I know that my name is Ruth Schwarz. I know that I am Jewish. I know that I was born in Holland, 1931. And I know that there are three emotions in this world: love, fear, and hope.
My mother and I lived in a hollow wall in a farmhouse for almost three years from 1943-1945. My father could not stay, for there was not enough room for him too. The day we separated was the day I knew fear. Deep in my chest, I feared I would never see him again, yet my mother’s love helped me be strong as we said goodbye. She wrapped me up in hers arms and held me as tears of terror streamed down my cheeks, threatening to drown the love that welled up inside me.
Hungry and cramped, my mother and I spent many hours in that wall, yet it was not unbearable, for we had hope. Hope that we could live normal lives again, hope that we could be a family again, hope that the fear would someday go away.
We had been living in the wall for a year when word came through the underground that there was to be a massive search for Jews in hiding. The daughter of the farmer came and told us to prepare ourselves.
“Do not talk, do not move, do not make a sound, do not do anything” is what she said to us, fear flickering across her face as she talked.
“Well, we still have to breathe,” my mother said jokingly before the daughter left to ready the rest of the house for the search.
“‘Hope springs eternal’…” my mother said to me as she held me tight. Then she became serious. I was to hide in the very back of the hiding place under the bedclothes while she stayed at the opening, distracting the soldiers should they find the entrance to the hollow wall. Again I knew cold, absolute fear.
And then they came. I could hear them through the floorboards questioning the farmer’s daughter. Someone had tipped them off, they knew she was hiding people in her house, but she denied it. They searched the house, and as they came into the room we were hiding in, I couldn’t breathe. Yet they did not knock on the wall we hid in. If they had, we would have been killed. Paralyzing fear, always the fear of discovery.
But it was not over. As the soldiers went downstairs, I could hear them interrogating the daughter again. They demanded to know where we were, but she insisted she was hiding no one. They struck her, the smack ringing in my ears as if I were there with her eight feet below us. Still she denied our existence. I heard a pistol cock directly below us. They told her she would be shot in three seconds if she did not tell them where we were. I shut my eyes tightly, wishing I could move my arms to cover my ears as they counted down. I had little hope and plenty of fear as the shot cracked through the air like lightning, its deafening thunder stunning me as I lay curled up in the bedclothes.
“Where are the Jews?” they demanded again. My heart missed a beat, hope flooding my veins. The daughter had been spared.
Her love for human life, for truth, for us, is what spared my mother and I. Yet the soldiers still were not satisfied, so they summoned her mother. They knew how religious she was, so they fetched a Bible as well. Directly below us, they made the mother swear on the Bible that she was not hiding Jews. And she swore on that Bible that she was not hiding Jews. She saved us. The love of a Christian mother and daughter saved a Jewish mother and daughter that day.
On that day, love conquered all, as it always will when we find it within us to rise above our fears. The love we had for each other and the hope that sprung eternally in our hearts kept us alive through the fear present within us every day we hid in the wall.
When we were liberated in 1945, we received word that my father had been killed. At first I thought it was hate I felt for the soldiers. This emotion, so hot within me, could not be anything else. Yet as time passed I found hate to be another form of fear. Just as love and hope drove off the fear we felt while in hiding, hope and love again eased the fear we felt in freedom.
I know that my name is Ruth Schwarz. I know that I choose hope. I know that I choose love. And I know that for peace to exist, we must all choose love.