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A Final Reckoning

A Hannover Family's Life and Death in the Shoah

Ruth Gutmann, Kenneth Waltzer

Publication Year: 2014

Ruth Herskovits Gutmann’s powerful memoir recounts her life not only as a concentration camp inmate and survivor, but also as a sister and daughter. Born in 1928, Gutmann and her twin sister, Eva, escaped the growing Nazi threat in Germany on a Kindertransport to Holland in 1939. The false expectation of being allowed to immigrate to Cuba as a family led her father, Samuel Herskovits, to bring the twins back to Hannover in 1941. Rather than receive travel visas, however, they, their father, and their stepmother, Mania, were arrested and deported first to Thereisenstadt and then Auschwitz-Birkenau. After their parents were killed, the girls spent the remainder of the war in numerous other camps.
Gutmann’s compelling story captures many facets of the Jewish experience in Nazi Germany. She describes her early life in Hannover as the daughter of a prominent and patriotic member of the Jewish community. Her flight on the Kindertransport offers a vivid, firsthand account of that effort to save the children of Jewish families. Her memories of the camps include coming to the attention of Josef Mengele, who often used twins in human experiments. Gutmann writes with moving clarity and nuance about the complex feelings of survivorship.
Gutmann paints a multifaceted portrait of her father, Samuel. A leader in the Jewish community of Hannover, he was cajoled, coerced, and ultimately forced to communicate with and cooperate with Nazi and public officials. Gutmann uses her own memories as well as years of reflection and academic study to reevaluate his role in their community. A Final Reckoning provides not only insights into Gutmann’s own experience as a child in the midst of the atrocities of the Holocaust, but also a window into the lives of those, like her father, who were forced to carry on and comply with the regime that would ultimately bring about their demise.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Series: Judaic Studies Series


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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Kenneth Waltzer

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pp. vii-x

Ruth Gutmann?s memoir is a distinctive work in several ways. It is a book of memory?clearly the young Ruth?s memoir?especially focused on her rumina-tions about her father; it is also a book of criti cal memory and sophisticated re-flection, informed by study. Early on, we hear the voice of a young girl, pushed about by incomprehensible forces; subsequently, we hear the considered tones ...

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pp. xi-xii

Whenever I think of the friends and acquaintances whose friendship and help I want to recall, Dr. Marlis Buchholz and the MA thesis she published in 1987, Die Hannoverschen Judenhäuser: Zur Situation der Juden in der Zeit der Ghettoisierung und Verfolgung 1941–1945 (The Houses for the Jews in Hannover: The Situation of the Jews at the Time of the Ghettoization and Persecution...

Time Line

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xxvi

Father ended his New Year’s greetings to the three of us with that fervent wish for our and all humanity’s redemption. World War II had started the week before. Hitler had been in power for six years, during which many of his provocations pointed to the war to come. Life had steadily worsened for the Jews of Germany. Father had succeeded in sending his oldest daughter to England and...

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1. Early Years

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pp. 1-32

When I look back, I am never alone. Eva, my twin sister, is always beside me. A big curl on top of her head moves with the song she is singing to herself, and I, sitting on a small stool next to her, rock to its rhythm. She is holding my fa-vorite doll in her arms, and I pull it away from her. She lets out a loud wail. The door opens a crack, and a head with thick chestnut brown hair and dark eyes ...

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2. The Nazi Noose Tightens

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pp. 33-43

Nineteen thirty-eight was to be the last full year our family had together. Since Father’s release from prison late in 1937, we children clung to him as never before. While he had safely returned to us, a steady stream of new anti-Jewish measures allowed for little letup in our anxiety. Often Father was detained by his work. When that happened, we felt his absence acutely and feared for his ...

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3. Kindertransport to Holland

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pp. 44-55

On the train, Eva complained that I was making her nervous. “Rutchen, sit down. You cannot see them anymore.” She was right. The last few houses on the outskirts of Hannover had long since vanished. The train was speeding through a flat, monotonous landscape. I stood there, holding on to the leather strap of the window, my face pressed against the cold glass. I could not tear myself away...

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4. Families Bloemkoper and Meijer

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pp. 56-63

In early November 1939, the director of the home told us that two Jewish families in Leiden had agreed to have Eva and me live with them. While we were going to be separated, the two families both lived on Thorbeckestraat. I did not mind leaving Amsterdam, but the thought of being separated from Eva made me quite apprehensive. The opportunity for us to live in private homes was envied...

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5. We Are Back in Hannover

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pp. 64-94

On November 7, 1941, Eva and I arrived in Hannover’s central railroad station from which we had left almost three years earlier. Father was nowhere to be seen. A tall, straight-backed woman was walking alongside the train. She caught sight of us and waved. It was Mania, our stepmother. She appeared relieved to have found us. The first thing I saw was the yellow patch on her coat. The word...

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6. Theresienstadt

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pp. 95-106

On June 30, 1943, after two (or three) weeks in one of Hannover’s prisons, we were brought to a small railroad station and put into a freight train. Father told us that we had been imprisoned because the Gestapo thought that he might flee. Nothing could have been further from his capability or intent. Perhaps a single, unattached man, such as Dr. Hans Meyer, could disappear from Ahlem—if he ...

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7. Birkenau

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pp. 107-125

We heard the sound of loud voices outside and dogs barking. Someone was working to unbolt the door of our freight car. A voice commanded: “Raus, schnell.” (Get out, fast.) In the dark, awkwardly stumbling over strangely unresisting limbs, we found our way to the outside. Only when my feet touched solid ground did I realize that those limbs belonged to someone who had died during our journey....

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8. Reichenbach and Four Other Lagers

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pp. 126-136

Reichenbach, also called Langenbielau, the camp to which we were brought, was a satellite camp of Gross-Rosen. Bleak, deserted brick barracks looked uninhabited, but we discovered that we shared them with some Dutch women and girls who were already working for Telefunken. These women were originally employed by the electronics firm Philips in Holland. The barracks were extremely ...

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9. Liberation

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pp. 137-148

The men and women who opened our freight cars were dressed in white and wore armbands with Red Cross insignia. They brought low ladders to help us climb down. Cheerfully, repeatedly, they reassured us that we had indeed arrived in Denmark. We no longer needed to doubt that we were safe. Still, a few feet away from us, by a fence on the other side of the railway platform, our former ...

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10. Time to Reflect

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pp. 149-160

At first, my illness was a fortunate circumstance for me. It gave me a much-needed breathing spell, a time for thought and recuperation that Eva, and many other former prisoners of the Nazis, never had.
I know that it was July 3 when we refugees came to the Fagereds Sanatorium. We were eight girls and young women, and all of us had recently come...

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11. Then and Now

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pp. 161-174

When I think of my father, I am certain that he knew what lay ahead of him, but that he nevertheless held fast to his faith in God. This was evident to us in all his expressions and actions during our time together in Theresienstadt and in Birkenau until the day we were separated from him. He never stopped being...

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Afterword: Primo Levi’s Last Book

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pp. 175-182

Primo Levi warns us in the words of a much-revered writer of the nineteenth century not to judge others hastily, but it is a warning he himself finds difficult to follow. He also believes that: “To polemicize with a dead man is embarrassing and not very loyal, all the more so when the absent one is a potential friend and a most valuable interlocutor: but it can be an obligatory...

Appendix: Circular for Jewish Community Members Anticipating Deportation

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pp. 183-186


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pp. 187-192


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pp. 193-194


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pp. 195-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780817387181
E-ISBN-10: 0817387188
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817318093
Print-ISBN-10: 0817318097

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 19 illustrations
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Judaic Studies Series
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 871238140
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Final Reckoning

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Hannover (Germany) -- Biography.
  • Fathers and daughters -- Germany.
  • Twin sisters -- Germany.
  • Jews -- Germany -- History -- 1933-1945.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Personal narratives.
  • Jewish children in the Holocaust -- Germany -- Biography.
  • Jews -- Germany -- Hannover -- Biography.
  • Herskovits-Gutmann, Ruth, 1928-.
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