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Born: April 26, 1930, Mukačevo, Czechoslovakia
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Ruth Cohen was born Renee Friedman on April 26, 1930 to Herman and Bertha Friedman in Mukačevo, Czechoslovakia. Herman and his brother were wholesale wine and beer manufacturers. Ruth, her older sister, Teresa, and younger brother, Aharon, often helped to fill bottles on Friday evenings before the Sabbath. The Friedmans were Orthodox Jews as well as Zionists and Ruth and her siblings were sent to the Hebrew Gymnasium, a school where the curriculum was taught entirely in Hebrew.

In 1938-1939, Nazi Germany dismantled Czechoslovakia. In 1938, Mukačevo (Munkács in Hungarian) and other surrounding towns in southern Slovakia became part of neighboring Hungary, an ally of Germany. The Hungarian government’s anti-Jewish laws imposed economic and social restrictions on the country’s Jews. Ruth’s father could no longer run his own business, but was able to continue to work for the company. Despite growing restrictions, the Friedmans were able to adopt two of Ruth’s cousins who had been sent to live with them from Nazi-allied Slovakia. Deportations of Jews from Slovakia to camps, ghettos and killing centers in German-occupied Poland began in spring 1942. That same year, Ruth’s mother learned that some of her family in Slovakia had been taken to Lublin/Majdanek concentration camp in German-occupied Poland and likely murdered.

In March 1944, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Hungary. In April, Hungarian authorities forced Ruth and her family to leave their home and move into a transit ghetto. The following month, Ruth, her family, and others living in the ghetto were marched to a local brick factory and told to board the freight cars waiting there. As Ruth was getting on, she watched as a favorite school teacher was shot and killed for refusing to follow orders. The freight cars arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center about four days later. The family and all those on board the transport underwent a selection in which a Nazi SS officer selected certain prisoners for forced labor. Ruth and her sister Teresa were able to stay together, but they were separated from the rest of their family. Although she did not know it at the time, Ruth's mother, brother, and cousins were sent to the gas chambers, while her father was selected for labor. Ruth and her sister arrived at their assigned barracks where they were approached by a woman named Miriam Leitner who remembered Teresa from summer camp. Miriam was the Blockälteste, the prisoner functionary in charge of the barracks. Miriam secured jobs for the sisters; Teresa as her assistant and Ruth as a courier delivering messages throughout the camp.

In late October 1944, after a failed prisoner uprising and the destruction of an Auschwitz crematorium, Ruth and her sister were sent in a transport to a concentration camp in Nuremberg, Germany. This camp was a subcamp of the Flossenbürg concentration camp. There they worked in a Siemens-Schukert plant. Although Ruth was very sick by this time, she was still able to do the work assigned to her. By February 1945, the camp was destroyed from constant bombing. Ruth and Teresa were sent to Holleischen, another Flossenbürg subcamp. There they worked in a factory that manufactured airplane parts. Conditions here were better than in the other camps. Three months later, in May 1945, Ruth and Teresa were first liberated by partisans and then by American soldiers.

Ruth and Teresa made their way back to their hometown where they reunited with their father, who had been liberated at Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945. Very few other relatives had survived the Holocaust. After she spent a year recovering in a hospital, Ruth and Herman immigrated to the United States on April 24, 1948 and Teresa followed six months later. The family settled in New York City where Ruth found a job as a cashier for the Education Alliance. She met Benjamin Cohen there and married him in 1952. They have three children. Today Ruth lives in the Washington, DC area and is a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.