Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Broken Silence of The Holocaust Survivor

Today, Bruno Ritter is a retired, bronze-star decorated US Army combat veteran living a normal, happy life with his wife and children. That he is alive is nothing short of a miracle. When he decided to tell his story of loss and survival to a German court after keeping it to himself for decades, he helped bring justice to one of the last Nazi officer to be brought to trial.

Bruno was born as Moshe Schatzman in Przemysl in 1928 to Isak Schatzman and Sabina Ritter, a barber and a beautician. He grew up on the second floor of the family owned building that also housed the shop where his parents worked. Their's was a typical, uneventful working-class story in a medium-sized town until Poland was occupied by the Nazis in 1939 and began the systematic extermination of Przemysl's Jewry. Over the ensuing five years, he lost everything; his mother and father, his extended family, neighbors and acquaintances - all murdered.

Somehow, passing through a series of jails, forced labor and concentration camps, Bruno managed to survive the Shoah.

After the war, he came to Kansas City, adopted his mother's family name and joined the US Army, serving from Europe to Vietnam as a proud American citizen - his tragic and heroic past gladly forgotten.

Normally, that would be the end of the historical part of a holocaust survivor's story - but not for Bruno Ritter.

As fate would have it, justice finally caught up with the brutal, sadistic Nazi SS officer who oversaw the murder of the Jews of Przemysl, Joseph Schwammberger, when he was extradited from Argentina to stand trial for his crimes in 1990. Ritter was called to be a star witness at the trial and his testimony was key in convincing the court to condemn this monster to life in prison. Schwammberger died in prison in Germany in 1997.

A few years ago, Washington Post writer Marc Fisher wrote a piece about Bruno Ritter, a son of Przemysl, titled:

Please read it. It is a moving story about an amazing life.

Special thanks to Wendy Hodgden, Bruno's American daughter, for sharing her father's story.



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