manhattan messages sending messages you and they also send me to the bank with lots of cash responded. Right? Right. Okay, and so you did that for a while until you decide to get another job or

30:29 She said it was dangerous and so on and so I work for the family.

30:35 All of the person who won the firm. Well, they existed already before because Arthur up report was always here. I've been here longer London office and then they have the New York offices are pretty smooth transition business-wise. I'm in the Warriors going on obviously so first or not as it was a firm unsuccessful the first few years because of the war he did well along same connections. I had to get the Furs in Germany that use the same ones to probably import first United States David fur coats. When one of the few ways you had keeping warm in the winter and cold

31:35 Since we don't have that many minutes left. I know Ruth you said you wanted to talk about some of the anti-semitic incidents you've experienced as a child in Germany or some of the things that happened where you felt singled out and felt being made to feel different as a Jew you told me about one summer camp incident.

32:02 Yes, that's was when I was 9 years old and it was 1932 1 year before Hitler and I was bragging to a girl that I have relatives in in Belgium England and and Palestine and she said to me are you Jewish and I said yes, I am. So I overheard her telling the counselor that she said to the counselor. Did you know that Bruce Willis was Jewish and I and the counselor said no, that's impossible. She's not Jewish called because one wouldn't that would be noticeable.

32:54 So that the adventurous one incident another incident was when I was playing with some children in the Czech Republic that was in the sudetenland. It was in the in the country. We were playing on the meadow and little boy. You spell peasant children. I think little boy said to me maybe bistu youth which means little girl. Are you Jewish and I said, yes, I am. So the all the all the children that were fired a few of them crossed themselves and they ran away.

33:32 Build a old runaway point out that when I was very young and living in Leipzig. This has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It's just the political climate. We were living in the inner city. And when I looked out the window very very very frequently and we had marches, you know in the street and there were these different parties and number one was the national

34:10 No National Democrats win number one number to where the National Socialist that was the night of his Nazi party. Number three was the Communists and then there were smaller parties and they all had do you know bands and and singing and and and this went on all the time very frequently was which was part of his Hindenburg. Was he the Hindenburg has he won that he died and Hitler took over and I just want to say that I

35:06 I don't consider myself a holocaust Survivor because I never was never in hiding and I was never in the camp. I consider myself a refugee, right? That's what I've always told people that you are a holocaust Refugee and I've made it very clear what the distinction is between Refugee and Survivor, but I have one last question and maybe the last question. I don't know depending on time and that is after traveling so much all of your youth between ages 14 and 19. When did you start to feel that you were an American after living in all these countries? When did you start to feel it was okay to put down roots.

36:00 I think they immediately pretty immediately after I rule I was so happy to see the Statue of Liberty and you know, and it was

36:13 Most wonderful day really is a great City. Then. What is the city of Nazareth? I was with was wonderful because you know, I left London which was nice too, but I left it during the war time. It was difficult to live in because we didn't have any lights at night, you know, everything was blacked out the window lights and underwear rationing, but they didn't seem so terrible at the beginning and I think it wasn't so bad but I've been no lights everything. You know auntie I came to New York vs Fitbit Versa to know like like Paris.

37:13 Turn off lights with pictures beautiful, They weren't in the middle of a war was mustard dressing to but it was nothing and unlike in Brazil. You spoke the language and felt like the people look more like you. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, you know, I didn't like Brazil at all.

37:45 Different culture stresses in English speaking country in the night came from England. So I had an affinity for dinner because of the language.

38:06 It's a matter of fact, the immigration officers questioned me for a long time. You know, they gave me, you know, they're looking for problems that he said to me was kind of harsh. You said. How come you speak English so well for You original. And I was like no I didn't go by elephant because they probably came first class instead of pure on the tour to scratch my uncle and Aunt were first class.

39:06 Like to say

39:08 No, I don't think so. You lived in New York until what 2003-2004 2004 when will have to fall in your apartment. And we all decided to come live closer to tell you this right now, California seeing father away from Leipzig the New York. Did you run into them less of us know because many died in the means good dying out, right?

39:52 I think that's a good place to end. Yes.