My Conversion story: Ruth R Rothery of Tasmania

It is very difficult to go all the way back.

I was born in Zurich, Switzerland on 2nd October, 1929. As anyone with any understanding of history would know, it wasn't simply during WWII that Jews were hunted and murdered even long before the advent of so-called Christianity.

My paternal and maternal grandparents were hunted out of their lands and homes from areas of Austria and Poland which even then had been fought over for centuries. A place called at various times, Lemberg when it was in Austrian hands and Lwow when in Poland's hands (now part of Ukraine and called by them Lviv) was a place where the Jews were actually in the majority until just prior to the 20th century, but at that time, they were hunted out of all Eastern Europe.

My paternal grandparents arrived in Switzerland around 1900 and my maternal grandparents about 12 years or so, later. They had not known each other as Lwow is of considerable size. My paternal grandparents arrived with two small sons, but without any material possessions.

They were so desperately poor that they applied to the Jewish welfare organization for help, but were informed that they were dealing with so many desperate Jews who had arrived that they could not further assist more Jews. My paternal grandmother was advised to try the Catholic welfare organization.

Her husband was already quite ill, so she had to do all the begging for assistance(he died 5 years later).

The Priest looked at her two sons, stated that the older was too old (he would have been about 5 at that time!) but if my grandmother would allow the younger one, who was two at that time, to be "christened" - he said it didn't matter if he never saw them at church, but he wanted to put him on their books. I understand from my own research that the Swiss Government (I don't know if this is still valid nowadays) paid a certain amount of the tax collected, to the major churches of the time for their upkeep, according to the number of members.

So, my grandmother agreed and was duly issued with a certificate of the event. Though a larger family, my maternal grandparents were better placed and were able to exist without welfare and In fact, were able to increase their offspring to 7 living (others died in infancy).

So, we come to 1934 and the beginning of Hitler's reign of terror in Germany, chrystalnacht and the many horrors which followed and the hunt for Jews was on once more. Every evening once my father returned home, he fiddled with the radio, but to whatever station he turned, it was Hitler's voice which came blaring out.

Soon, our home became a half-way house for escaping Jewish families, where they had to wait for visas to wherever they could go - mostly to America. My parents became increasingly nervous, on hearing the stories of horror from these escaping families and by 1938, they came to the conclusion that even Switzerland may not be a safe place any more, being so tiny and so close, with borders along both Germany and Austria the latter by then having become part of Germany.

By this time, the so-called 'free world' had decided to close its doors to Jews, as there were so many to contend with and Government thoughts were, "there's rarely smoke without fire, so maybe Hitler is right and Jews ARE a danger to society and we don't want to be overrun by them."

My parents were still debating on which country would be the safest; my father wanted Newfoundland in Canada, but my mother showed him a map and pointed out how close that was to Scotland and Europe.

It was decided to find a land as distant as possible from Europe and decided to try for Australia which at that time though so huge a land compared to Switzerland, had only little more than the whole population of Switzerland so decided that that factor alone should guarantee a greater degree of safety and security. Application for permanent visas was granted .

It took me another 42 years before I was able to discover how we were able to come when the country had by mid 1939 been closed to all Jews.

We, meaning my parents, brother who is 5 years older than me, and I arrived by ship in Sydney, Australia on 26th July 1939, 6 weeks before the outbreak of WW II. I was nine and a half years old.

My father was, once the Americans entered the War, the first civilian employee of the American Army and went with that army into and through New Guinea and the Philippines, so that, at the end of the war while my brother completed his last year of architectural studies in Sydney, my mother and I, as my father's dependents were invited to join him in the Philippines. For the next two years, this is where we lived, but as soon as I had saved up sufficiently for my airfare, as soon as I had my 19th birthday,

I returned to Sydney to continue my own education. Of course as happens, 20 months later 1 married and began a family of my own.

Early 1956, a knock on my door, greeted by American voices was almost like a homecoming. I certainly wasn't interested in their message - in fact I thought that they really had it all wrong and I would try and teach THEM the true facts, but I sure wanted to hear those voices even though the people behind the voices seemed to change every few weeks!

After numerous visits and my questions and questioning became too much for them to have answers so they suggested that I write out my questions and then they would bring me the answers. It must have been quite a shock when they discovered that my questions each time filled several foolscap pages and they had to set up meetings with their district and zone leaders, so that all could search for the appropriate answers.

After 9 months of this, having read all the pamphlets and books they loaned me (including the Book of Mormon and A Marvelous Work and A Wonder), it must have been in something like despair, the missionaries brought me "Jesus the Christ".

They must have reported back to their zone leader that night, because early the following morning, the knock on my door came from him. I invited him in joyfully despite the fact that I was bleary eyed. He opened his mouth, refusing to sit down and began to apologize, but I stopped him before he could complete his apology and told him that I had been up all night reading this amazing book and that everything I needed to know came up in such large print that I had completed the book and was now ready to be baptized! He was so shocked that he sank down and literally fell into the lounge-seat.

Now I need to return to why we were able to get to Australia when it was closed to Jews.

As I mentioned, I did not discover the reason for another 42 years, a year after my mother's death. When we arrived in Sydney, the first and second Saturday, we attended the Great Synagogue and thereafter my mother stated that from this moment on, we were not under any circumstance to admit to being Jews. When I as a 9 year old asked the obvious "why", she said, "not good for business." This made no sense to me, but I dared not ask further.

I naturally didn't understand that my mother was filled with fear that if they discovered that we received visas "under false pretences", we may again be hunted out of the country. I didn't learn the truth until I returned to Switzerland a year after her death to do the work for her in the Swiss Temple (I hoped that would please her and make acceptance easier for her). While I was there, and had a chance to speak with my uncle (her youngest brother), I learned the truth.

Because of the christening which took place when my father was 2, there was a christening certificate which had opened the gates to Australia (and probably any other country which my parents could have chosen).

I love my kin in Switzerland and have always missed my many uncles, aunts and cousins with whom I had spent the first 9 years of my life. It has been a terrible wrench to come from this very close family unit, who all met every Friday evening at my maternal grandparents home to usher in the Jewish Sabbath, to having no relations in this land.

But if all that hadn't happened and I hadn't ended up in Tasmania, there may not have been the opportunity for my conversion.

Ruth R Rothery
Montagu Bay, Tasmania