Alabama is mourning the deaths of two German-born sisters who survived the Holocaust and raised families in Birmingham before dying just days apart, leaving behind powerful personal stories of tragedy, survival, determination, and courage.
After living within walking distance of each other for years, Ruth Scheuer Siegler, 95, died on Saturday and Ilse Scheuer Nathan, 98, died on August 23.
When their family fled Hitler’s Germany for Holland with plans to travel to America, they were barely teenagers. However, the war broke out, and borders were closed. Their father was sent to Westerbork, a refugee transit camp, in 1940, and the family voluntarily reported there two years later rather than being deported.
They were later deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where their mother died. Their father and brother died in camps as well. The girls were transported to Poland to clear runways for German planes, only to be abandoned to die.
The sisters told the Alabama Holocaust Education Center they contemplated suicide: “We didn’t want to suffer anymore.”
They were discovered by Russian troops and returned to Holland, where they reunited with relatives before arriving in the United States in 1946. They married, moved to Birmingham, and started families.
“They were always together,” Ann Mollengarden, the center’s education director, told Al.com. “When Ilse died, I think Ruth was ready.”
Ruth Siegler’s dedication to the center’s work, according to Mollengarden, “shaped what the organization has become today.” She gave speeches and allowed the use of her story for teacher workshops. In addition, the Siegler Fellowship, established by her children in honor of her 90th birthday, allows students to conduct research on Holocaust survivors.
She also wrote a memoir, primarily for family members, with an explanation of why.
“This book is dedicated to my children and grandchildren,” she wrote. “So that the suffering I endured, along with millions of others, will never be forgotten.”