A Life Of Resilience And Positivity In The Face Of Adversity
Mrs. Hannah Deutch just celebrated her 101st birthday at the Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She is a Holocaust survivor; listening to her life story, you learn history, but you also learn about resilience and courage in the face of adversity. She exudes a love of life and people, and it is truly inspiring to hear her story and how she forged ahead no matter what.
When asked what her advice is to young people, Mrs. Deutch responded how important it is to know history. She has spoken in many schools and universities, sharing her story, living through the time of the Holocaust.
Mrs. Deutch was born July 3, 1922, in Duesseldorf, Germany. She was raised by her grandmother (her mother’s mother). Her father’s parents had an estate in Insterburg, Germany, which was a horse town, and she recalls when her grandfather gave her a pony for her second birthday. She was an only child and she lost her father when she was just seven-years-old. She recalls how devastating this loss was. She had her grandparents and lots of cousins and uncles and aunts. They were a very close family.
Mrs. Deutch said that her parents first heard about Hitler when they moved to Munich and there was a ruckus in a bar that was about Hitler. In 1920, her parents moved to Bochum, Germany. She said they had no idea what was coming. She recalls seeing public book burnings by the Nazis. In May 1933, Nazi-dominated student groups burned books in big public fires that they claimed were un-German. This included many books by Jewish writers and others.
Mrs. Deutch spoke about the laws in Germany that restricted Jewish students from schools. She recalled how many laws were passed excluding Jews like Albert Einstein from professions between 1933 and 1938.
In October 1938, 17,000 Polish Jews were expelled from Germany and sent to live in makeshift encampments on the border of Germany and Poland. Mrs. Deutch recalls helping her friends who were being expelled to pack, and that was the first time she saw the trains that would later carry so many to their deaths at the hands of the Nazis.
She recalled November 9, 1938 - Kristallnacht. Mobs attacked Jews and Jewish communities. One hundred Jews were killed, and 30,000 men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. The Nazi mobs destroyed hundreds of synagogues and desecrated Jewish cemeteries, and 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses were ransacked and looted. The police arrested the victims, and firemen stood with their arms crossed and did nothing.
When Mrs. Deutch was 16, her mother was able to get her on a Kindertransport to England. She said separation from her family was terrible.
Mrs. Deutch recalled that the man in charge knew nothing about children, so she ended up taking care of the children on the transport, tucking them into bed, etc. There was a stop at the border, and there she was taken off the train and strip-searched. They stopped in Holland and people brought them food and other things. When they arrived in England, they came to a big hall and the children had tags with numbers they were wearing, and people came with matching numbers to adopt the children.
She was left standing in the big room all alone. She recalls how alone and frightened she felt. She said, “Dear G-d, what now?”
A woman arrived later. She apologized that she had been caught in traffic and she took her to a boarding house. The next day, she went to the Kindertransport office, where they asked her what she wanted to be or what she wanted to do. She wanted to be a doctor, but she felt that was not possible, so she asked to become a nurse. She worked as a nurse in a hospital, but then the war broke out and every foreigner had to go to a tribunal to be interviewed. The outcome of the interview was that she could work in a hospital and train to be a registered nurse.
Mrs. Deutch wanted to repay England for saving her life, so she joined the British Army. She was then around 17. She shared how in England during the Blitz everyone was part of the war effort. Women donated their jewelry and citizens gave their fences or whatever they could for the war effort. Women made ammunition. She shared how she felt so proud that she didn’t have to be afraid and that she could contribute to the war efforts and to saving lives.
During the Blitz, people had to go into their cellars or the subway or shelters when the bombing started. The air raid wardens were all volunteers. Some people lived in the subways for six years. Some people were born in the subways.
Hospitals were evacuated to a seaside resort. Mrs. Deutch recalls how beautiful the resort was and the women’s residence was located on top of the cliffs. She continued her nursing training there.
Mrs. Deutch was determined to work as a nurse in the army. At first, they offered other more menial jobs, but she said she wanted to be a nurse. Her persistence paid off and she received an official letter a week later stating she could work as an RN for the army. She shared, “I’m a fighter and I love people.” She set an example and because of her, the government allowed other women to work as nurses. “I felt so good about this,” she shared.
While Mrs. Deutch was stationed in London, there was a Jewish soldiers club that she attended and that is where she met her future husband. They were married in London in 1943. He was a Canadian citizen and so she became a Canadian citizen by marriage. “I went from German to stateless, to Canadian,” she said.
In October 1944, Mrs. Deutch came to Montreal, and she was embraced by her husband’s family. Her in-laws were from Russia originally, and they were very warm. She gave birth to two sons, one in April 1945 and the second in June 1947.
Mrs. Deutch’s husband died in 1949, and she found herself as a single mother. She shared that she only had her husband for six years. She couldn’t work as a nurse with small children at home so she started seeking out other opportunities.
Mrs. Deutch learned that her whole family was killed in the Holocaust, but her mother had escaped and was living in Chile. She traveled to Chile with her small children and there she realized she needed to find financial opportunities to support her family. She sold Israel bonds, worked for the UN as an interpreter, and worked with several doctors giving penicillin injections. She attended night college and got an International Accounting degree in Santiago, Chile.
After receiving her International Accounting degree, Mrs. Deutch made the decision that her children would get a better education in Canada. Her boys were her life with the emphasis on being able to provide for them. To this day, they have remained incredibly close to each other, even though neither one currently lives in New York. She commented about speaking with one of her sons every single day and has since he went off to college.
Mrs. Deutch moved back to Canada in 1955 and remained there through 1962. She was able to add credits in Social Work onto her Nursing degree and became a social worker, helping the Jewish community; having received her accounting degree, she knew how to change currencies to American dollars. In 1962, she moved to New York and worked for big firms like Dun & Bradstreet and the biggest advertising agency. She worked on pension funds.
Mrs. Deutch is a member of the Jewish War Veterans and she shared that she loves the camaraderie of that group. She has spoken for them many times. As recently as in April of this year, in honor of Yom HaShoah, she spoke for Brooke Army Medical Center on Zoom from Margaret Tietz. It was supposed to be an hour program, but she mesmerized the 9,000 officers listening and she spoke for an hour and a half.
Asked about life lessons, Mrs. Deutch shared that as a child and teenager she grew up with strict discipline. She had to be home by a 7 p.m. curfew, and she had to be in bed by 9 p.m. She feels that the discipline saved her. She said there was discipline from the teachers then, too. If you watch old movies, she said you can see that that is how things were then.
She said that in life she learned to be a mentch. She shared how she met people while traveling and she became so close with them that she considers them like her children, and they call her and she speaks to them frequently. One person is not Jewish, but she still considers her like a daughter.
Hannah Deutch radiates love and positivity, and this is a beautiful life lesson to anyone who meets her. What a blessing for the Queens community to have someone like her in our midst.
Thank you to the Margaret Tietz Center for continuing the important mission of providing a sanctuary for Holocaust survivors and for the opportunity to speak with and meet Mrs. Deutch, who is a living lesson of courage and resilience.
By Susie Garber