Holocaust survivor Ruth Kessler has always carried a heavy burden not knowing what happened to her mother and sister during World War II.
The Ventnor resident, now 79, knew her family members died in a concentration camp sometime after they stopped corresponding with her family from their home in Vienna, Austria, in 1942. But she never knew where or if they were together until a trip to the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., on Monday brought new information and finally some relief.
"This made me feel better than I have ever felt (about the situation)," she said by phone Thursday. "I had always wondered. Were they together? Were they separated?"
Kessler was with a group of 80 Holocaust survivors, their families, World War II veterans and seven Richard Stockton College students who took two buses to the museum. The organization was holding a special tribute to survivors and World War II veterans that day.
Gail Rosenthal, director of Stockton's Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, arranged for Kessler to meet with a representative of the International Tracing Service at the museum to find out what happened to her mother, Charlotte Fisch, and her older sister, Erika, who was 13 in 1942.
Kessler found out the two were together in a ghetto in Vienna and later transported to concentration camps in Poland named Belzec and Sobibor, where they died.
Kessler knew of both places - especially how harsh the conditions were there. But still when she heard the news she felt good.
"That they were together, I felt peace come over me," she said. "I felt so happy. I didn't know for so long. It warmed my heart."
Kessler was one of 10,000 Jewish children who traveled to England via the Kindertransport in 1939 and survived the war in London. Her father, Henry Fisch, was able to secure a visa and spent the war in New York. Ruth Kessler joined her father there after the war.
Rosenthal said Monday's trip, which was sponsored by the Holocaust Resource Center, Stockton, the Jewish Family Service of Atlantic and Cape May Counties and the Jewish War Veterans Post 39 of Margate, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide assistance to local survivors and veterans. She said the museum, which was closed to the regular public that day, held many exhibits for their special guests from all over the world.
"It was a very powerful day," she said.
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