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Holocaust survivor, author shares experiences with library audience

Noted writer shares her tales of life after World War II with the community at the La Habra Library.

By Christina Ledesma
La Habra Journal

She walked in the La Habra Library with a smile that lit up the room. One by one she walked around the room, shaking each hand and learning the names of those of you had come to hear her speak.

Ruth Treeson is the author of the novel “The Long Walk,” a story about her first day of freedom after World War II.
Last Sunday, La Habra residents and visitors gathered around to hear Treeson speak about her experience in the Holocaust and the novel she wrote about her survival.

Treeson was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1930. She was nine years old when World War II had begun.

“The sound of the planes coming through the air, and then the sound of bombs, and the sound of explosions was the first thing I knew about the first day of war.”

Treeson did not write her novel right after the war, she waited many years after until she was able to cope with what had happened.

“I couldn’t do it at the time shortly after it happened because I couldn’t’ deal with it. I hid from it. When I came to the United States there was much to do. I had to learn the language.”

Treeson knew how to read and write Polish. She taught herself how to speak, read, and write English by checking out Polish books and a Polish-English dictionary from the library. She would read the books and every time she did not understand something she would look it up in the dictionary and write it down.

“When you move to a country where people speak a certain language you better know it or else you’re going to be left behind like I was left behind during the war. You’re not going to be understood, they won’t know who you are. They won’t want to know who you are and I wanted to be a human being capable of becoming what I had eventually become. I had to learn.”

In 1941 Treeson was separated from her family and captured by Nazi soldiers, and placed in concentration camps. The Nazi’s tried to persuade her that she was worthless and took her five year old sister away from her.

“They didn’t care that they would take me away from my family. They didn’t care to take my sister who I was in the end responsible for her well being. And they took her from me and in doing so they told me ‘you can’t take care of her, you have no power, you have no ability we rule you’.”

Though the Nazi’s tried to make Treeson feel worthless and purposeless, she was still able to escape, not physically but mentally she was able to remove herself from this situation by using her imagination.

“I escaped into my memory and into my mind. I couldn’t physically get away from them but I got away in my mind. And I did not want to think about myself about the way those people said I was, which was worthless because I remembered my parents and I remembered the love we had for one another. And I remember how wonderful they were.”

In the concentration camps Tresson was fed very little, but she also used her imagination as a tool to help her survive her hunger, by imagining that she was at home eating at the dinner table.

“I pictured the room and the table, and the table cloth. And all the goodies that were there. And I could eat, and I could imagine I was eating it because I was so hungry.”

Tresson did not accept the judgment of those who hated her and she did not waste her time hating back. She would imagine what she wanted to be when she grew up and spent a lot of time day dreaming, and picturing herself as a young beautiful woman that everybody admired and wanted to meet. It was important to Treeson to think of herself in a positive way during this time, because she was being viewed so negatively. And by turning these negative views around in her mind she was able to escape the daily routines of the concentration camps. The power of Treeson’s imagination is what saved her life.

Treeson enjoys speaking and sharing her story with other people, because there are many different ways people choose to cope with their struggles.

“There are many ways to go through hard times and some of us don’t succeed, we fall. And in fact a number of Holocaust survivors that I know of were so destroyed by that experience. They felt guilty afterwards because they survived and their families didn’t. It’s a very hard thing to live with.”

Treeson felt the same way for a long time, but she didn’t want to think about it so she kept her mind busy on other things. However, after many years went by she was able to cope with it and decided that she owed it to her parents and grandparents to write about it. She decided not to just write about what happen but to write about how to survive the worst.

“If they don’t kill you and you survive, then it’s a gift don’t throw it away.”

Treeson’s love for writing came much earlier, before she even knew how to write. When she was a young girl she would gather her friends around and tell them stories.

Treeson has written a number of books before The Long Walk. She never felt particularly strong about publishing her earlier books until this one and spent a year trying to get a publisher. Treeson has also self published Green Sun in Red Sky, a collection of her short stories and poems, which started off as a booklet made just for her family.

“The poems came unwritten before I could even address myself to this subject. They would bother me; the lines would be in my mind. And I figured well one way to get rid of this is to put it down on paper, be done with it.”
In 2006, Treeson started to feel comfortable about writing about her experience in the Holocaust. And by that time she was able to reflect on her past rather than relive it.

“Sometimes I think of myself as another person, and I am,” she said. “What happen edto this girl happened to me, but I am not that girl anymore.”

After surviving the war, Treeson came to the United States in 1947, where she married her husband and had a family. She also received her master’s degree in comparative literature from Montclair College in 1982. She then became an assistant professor at Montclair College, and taught literature, poetry, and freshman English. Treeson’s poetry has also been published in a variety of magazines and literary journals. She is currently working on her fourth novel called, An Apartment in the Bronx.

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Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.