Sylvia Ruth Gutmann, who at age 3 lost her parents to the Holocaust and survived the war as a hidden child, has chosen to spin her losses into a life-affirming message of hope to current and future generations.
The resident of Framingham, Massachusetts, travels widely to tell her extraordinary story of how her family fled from Belgium, where she was born, to France, only to be arrested by the Vichy police and deported to the camps. Her parents were murdered at Auschwitz, but Gutmann and her sisters were saved by a secret French child rescue organization and sent to join relatives in the United States after the war. She was all of 7 years old.
In the course of her life, she buried and then finally — in middle age — unburied her memories, thoughts and feelings about the scarring events of her childhood. In 2001, she joined the March of Remembrance and Hope, a leadership program for both Jewish and non-Jewish university students, on a visit to Auschwitz in Poland. She also visited the Berlin home from which her parents and two older sisters had fled six months before she was born, and shared her experiences with many Germans. In 2002, she was awarded honorary German citizenship in recognition of her peace activism.
But her life was not only an excavation of the past. Around that same time, at the age of 62, she fell in love with a young man from Munich and made the decision to go live with him in Germany, though she eventually returned to the United States.
Born in 1939, Gutmann became an author nearly eight decades later, last year, with the publication of her first book, “A Life Rebuilt: The Remarkable Transformation of a War Orphan.” The well-received memoir has expanded her opportunities to connect not only with others of her generation, but also with younger generations whose awareness of the Holocaust may still be in formation.
Her second Bay Area book tour brought her to the JCC East Bay on Sunday, Feb. 10. Her time in the area also included talks at seven bookstores and libraries, including venues in Oakland, Orinda and Walnut Creek.