Auschwitz survivors from Sinzenich (English version) –
Jüdische Mädchen aus Sinzenich bei Zülpich überlebten Auschwitz
(Shoah Testimony)

von Hans-Dieter Arntz

Nur wenigen Menschen gelang es, Auschwitz, dem Zentrum des Holocaust, zu entrinnen. Zu den wenigen Überlebenden gehören die Geschwister Ilse (geb. 1924) und Ruth Scheuer (geb. 1927) aus Sinzenich. Während  ihre Eltern, Jakob und Helene geb. Daniel, nicht mehr in ihre Zülpicher Heimat zurückkehren konnten, grenzt es fast an ein Wunder, dass beide Schwestern der Vernichtungsmaschinerie entkommen konnten. Nach dem 2. Weltkrieg fanden sie in den Vereinigten Staaten eine neue Heimat, wo sie auch Familien gründeten. Ihre Cousine, Evelyn Levy (verh. Heilbronn), lebt ebenfalls in den USA, weil sie einige Tage nach der „Reichskristallnacht“ mit ihrer Familie dorthin emigrieren konnte. Wie in dem bald erscheinenden Buch von Hans-Dieter Arntz, REICHSKRISTALLNACHT – Der Novemberpogrom 1938 auf dem Lande, nachzulesen sein wird, hatte die Familie Levy schon ihre Koffer in der kleinen Landsynagoge von Sinzenich untergestellt, als der Pogrom am 10. November 1938 begann. Alle Koffer wurden gestohlen. Dennoch konnte man das nackte Leben retten. Eine weitere Cousine, die heute 94jährige Emmy Kaufmann verh. Golding, lebt in London. Das Buch JUDAICA – Juden in der Voreifel berichtet detailliert über das Schicksal der 4 Frauen.


Emmy Kaufmann verh. Golding (heute England), umgeben von ihren beiden Cousinen, Ruth und  Ilse (r.) Scheuer, die beide in Auschwitz befreit werden konnten. Diese leben heute in den USA Ihre Eltern, Jakob Scheuer und Frau Helene geb. Daniel, kehrten nicht aus Auschwitz nach Sinzenich bei Zülpich zurück.

Aus: ARNTZ, Hans-Dieter, JUDAICA – Juden in der Voreifel, Euskirchen 1983/1986, S. 484

Ilse Nathan, Ruth Siegler, Evelyn Heilbronn und Emmy Golding Golding gehören zu den etwa 80 ehemaligen jüdischen Mitbürgern aus den damaligen Altkreisen Euskirchen uns Schleiden, mit denen der Regionalhistoriker Hans-Dieter Arntz seit Jahrzehnten in Kontakt steht, damit die Verbindung zur alten Heimat nicht abreißt.

Die vorliegende Darstellung, wie die Schwestern Ilse und Ruth Scheuer Theresienstadt und Auschwitz überlebten, überhaupt ihre ganze Lebensgeschichte, wird auch von dem Birmingham Holocaust Survivors Committee im Internet wiedergegeben. Weitere Forschungsergebnisse findet man ebenfalls in den Online-Publikationen des Resource Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education. Die Publikation des „Scheuer-Berichtes“ auf  der regionalhistorischen Homepage geschieht auch mit der Genehmigung von Frau Nathan und Frau Siegler, die in den USA leben und mit dem Autor seit längerer Zeit in Kontakt stehen.



Survivors Ilse Scheuer Nathan & Ruth Scheuer Siegler


 am_flag br_flag (English Version)   

Sinzenich, Germany

Ilse and Ruth Scheuer were born in 1924 and 1927 in Sinzenich, Germany, a small farming town near Cologne with about twelve Jewish families. They had an older brother Ernst.  The family kept kosher, went to synagogue and the children attended Hebrew School.  Their father was a cattle dealer and ran a kosher slaughterhouse.  He had two sisters and a brother.  Their mother was one of eight children.  All of the extended family lived nearby so they visited often.  Life was comfortable until 1933 when Hitler came to power. 

Ilse, Ruth and their cousin were the only Jewish kids in the public school.  They were taunted with Jewish slurs and placed in the last row in the classroom.  Children would throw stones and spit at them, calling them “dirty Jews.”  Because of these unbearable conditions, the girls were placed in a private Dominican school in 1934 and remained there until Kristallnacht in November 1938.

During the events of Kristallnacht, Ruth left home with her aunt and cousins and fled on foot to the neighboring city of Zülpich to stay with a Jewish friend.  Ilse was not home that night as she worked away from home.  Upon returning the next day, they found couches and pillows ripped apart and many possessions stolen, including a watch that Ruth’s father had given her on her 10th birthday.  Many Jewish men were arrested that night, but their father escaped over the border to Holland where their brother had been going to school and living with their maternal grandmother since 1936.  After Kristallnacht, Ruth was sent with her cousin to Cologne to live with a distant relative and to go to a Jewish school.



Holland (1939)

Mr. Scheuer was interned in Holland, as were many of the recent illegal immigrants from Germany.  He could be freed if he received papers to emigrate out of Holland.

In late August, 1939, the family was granted Visa’s to England and eventually America.  The plan was for Ilse, Ruth and their mother to travel from Germany to Holland, to stay briefly with relatives, link up with their brother and father, and flee to England.  Within days of their arrival in Holland, World War II broke out and the borders were closed into England so the family stayed on in Holland.  All, except their father, moved in with their grandmother.  Ruth went to a wonderful Montessori school established by Kees Boeke where she learned Dutch and English.  Ilse was employed, working in a household.

The Nazis took over Holland in May 1940, and the papers that would have helped get them to America were destroyed in the bombing of Rotterdam.  Mr. Scheuer was moved to the refugee/transit camp of Westerbork where he was given an administrative position.  The girls even visited their father there several times.



Westerbork (1942)

In 1942, the Jews of Holland were forced to register with the Nazis and mark their clothes with the Star of David.  All of the Jews had a time limit to report to Camp Westerbork.  Thousands of Jews were sent quickly to different camps.  Because their father worked in Westerbork, Ilse, Ruth, their brother and mother got jobs there as well.

The parents lived in a barrack with rooms containing beds and a burner to cook.  The sisters lived in a separate barrack with about 20 girls.  Because Mr. Scheuer was connected with the kitchen, they had enough to eat.  Ernst worked as engineer. Ilse and Ruth worked in a household.  They were permitted to walk out of camp with an ID. It wasn’t a bad time.

Every Monday morning 1,000 people were sent out by train to the unknown.  Lists were posted on Sunday evenings.  In January 1944, Ernst was arrested and sent to prison for not removing his cap.  He was to be sent out on the next Monday’s transport.  The family decided that if one went, they would all go.  Because Mr. Scheuer had fought in World War I and had received an Iron Cross, the family was sent to the so-called model ghetto/camp at Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia rather than to a camp in Poland.  They each brought one suitcase.


Theresienstadt (January 1944)

The train ride took 2-3 days. They lived in big buildings with the men and women separated.  Each was appointed a job.  Ruth worked as a nurse’s aid. The family hoped the war would end while they were there.  They had no idea what was happening. They stayed until mid-February.


Auschwitz II (Birkenau) (February 1944)

The family was transported on a cattle train to Auschwitz.  There were about 50-60 people in their train car.  They got some food to last a few days and stopped only once for water.  There was a pail in the corner for waste.  “To this day when I hear the whistle of a train, it makes me shriek,” Ilse said on her 1996 video tape for Steven Spielberg’s “Survivors of the Shoah” project.

Upon arrival, the men and women were separated. Their belongings were thrown onto mounds and they were told they would get them back later.  In a little house nearby they got undressed, and jewelry and glasses were taken.  People warned their mother to keep her mouth closed because of gold fillings. They were given towels and went into a shower which they later realized could have been a gas chamber.  All of the prisoners were given striped clothes, a bowl and a tattoo. 

Food was a clear soup, with occasional potatoes and some black bread.  Every morning and every night they were counted.  If anyone was unaccounted for, they had to find them.  For punishment they had to crouch for hours.  During the day Ruth and her mother did nothing; they stayed in the barrack unless called out to be counted.  Ilse sewed bands for rifles.  She got an extra piece of bread for this and gave it to their brother or father because she said men needed more food.  Ilse’s barrack had a band the performed, so they got extra bread for this too.

On one occasion, the girls saw their father and brother next to the women’s compound.  He gave them the address of a cousin in America and some papers that said they had money in America.  He blessed the girls and that was the last they saw of him.

One day, the female prisoners were called before the SS for a selection.  The women had to undress down to their underpants and walk in front of the SS.  People were being directed to the left and the right.  Noticing that those on the left looked healthier, Ilse and Ruth jumped to the left side of those already inspected.  What luck, they were selected for work.  It was during this selection, that the girls were separated from their mother.  She somehow got ahead of them and was never seen again.  Her ultimate fate is unclear.  It is assumed that she was sent to work and died.

Sometime later, the girls were sent to Auschwitz I where they were placed in a compound with Russian POW’s.  Here they had to carry bricks for 3-4 hours from one end of compound to the other.  They were located close to ovens, saw the mountains of shoes, and for the first time realized what was going on.  Around June 1944, the girls were sent by train to Stutthof where they slept outside and labored building buildings.


Praust, Poland (mid-summer 1944)

The girls were transported by truck to Praust in northern Poland with about 50 other girls.  Here they were housed with about 800 girls, mostly from Hungary, some of whom they knew.  They labored clearing runways for planes, developing severe blisters in the summer heat and frostbite in the winter cold.

One day, a girl from Vienna asked Ilse to throw a letter to the French prisoners.  Unfortunately, the SS intercepted the letter. When asked who did it, Ilse turned herself in to prevent punishment of the entire group of girls. Ilse was beaten that night with a switch until she fainted and then had to stand in front of the barbed wire with her hands up and a bayonet at her back for hours.  She came back to the barracks and collapsed.  Unable to work the next day, Ruth worked even harder to cover for her.  If Ilse had gone to sick bay, she might not have come out.

In October, the girls were given a blanket which they proceeded to cut and make slacks. Their shoes had wooden soles with material on top, so they would put newspaper in them to cushion the soles.  The girls would talk and sing at night.  On Yom Kippur, the girls fasted and saved their bread under their pillow.  In the morning, the bread was gone – stolen.

In February 1945, as the Russians approached, 800 girls were taken on a Death March from Praust toward the Baltic Sea.  If you stopped walking, you would be shot.  After walking for about one week, the girls were put in a barn.  Many had typhoid fever, there was not enough food, they were skin and bones, and many could not walk.  Many girls died in that barn.

In one incident, Ruth was standing outside the barn when an SS woman attempted to hit a girl and mistakenly hit Ruth in the chest.  This wound got infected and Ruth eventually had surgery after the war because of this.  The SS woman said she had never noticed what beautiful eyes Ruth had.  Ruth is glad she was never noticed because those that got noticed were taken advantage of, especially by SS men.

One night Ilse and Ruth tried to escape.  They hid behind a wagon until everyone left, then hid in a stable for the night.  The next morning the SS found them, put them on truck and delivered them to their group.  Luckily they were not shot.  The Death March started with 800 girls; only 50 survived.


Death March (February 1945)

v.l.n.r. Ruth und Ilse Scheuer
(Foto: Hermann-Josef Zimmermann)


Liberation (mid-March 1945)

The night before they were liberated, the girls were marched toward the Baltic Sea.  Along the way they saw a sign that said 4 km. to the Baltic Sea.  It was then that the girls realized the intention of the SS - to drown them in the Sea.  In the meantime, the Russian troops were rapidly approaching and the SS, fearing their own capture, abandoned their female prisoners.  Left to die on the side of the road, the girls were free from the SS.

Ilse and Ruth walked through some fields to the first farmhouse they found.  To their dismay, SS troops guarding some French soldiers answered the door.  Figuring the two girls would die by morning, the SS took no interest in them.  The girls fell asleep sitting on the floor and the next morning the house was empty.  The Russians had come through and everyone left.

Ilse and Ruth changed their clothes and hid their lice-ridden clothes under bed.  “This is what they deserved.” For the first time they actually looked at each other and commented on how horrible they looked. 

On the street they encountered a Russian soldier who connected them to a Jewish soldier who spoke Yiddish.  He took them to Russian HQ. The Jewish soldier was a major in the army and a doctor.  He had the girls stay with the troops for a few days.  He even offered to send them to Russia where his wife, a dancer, would care for them.  Ultimately the soldiers had to leave.  The girls were told that the Polish authorities would find them, but no one came for days.  The girls were too ill to even get water.  Possessing a razor, the girls contemplated suicide.  Considering the possibility that family members may have survived, they decided to search.  Hope kept them alive.  That day or the next they were found. (Ilse and Ruth never found their brother.  He died at Bergen-Belsen three weeks before liberation.)


Putzig, Poland

The girls were transported to a hospital in Putzig run by nuns.  Ruth had her hair shaved off because of the lice.  Ilse’s was already short.  Ilse knitted for the nurses so Ruth could get sugar to take with the bitter medicine she was taking for an infection in her chest (from a previous beating by an SS women outside the barn).  Ruth also had Typhus and Typhoid.  Here, both girls healed and gained weight.


To Krakow then Prague (June/July 1945)

The girls were transferred to a Russian hospital in Krakow for several weeks.  Wanting to get away from the Russians, they sought out the railroad station and left for Prague.  It was a coal train – they were stowaways.

At the railroad station in Prague they were directed to the Red Cross where they got a little money and clothes.  They were told by the Jewish underground in Prague (which was Russian occupied) that they had to get out before the Russians sealed the borders.  When they discovered that the Dutch army was in Pilsen, they knew where they would go.  All along they did not want to go to DP camp because they had heard rumors that some DP’s were taken to Russia.  Their number on their arm was their train fare throughout Europe.



Pilsen, Czechoslovakia to Bamberg, Germany

The Dutch army in Pilsen kept them a few weeks, but told them they had to get proper documentation in Bamberg, Germany in order to get back to Holland. In Bamberg, they received more medical care as well as the papers they needed. They caught a train to Holland.



Utrecht, Holland (July 1945)

The girls came to Utrecht since this was the closest train station to their previous home of Belthoven.  They asked the station manager if there were any Jewish people left, and he informed them that the Jewish synagogue had just opened and that the caretaker would be able to tell them. 

The caretaker informed them that their aunt and uncle (Annie & Robert Daniel – their mother’s brother) had survived by hiding in an attic.  Annie had been the daughter of the head Rabbi in Holland.  Annie and Robert had just rented a house directly across from where the girls had been sitting since 7:00 am.  The girls walked over to the house.  Their uncle did not even recognize them.

Another aunt and uncle (Martha & Edmund Stein – Martha was their mother’s younger sister) had also survived by hiding near Amsterdam on a farm.  In their case, their relationship with the people who hid them was quite strained.

Dutch girls who had associated with German soldiers had their heads shaved as a mark of scorn.  Ruth and Ilse also had shaved heads (because of lice) and had to explain that they had not associated with German soldiers. The girls lived with Annie and Robert for a year, earning money by helping a Jewish seamstress.  It was here that their life was re-established.


To America (July 1946)

Before their father had died, in preparation for the war, he had arranged with cousins in Omaha and Brooklyn to sponsor the girls for immigration. Fulfilling their father’s wish, Ilse and Ruth traveled to the United States without knowing the language or the culture.

They arrived in Mobile, AL in July 1946 on a cement freighter. In Mobile, the Kaufman family took them in for the night (not sure how).  They were headed to cousins in Omaha. They stayed only a few weeks in Omaha until they accepted another cousin’s invitation to come to Brooklyn. Here the girls worked in a glove factory and learned English in night school and at the movies.

In 1948, on a holiday to San Francisco, Ilse and Ruth stopped in Omaha to visit cousins.  It was here that Ruth met her future husband, Walter Siegler, a German-born Jew whose parents had been friendly with her own in Europe.  In February 1949, Ruth and Walter were married and moved to St. Joseph, Missouri where Walter had family.  In 1960, they moved to Birmingham to be closer to Ilse.  Walter worked in a shoe store.  Ruth lost her husband to a heart attack in 1968 and had to raise their three children alone.  She currently works at Gus Mayer and has 7 grandchildren.

In the meantime, Ilse met her husband in New York, also named Walter, and also a German-born Jew.  They were married in Birmingham in January 1949.  Together they opened a clothing store in Homewood, Penny Palmer, which lasted until 1986.  Ilse is also a widow and currently spends her time doing volunteer work.  She has one surviving child and 5 grandchildren.


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