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Interview for

Ruth Zimbler


Interviewed By:

Serena Alagappan

Date Interviewed:

Audio Recording of Interview
00:00 / 56:26

Ruth describes her Jewish identity and upbringing in Vienna prior to Hitler’s invasion of Austria. Having fled Austria after the Kristallnacht burning, Ruth’s journey took her to Holland, Italy, Israel, and New York City, where she raised her children with a deep connection to the Jewish faith.

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Additional Notes

This interview was recorded in four parts, so you may hear sudden shifts in conversation as a result. The second part begins at 9:17; the third part begins at 16:12; and the fourth part begins at 34:39.

Narrator: Ruth Zimbler

Location: New York City, NY

Summary: Ruth Zimbler discusses her life in Vienna before WWII, as Hitler came to power and her family faced increasing discrimination. She also speaks on the significance of Judaism in her life and the lives of her children, whom she raised in New York City.

Topics: Religious practice, childhood, places of worship, historical context, complications with faith, discrimination, war, violence, gratitude, resilience


Section 1: (Audio #1: 00:00-9:17)

  • Religious Practice, Childhood - Before the war, Zimbler attended a Orthodox church in Vienna, whose rituals leaned conservative.

  • Places of Worship - It was the largest synagogue in Vienna, and as a child she lived next door to it in apartments owned by the Jewish community.

  • Historical Context - Vienna had been the home of Jewish scholars and philosophers for 400 years.

  • Faith, Childhood, Discrimination - As a child, Judaism was integrated into every part of Ruth’s Life, but because of that, she never thought about it until she began to face discrimination.

  • Upset her 10 year-old self, though she didn’t fully understand what was going on.

Section 2: (Audio #2: 0:00-6:55)

  • Violence - After the Kristallnacht burning, Zimbler and her family fled to Holland

  • Discrimination - The stevedores in Italy took advantage of her parents, forcing them to pay all the money they had in order to bring their belongings with them

Section 3: (Audio #3: 0:00-)

  • Religious Practice, Education - After returning to New York from Israel, Zimbler found it important to send her daughter to Ramaz, a school which required her to be Kosher.

  • Complications with Faith - Sending her daughter to Ramaz, Zimler knew she would encounter practices she had not taught her — and even didn’t understand some of them herself before taking courses with a Rabbi herself.

  • War, Discrimination - Only inspired to tell her own story in 1968, after being inspired by an intallation at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem.

  • Faith - Zimbler’s faith helps in telling her story, because she strongly believes in being an upstander rather than a bystander.

  • Teaches her children that their future — their capacity to change the world — is founded in faith.

  • Faith, Gratitude - In the 25 years since her husband’s death, Zimbler makes a point to speak to God every day and ask for things — to keep people safe.

Section 4: (Audio #4: 0:00-11:26)

  • Places of Worship - The synagogue in Vienna also served as a learning ground for Zimbler, teaching her about Jewish customs such as the “bidekun” and its connection with the story of Jacob and Rachel.

  • Discrimination - Doesn’t know if her parents’ experience was the same, but she didn’t feel discrimination until the war.

  • One of the most memorable offenses was that her family was not allowed to shop in the morning, and thus unable to have access to the farmers’ produce.

  • She also recalls the “brownshirts” forcing intellectual-looking men, including her father, to stop in their tracks while walking down the street and scrub the pavement with soap and a brush.

Section 5: (Audio #4: 11:26-20:34)

  • War, Violence, Discrimination - On the night of Kristallnacht, Ruth fled to the suburbs with her aunt, but her father had been taken to be questioned by the police and brought to Dachau, after which he was forced to work 24-hrs per day verifying documents.

  • Ruth’s aunt’s apartment was seized by a nazi, and they were forced to return to the city, where the saw the synogogue on fire.

  • The firefighters were ordered not to put it out, just to make sure nothing else burns.

  • When they were able to return to their apartment, it had been entirely looted.

  • Faith, resilience - Despite these events, Zimbler did not blame God, and found comfort in praying and connecting with Him.

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