Obituary for Ruth Matiovska

One of our two Czech Torah scrolls comes from the small  town of Slavkov (formerly Austerlitz). Over the past 26 years NLS has forged strong links with the town in a variety of ways - including 9 trips over that period. Very few Jewish residents from the pre-war 93 survived the Shoah. The last survivor, Ruth Matiovska still lived in the town and has been central to our relationship with Slavkov.

She was an honorary member of NLS and was well known by many of our members. Sadly, Ruth's family informed us that she passed away at the beginning of May. The following tribute comes from the NLS  Czech Scroll group:

The Sun goes down on Austerlitz Jewry

Ruth Matiovska, the last remaining survivor of the pre-war Jewish community of Austerlitz/Slavkov has passed away aged 86 following a short illness. This is her story ……

Ruth was 11 years old when she was deported together with her parents, Otto and Greta, from Slavkov to 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 into 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 lost a leg – ironically fighting on the German side in WW1 - and had 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 4 years of education as well as suffering the mental trauma 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 that she had grown up in, just off the small square where the synagogue still stands in the Jewish quarter of the small town. The living quarters were upstairs and her father’s dentist practice was downstairs.  In 1992, a chance meeting with Eric and Margaret Strach from Liverpool  (Eric spent a lot of his childhood in Austerlitz visiting his grandparents and aunt) brought her into contact with NLS 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 went on a trip to 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 with 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 to Slavkov during holidays when the family were at home. Her husband pre-deceased her 30 years ago.  She is survived by her son and daughter, 4 grandchildren and a growing number of great-grandchildren.

May her memory be for a blessing.