On September 19, The Frederick Gunn School will welcome Holocaust survivor Ruth Weiner to share her story, and reflect on this summer’s all-school reading of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The historical fiction novel tells the story of Liesel, a young girl who is living in Nazi Germany in 1939.
The book was selected for this year’s all-school read by students, in part because they wanted to invite a Holocaust survivor to the school to speak, according to Steve Gritti, who teaches history at Gunn and serves as Speaker Series Coordinator. "Ruth has read The Book Thief several times and sees a lot of similarities between her story and the main character of the book,” Gritti said.
Born in 1931 in Vienna, Austria, Weiner was an only child. She grew up “in a large, close family of grandparents, aunts and uncles, who surrounded her with love and were often her companions for fun,” according to the Voices of Hope Speakers Bureau, a group of Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors who present their Holocaust history to schools and other community groups. “She led a life rich in the kinds of things available in a beautiful, cultured city. All this changed dramatically when the Nazis entered, dominated all aspects of life and made being Jewish not only unbearable but very dangerous.”
Weiner was just eight years old when the Nazis invaded Vienna. “I think that any Holocaust survivor will tell you the same thing: your childhood ended as soon as Hitler arrived,” she said, according to an article published in The Monroe Sun on November 5, 2022.
“Expelled from public school, she attended a distant Jewish school and experienced the various horrors such as Kristallnacht that marked the beginning of the Holocaust. As the situation deteriorated, it became clear that to survive she would have to escape Austria, and she was fortunate to be able to find refuge in England with the Kindertransport just before World War II broke out. Even more fortunate, after experiencing the beginning of the war with air raids in England, she was reunited with her parents and came as a refugee to America,” the Speakers Bureau said. “Today she is a grateful 90-plus-year-old wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, who lives in Bloomfield. She enjoyed a rewarding professional life of many years as a teacher, principal, and consultant. She has always made it her task to teach students of all ages the lessons of the Holocaust, trying to explain the inexplicable.”
The Speaker Series is open to Gunn students, faculty, and faculty families and will begin at 7 p.m. in the Tisch Family Auditorium of the Thomas S. Perakos Arts and Community Center.
About the Speaker Series
The tradition of The Frederick Gunn School Speaker Series goes back to Frederick Gunn, who presided over town debates on political issues on Friday nights. In recent years, guest speakers have included: Josh Good, Director of the Faith Angle Forum, an initiative of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; Hasan Baig, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in Residence in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) at UConn's School of Engineering; Amy Crouch, co-author of the 2022 all-school read, My Tech-Wise Life: Growing Up and Making Choices in a World of Devices; Rabbi Eric Polokoff, founding rabbi of B’nai Israel Synagogue in Southbury; Imam Gazmend Aga of the Albanian American Community in Waterbury; Marlon Tipkins, chaplain at Regional Hospice in Danbury; Robin Gray, pastor at First Congregational Church of Washington; Nemo Neubauerova ’18, who represented the Czech Republic in Women’s Ice Hockey in the 2022 Beijing Olympics; and Laura Tierney, founder and CEO of The Social Institute. The Speaker Series has also welcomed outdoor adventurer, author, and journalist Ken Ilgunas; National Urban League President Marc Morial; Holocaust survivor Judith Altmann; author, lawyer, poet and Freedom Reads founder Reginald Dwayne Betts; author and businessman Edward Conard; CBS News Senior Political Analyst John Dickerson; Major League Baseball player Justin Dunn ’13; Major League Baseball Vice President Jeremy Cohen ’87; civic rights strategist Eric Ward; Boston College Innocence Project Clinical Legal Fellows Sarah Carlow and Lauren Rossman. And many more!