Holocaust Survivor Shares Her Story with Henderson High School Students

Holocaust Survivor Shares Her Story with Henderson High School Students

Mrs. Breslow shares her Holocaust survival story with the students of Henderson High School

"My story is about hate, and how hate can destroy a nation."

Those words hung in the air inside Henderson High School's auditorium- spoken by Holocaust survivor, Ronnie Reutlinger Breslow.

Mrs. Breslow came to Henderson on April 4 to share her life story with students, many of whom are currently studying the atrocities of the Holocaust. On some levels, Mrs. Breslow's tale was one in which the students could relate. They learned she had two loving parents; was a self-described "Daddy's Girl"; enjoyed spending time with her friends; loved Halloween. However, that was where any similarities to the students' lives ended.

Mrs. Breslow was born in Kircheim, Germany. She lived with her parents Elly and Gustav Reutlinger above their successful dry goods store. When the Nazis enacted the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, the Reutlinger's business was ruined because non-Jews were no longer permitted to buy from Jewish-owned businesses.  Young Ronnie was also told she could no longer attend her public school and she was alienated by all of her non-Jewish friends.

In November of 1939, German Jews were stripped of their civil rights, their businesses and synagogues destroyed, and lives lost during Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass. The Reutlinger's knew they needed to flee their homeland, but it was no easy feat.

"There wasn't a Jew left in Germany that didn't want to get out. The problem was - where would we go?" said Mrs. Breslow.

Gustav Reutlinger was able to secure a single ticket on a ship bound for Cuba, but he did not want to leave his wife and daughter behind. Elly insisted her husband leave Germany because she was fearful of what would happen to him if he stayed. The mother and daughter booked passage to Cuba on the SS. St. Louis a short time later. Before leaving, Elly told Ronnie she could bring along one special item. The 8-year-old decided on her stamp collection, having no idea that it would save their lives. They set sail on May 13, 1939.Henderson students speak with Mrs. Breslow after her presentation

When the St. Louis arrived in Havana, Cuban authorities refused entry for the ship's roughly 936 passengers. With nowhere to go, the passengers were devastated and fearful of what was to come of them. Other ships that came to port were denied entry as well; many of them returned to Germany and the passengers were sent to concentration camps. The captain of the St. Louis, Gustav Schroeder refused Nazi orders to return the ship to Germany and steered the ship to Holland where Ronnie and her mother were placed in Rotterdam West, a detention camp.

“Captain Schroeder was our hero,” says Ronnie.

Elly learned that the camp commander, a captain in the Dutch Navy, was an avid stamp collector. She gave Ronnie’s stamp collection to the captain in exchange for passage out of Rotterdam West. He advised them to travel to Antwerp, Belgium where they were able to board a ship headed to America. By that time, Gustav had made his way to the United States and settled in Philadelphia.

Elly and Ronnie eventually reunited with Gustav in New York.

"When I ran down the ship's plank into my father's arms, I realized that I was extremely lucky to be in this wonderful country we call the U.S.A., where we have our freedom," says Ronnie. "But, I caution all of you, in these turbulent times today, that we all have to remain vigilant so that this very precious gift called freedom remains here always. We all know that freedom is not free."