I’ve decided to talk to schools about my experiences… I feel that education is the way forward for humanity
- Ruth Barnett

Ruth was born Ruth Michaelis in 1935, in Berlin, Germany. Her father was a lawyer and her mother worked in advertising and both had a successful career. Her brother Martin was the elder child by three years.

Hitler was already in power when Ruth was born and, as her father was Jewish, she and Martin were in danger. Things accelerated after Kristallnacht - a terrifying ordeal in which Ruth's father and brother hid 'in plain sight' among the thuggish mobs on the streets of Berlin - the last place anyone Jewish would have been expected. Surviving that night and the days thereafter, Ruth's father escaped to Shanghai, one of the few places in the world accepting Jewish refugees, while her mother, who was not Jewish, spent most of the war in hiding. Nevertheless she was arrested for taking part in the famous Rosenstraße protest in Berlin, in which some 200 non-Jewish wives of Jewish men demonstrated outside the building where many of their husbands had been imprisoned by the Gestapo. This is the only known prominent public protest against the persecution of Jewish citizens of Nazi Germany. 

In 1939, Ruth and her brother Martin were rescued from what was to come, and arrived in Britain on the Kindertransport aged 4 and 7 respectively. Over the next ten years, Ruth and her brother lived with three foster families and in a hostel.

Ruth remembers having a tantrum when leaving Berlin. As the train station was close to the zoo, she wanted to go there instead of England. She can also remember the long journey to the Dutch coast and constantly asking “Are we there yet?”.

Ruth and Martin were fostered in England by three different families over the next 10 years. They first stayed in Kent with an elderly clergyman, whom Ruth remembers fondly. However, his wife did not seem to like taking care of children who weren’t her own, and was less than kind.

Ruth and Martin moved to a Quaker boarding school, visiting Kent in the holidays. They then spent a summer at a hostel in Richmond, before going a new family in Kent. This family had 5 children of their own, including a daughter the same age as Ruth. They became close friends and kept in touch long after the war.

Ruth and Martin had to move again, as the warplanes and bombing campaigns overhead traumatised Martin. This time, they moved in with a family of farmers. It was around this time, in 1944 when she was around 9 years old, that Ruth began to develop a Jewish identity. Children in her school discovered she was German and called her a Nazi. She fought back, stating she couldn’t be a Nazi as she was thrown out of Germany for being Jewish.

Ruth had no contact with her parents during her time in England. Her father once managed to get to London from Shanghai and saw her brother for a few days. Ruth told herself, and others, that her mother was dead. So it was then very difficult for Ruth when her mother appeared in England in 1949. By then, Ruth was 14 and had lived most of her life in England. Her mother looked very different to how Ruth remembered her and, to make matters worse, Ruth no longer spoke German whilst her mother spoke no English.

A court order forcing Ruth to move back to Germany in 1949 was therefore greatly troubling for her. All the more so as she had heard stories about how terrible Germany was. She struggled to build a relationship with her parents and could not get over losing the second life she had built in England. After a year or so, she returned to England and visited Germany during the holidays.

Overcoming these adversities, Ruth secured a university degree, became a secondary school teacher and then a psychotherapist. Using her professional skills, she has worked tirelessly to educate against hate and bigotry. She has written, campaigned and told her story to thousands of school students. We are proud to say that many of those have been here in our own Memorial Hall. During the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020-21, Ruth also became a firm favourite of our online webcast series, inspiring students and adults alike with her infectious brand of warmth and humanity.

She is a much loved member of the Beth Shalom family.

Ruth's book, Person of no Nationality, is available in our bookshop.