Ruth Maier is often referred to as Norway’s Anne Frank, I don’t agree with that. I think it takes away the value of the words of both women. Their circumstances and lifestyles were completely different. Even the way they were murdered was different. The only thing they had in common was that they were both Jewish.
Ruth Maier was born on 10 December 1920, in Vienna. She and her sister Judith, who was 1½ years younger, spent the first years of their childhood in Vienna-Döbling, in the attic apartment of an apartment building on Peter-Jordan
Starting in 1930, the municipality of Vienna built a large residential complex nearby – along Gersthofer Straße – in which the family moved into a spacious apartment on the 3rd floor (staircase 1, door 14; entrance Hockegasse 2). On the floor above, the father, the chairman of the Austrian postal union and secretary of the International Trade Union Federation of Postal, Telephone and Telegraph employees PTTI, Ludwig Maier, had his office.
Ruth liked to sit and read in her father’s study, with whom she had a close relationship. She was just 13 years old when her father died of bacterial dermatitis. Mother Irma and Grandmother Anna tried to give the two girls a happy childhood.
On her 18th birthday, Ruth witnessed the violent excesses of the Nazi mobs during the November 1938 pogrom in Vienna: Ruth Maier, who had previously had no connection to Judaism, began to confront her identity in her diary. Judith managed to escape to the United Kingdom, via the Kindertransport. Ruth was able to find refuge in Norway. She was too old for the Kindertransport.
On 30 January 1939, a family from Lillestrøm took Ruth Maier into their home: the telegraph operator Arne Strøm, an acquaintance of Ruth’s father, had vouched for the Norwegian authorities that the young refugee would not be a financial burden to the state. In August 1939 Ruth Maier was admitted to the Frogner School in Oslo, she became fluent in Norwegian within a year, completed her final exams, and befriended the future poet Gunvor Hofmo at a volunteer work camp in Biri. The two became a couple, finding lodging and work in various places in Norway.
Ruth was also one of the models for the statue “Surprised”, by Gustav Vigeland. It is on permanent display in Frogner Park in Oslo. Vigeland began work on the sculpture in about 1904. The model for the face of the sculpture was Inga Syvertsen; the sculpture was completed in 1942. Ruth was surprised by another person entering the room while she was modelling for Vigeland, and she tried to cover her naked body, which shows in her posture. The statue was eventually cast in bronze in 2002.
But even during this period, Maier repeatedly found herself overcome by a sense of loneliness and of being misunderstood, feelings which became particularly strong once the German Wehrmacht occupied Norway. They eventually led to a nervous breakdown, and in early 1941, Maier had herself committed to a psychiatric ward. Gunvor Hofmo’s visits were the only ray of hope during the seven weeks she spent there. In fact, it seems that Hofmo was the only person in Norway who cared about Maier.
Below are some excerpts from Ruth Maier’s diary.
Saturday, July 20, 1940, Lillestrøm
“Lillestrøm is unbearable now. You come across German soldiers at every turn. They wink at the young girls with the same self-confidence, and the girls always smile back, bewitched by the uniform sore.”
In early January 1941, Biristrand
“I can’t tell you how warm I am with Gunvor. I love her deep eyes very much. I love her way of speaking about things subtly”
Ruth’s ast note to Gunvor Hofmo
“I believe that it is good that it has come to this. Why should we not suffer, when there is so much suffering? Do not worry about me. Perhaps I would not want to trade with you.”
Norwegian police officers entered the Engelheim boarding house for girls and young women in Oslo on November 26, 1942, and took Ruth Maier away. The arrest is said to have been violent. Maier was dragged into a car and forced to board the “Donau,” a prisoner transport ship, on the very same day.
Five days later, she was murdered in the Auschwitz extermination camp along with 187 Jewish women, 42 children, and 116 men from Norway who were unable to work.
Jan Erik Vold, the editor of her diaries writes about the last hours before her deportation:
“The raid in which she was arrested took place on November 26. 300 men, members of the police, Quisling’s stormtroopers and the Gestapo took part in the operation. Taxis that had been confiscated were used to transport the arrested persons. Nunna Moum lived in the Same boarding school as Ruth. She says that the arrest happened quietly. Two Norwegian police officers led the Austrian down the stairs into the street to a waiting car. She was told to sit in the back seat, where two tearful girls were already sitting. The girls in the boarding school woke each other up and watched the scene. Someone said, ‘We can watch your gold watch until you come back.’ Ruth replied, ‘I’ll never come back.’ “
Gunvor Hofmo kept Ruth’s diaries and much of her correspondence. She approached Gyldendal to get them published in 1953 but was turned down. After she died in 1995, Jan Erik Vold went through her papers and came upon Ruth Maier’s works. After editing them for ten years, they were published in 2007. Vold was highly impressed by the literary value of the diaries, comparing Ruth Maier’s literary talent to that of Hannah Arendt and Susan Sontag. The book was translated into English by Jamie Bulloch in 2009
Gunvor Hofmo never got over the loss of her girlfriend. This traumatic experience was probably one of the reasons for the crisis Hofmo went through in the 1950s, which caused her to become a long-term patient at the Gaustad mental hospital in Oslo for two decades. In the immediate postwar period, Hofmo had suffered from obsessions which became increasingly intrusive. She heard voices and was afraid of “radiation” in her head.
In a speech issued on 27 January 2012 on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day Prime Minister of Norway Jens Stoltenberg issued an official apology for the role played by Norwegians in the deportations. As reported on the official website of the Norwegian Government, Stoltenberg delivered his speech at the dock in the capital Oslo where 532 Jews boarded the cargo ship Donau on 26 November 1942, bound for Nazi camps. Stoltenberg said:
“The Holocaust came to Norway on Thursday 26 November 1942. Ruth Maier was one of the many who were arrested that day. On 26 November, just as the sky was beginning to lighten, the sound of heavy boots could be heard on the stairs of the boarding house “Englehjemmet” in Oslo. A few minutes later, the slight Jewish girl was seen by her friends being led out the door of Dalsbergstien 3. Ruth Maier was last seen being forced into a black truck by two big Norwegian policemen. Five days later the 22-year-old was dead. Murdered in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. Fortunately, it is part of being human that we learn from our mistakes. And it is never too late. More than 50 years after the war ended, the Storting decided to make a settlement, collectively and individually, for the economic liquidation of Jewish assets. By so doing the state accepted moral responsibility for the crimes committed against Norwegian Jews during the Second World War. What about the crimes against Ruth Maier and the other Jews? The murders were unquestionably carried out by the Nazis. But it was Norwegians who carried out the arrests. It was Norwegians who drove the trucks. And it happened in Norway.”
I don’t agree with the line of the speech “Fortunately, it is part of being human that we learn from our mistakes” The unfortunate truth is that we don’t, we should, but we don’t.