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The Museum community mourns the loss of Ruth Pagirsky, a longtime member of the Museum’s Speakers Bureau. Ruth died on March 15, 2022.

Ruth Pagirsky was born to a Jewish family in 1926 in Berlin, Germany. Ruth, her parents, and her brother Benjamin were deported in 1936 to Poland and settled in Katowice until September 1939. After losing many family members Ruth spent time hiding in the forest and ended up in a labor camp. She later obtained false identification papers that stated she was a Polish Catholic. This new identity allowed her to work on a farm in Germany, where she did not speak for three years so as not to reveal that she was not Polish. Ruth was liberated by American soldiers in April 1945, the only immediate member of her family to survive. Ruth came to the United States in June 1946, where she was discouraged from sharing her story. However, the last words her father ever said to her stayed with Ruth: “You, my child, shall live, you shall live to tell it all.”

Her father’s message fueled Ruth’s mission to be outspoken about her experiences. Ruth took a special interest in educating teachers about the Holocaust. When one particular teacher refused to believe her story in a New York City classroom in the 1970s, Ruth felt it was her obligation to persist. Since then, Ruth spoke to thousands of students and teachers at the Museum of Jewish Heritage as part of the Museum’s Speakers Bureau. After hearing Ruth, one student commented, “Your worlds made me really think about how I want to change something in the world.” Read below for other comments the Museum has received from students who have heard Ruth’s testimony.

Ruth went on to build a beautiful family in New York with her husband Irving Pagirsky (z”l); her three children, Jay Pagirsky, Regina Skyer, a Museum Trustee, and Susan Pagirsky Foley; nine grandchildren; and eleven great grandchildren.

To learn more about Ruth’s story, please read her 2013 book Memoirs or watch Ruth’s testimony here. May Ruth’s memory be for a blessing.

"I'm always thankful for what I have but after hearing your story I feel extra blessed and thankful."

"Your worlds made me really think about how I want to change something in the world."

"After hearing what you had to say I also felt more comfortable in speaking up and saying what I think."

"The fact that you are voluntarily telling your story to others just proves how brave you are."

"You are incredibly strong for publicly speaking about something so scary."

"Your experiences have broadened my horizons about human morality."

"I thank you for being so strong and enlightening my world."

"I think it is very important for my generation and the next to know what tragedies occurred in our history."

"I have great respect for you to be able to overcome your past and be able to share it with the world."

"Your resilience is inspirational."

"I now know to be grateful for what I have and to respect my elders because you never know what they have been through."

"I will make sure your story lives on by telling my offspring."

"Hearing your story makes me think about I can do to make things better."

"Your experience made me realize how lucky I am to have a nice home a family and to be able to go to school."

"I would never forget your story and your struggle because all we need is one person to speak up and two ears to listen."

"It's one thing to read about the Holocaust but it’s another thing to come face to face with someone who lived through it."

Photo portrait of Ruth Pagirsky by B.A. Van Sise