Houston’s Survivors

Ruth Brown*

Born: Ruth Dreyfuss
February 27, 1925
Düsseldorf, Germany

“My father couldn’t speak any English when he came to America. He’d been a businessman all his life, but he was a wonderful person, he never complained, he was so grateful and so happy that he was in this country that never, not once, did I hear him complain about fate or how bad things were or how good things could have been if he had been able to stay over there. He was just happy to have a job and be in this country.”

Ruth Brown described her hometown of Düsseldorf, Germany as beautiful and cosmopolitan and her early childhood there as happy. When Hitler came to power in 1933 life began to change for eight-year-old Ruth, her older brother Claude and her parents, Fred (b. Moritz) and Erna. “It seems like everybody turned against the Jews immediately,” recalled Ruth. Although Fred’s family had lived in Germany for generations, he conceded that he and Erna and the children had no future there so they moved to Barcelona, Spain.

Ruth’s family lived in Spain until 1936, when civil war broke out and Fred and Erna decided to send their children to safety in Switzerland. Ruth had endured being uprooted from Germany with equanimity, but separation from her parents was traumatic. “It just stands out in my memory as one of the worst things that happened to us when I was a child.” Eventually Fred and Erna were reunited with their children in Switzerland, where they hoped to wait in safety to come to the United States. However, the specter of deportation back to Germany loomed as they waited anxiously for their American visas to be approved.

Ruth’s family was finally able to leave Europe in October 1939. War had broken out only a month before and travel routes were closing one by one. Until they were safely on the boat and had sailed from Genoa, they feared they would be turned back. When they finally approached New York Harbor and caught their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty “everybody on that boat fell down and thanked G-d.”

Arriving penniless, the family settled in Washington, D.C. where Fred considered himself fortunate to find a job loading groceries at a supermarket and Erna took a job as a seamstress and worked nights as a nurse. After World War II, Ruth returned to Germany to take a job as a translator for the International Military Tribunal that tried war criminals in Nuremberg. As an American, she felt immune from danger, but she was shocked that every war criminal whose trial she witnessed denied his guilt on the grounds that he was simply following orders. Ruth met her future husband in Germany in 1948. The following year the couple came to Houston where Ruth worked for Schlumberger and they raised four children.

Fred (b. Moritz) Dreyfuss, survived
Erna Shieren Dreyfuss, survived

Claude, survived