The last remaining survivor of the pre-war Jewish community of Austerlitz/Slavkov, Ruth Matiovska, has passed away aged 86 following a short illness.
Ruth was 11 years old when she was deported, together with her parents Otto and Greta, from Slavkov to the Czech transit camp, Terezin (Theresienstadt) in 1941. Miraculously the family managed to survive the deportations to the death camps until the end of the war. This fact is brought into focus when we consider that only around 150 children from the 15,000 who were sent to Terezin actually survived the horrors of the Shoah – and Ruth was one of them. Although luck obviously played a major role in their survival as a family, Otto’s occupation as a dentist was more than useful for the Nazis.
Otto had lost a leg — ironically fighting on the German side in the First World War — and was fitted with a prosthetic leg in which he managed to smuggle out potato skins from his duties in the kitchens. Undoubtedly, the fact that he was able to smuggle these to his family kept them alive. Had he been caught, he would have paid with his life. Heavily traumatised, Ruth and her parents returned to Slavkov after liberation and started to recover their lives. Ruth had obviously missed four years of education as well as suffering the mental anguish from her experiences.
Ruth eventually married a local man and had two children, Roman and Hana. After the deaths of her parents, Ruth continued to live in the family house she had grown up in, just off the small square where the synagogue still stands in the Jewish quarter of the little town. The living quarters were upstairs and her father’s dental practice was downstairs. In 1992 a chance meeting with Eric and Margaret Strach from Liverpool (Eric spent much of his childhood in Austerlitz visiting his grandparents and aunt) brought her into contact with Nottingham Liberal Synagogue and following her first of two visits to Nottingham she became an honorary member of the congregation. Older members will remember an audience with Ruth in the shul during which she told her story and answered questions. This followed an emotional service when she was called up to the Austerlitz scroll by Czech-born Rabbi Thomas Salamon. Her first visit to Nottingham was the first time she had been around so many of her co-religionists since she was incarcerated in Terezin.
Soon after her trip to Nottingham she joined the Brno Jewish community (about 10 miles away from her home) and also visited Israel with them. One can only imagine her reaction to seeing the Jewish state after her childhood experiences and also that of being the only Jewish resident in Slavkov! Ruth suddenly found herself as something of a local celebrity in her town, and she was a constant visitor to the local school to tell the students about her wartime experiences. A few years ago a play about Ruth’s life was commissioned with the help of Lottery funding by the NLS Austerlitz Group. After the play was performed in Nottingham, it was translated into Czech and a performance was put on in Slavkov itself by drama students from the local High School. There was a packed audience to see it — with Ruth and her family in the front row!
Ruth maintained her contact with NLS through the Austerlitz Committee and she was always eager to meet both old and new friends on our many visits to the Czech Republic — the last one only 20 months ago — where she was thrilled to meet a dozen of our children.
In her later years she moved from Slavkov to a retirement home in Brno but returned during holidays when the family were at home. Her husband pre-deceased her 30 years ago. She is survived by her son, daughter, four grandchildren and a growing number of great-grandchildren.
Ruth Matiovska: born January 30,1931. Died May 2, 2017