Norway’s Anne Frank
The “Lives Cut Short” exhibition at Austria’s US embassy tells the story of Ruth Maier
Christine Foster Meloni
Ruth Maier has been called the Austrian-Norwegian Anne Frank. Her tragic story, however, is not as well-known as that of the German girl.
The Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C., in cooperation with the Royal Embassy of Norway, held a reception on April 4 to open the exhibition, “Lives Cut Short. Seeking Refuge during the Holocaust: The Fate of Ruth Maier.” Opening remarks were made by the Austrian and Norwegian ambassadors and a close member of Maier’s family.
Austrian Ambassador Wolfgang Walder said that his country accepts responsibility for the fate of many Jews during World War II. Austria was Maier’s native country, and she was forced to flee when the lives of Jews were in peril.
He related that much is being done today to remember and honor the victims who died in Austria. Of particular interest is the memorial wall that has been built in the center of Vienna with the following inscription (translated into English here):
“In commemoration of more than 65,000 Austrian Jews who were killed by the Nazis between 1938 and 1945.”
Serious efforts are being made to ensure that younger generations know this period of Austrian history and that they learn to be tolerant, responsible adults. Maier’s story is important because people need to realize the human dimension of the Holocaust. Learning the numbers is not enough.
In 1938, Maier avoided the November Pogrom, also known as Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), and she was able to flee to Oslo, Norway, shortly thereafter on Jan. 30, 1939. She soon became fluent in Norwegian and, after completing her high school studies, she was qualified to continue her studies at the university level.
However, she was not safe in Norway, either, after the Germans occupied the country in 1940. She was arrested by Norwegian police who were Nazi sympathizers on Nov. 26, 1942, and deported to Auschwitz, where she was killed immediately upon arrival in the gas chamber at the age of 22.
Norwegian ambassador Kåre Aas also emphasized the importance of learning from history. “We Norwegians,” he said, “have a moral responsibility for what happened in our country where there were both victims and perpetrators. Unfortunately, similar incidents still happen today, and we must do everything we can to fight hatred and promote tolerance.”
The third speaker was Dr. Ann Altman, whose father, Stephan Körner was Ruth Maier’s first cousin. She told of many members of her family losing their lives under the Nazis. She mentioned, in particular, her grandmother who was murdered in Maly Trostinec near Minsk, Belarus, and her grandfather who was deported to Nisko, Poland, where he died.
She said that a snublestein (literally “stumbling stone;” stolperstein in German) has been placed in front of Ruth’s last residence in Oslo. These markers are 10 by 10 centimeter brass plates set into the roadway or sidewalk of the last residences of people exterminated by Nazis. They usually begin “Here lived…” (in the local language) and list the person’s name and dates of birth, deportation and death, if known.
Altman and her immediate family fled to England, where she attended the University of Cambridge and then came to the United States, where she earned her doctorate from Yale University.
She concluded by relating how a friend of Ruth’s discovered the diary she had kept from 1933 to 1942, describing the deteriorating conditions for Jews in Austria and then her new life in Norway. After careful editing, her diary was published in German, Norwegian (2007), and English (2009). The English version is called Ruth Maier’s Diary: A Young Girl’s Life Under Nazism, and, though out of print, can be found used or in libraries.
The powerful “Lives Cut Short” exhibition tells the story of Ruth Maier through a series of large posters with photos and excerpts from her diary. It will be on view to the public from April 5 through July 5 at the Embassy of Austria, 3524 International Court, Washington, D.C., weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
This article originally appeared in the April 19, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.