Ruth Satt’s American dream started after she survived a nightmare that lasted close to 20 years.
She was born to Joseph and Esther Bokisch in 1929 in Gleiwitz, Germany — a bad time and place for a Jewish girl to be born. Hitler was rising to power and would soon take over with his plan to dominate the world and exterminate the Jews.
But Ruth and her family — she was the oldest of eight kids — had it better than many other Jewish people. Their father had a business he managed to trade for identity papers that kept his family safe through much of World War II. Joseph was the only one in the family sent to a concentration camp, Buchenwald, but it was late in the war and he was liberated when the Allies won. The rest of the family went into hiding and also survived.
When the war ended, Ruth was working in a displaced-persons camp, helping other Jews to reconnect with their families, when she caught the eye of another survivor, Harry Satt. The story goes that Ruth was walking out a door and Harry was afraid he’d never see her again — so he hopped out a window to intercept her.
His plan worked. She married him and they came to America in 1950. They came, as their oldest child put it at Ruth’s funeral last month — she died at 83 — bringing basically everything they had to their names.
That was him, their oldest, now Henry Satt, of Cape May.
The little family moved first to Brooklyn, N.Y., where Harry’s carpentry skills helped him become a construction foreman. But the Satts had relatives in South Jersey, and Harry and Ruth liked what they saw on their visits. So when they found land available in Woodbine, they moved there to start a chicken farm — a popular business plan for Jewish war survivors.
It got less popular for Harry and Ruth when all their chickens died, though. Still, they refused to declare bankruptcy — Harry went back to New York and worked all week until he paid off all their debts. He headed south on weekends, and Ruth stayed with the family, which grew to include two daughters, Helen and Goldie.
The Satts moved to Wildwood. When they got ahead a bit, they opened a store selling chickens and eggs. The idea was “to sell the chickens already dead,” as their son says, and not “to let them die on them again.”
Harry and Ruth were a team, and the team grew. The next business was a Wildwood restaurant, the Hen House. Later still, they built and opened a hotel, the Atlas Inn, just off the beach in Cape May.
The business kept expanding, and that original little mom-and-pop store in Wildwood has now grown into Seashore Food, a Middle Township food company that employs about 40 people and distributes more than 3,000 products all over South Jersey. Its president is Henry Satt. The vice president is Michael Satt — Harry and Ruth’s grandson, and Henry’s son.
The whole family always worked in the family businesses.
“My dad started me at age 5, making boxes,” said Goldie Adams, now of Cape May Court House, Harry and Ruth’s youngest daughter. “And I used to bus the tables” — a job that would draw that little bus girl some tips “because I think people felt sorry for me.”
From there, Adams moved up to running the Atlas with her mother before the family sold the hotel a few years ago.
“I took over the day-to-day things, and my mom kind of became the PR person — she hugged people, she kissed people,” the daughter said. “She was such a natural for that role.”
That was after Harry died of a sudden heart attack in 1984. And while Ruth kept on working hard, she also got time to enjoy the American dream she built with her husband.
Their dream expanded to Israel, where many of Ruth’s siblings settled after the war. She liked to spend parts of her winters there, and Ruth would end up living in Israel with both her daughters while they were students. The older daughter, Helen Falah, still lives in Israel.
Ruth “was all about family — family came before everything else,” Henry said. And if it took flying to the Middle East to see some of her seven grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, she was happy to do it.
Her kids say she was a great cook — thanks partly to her years in the kitchen at the family restaurant. She liked to host holiday dinners at her Cape May home, but if the crowds got big enough, she’d change the venue and have dinner in the restaurant at the family’s hotel.
She never talked much about what she went through in the war, but there was no doubt she started her life in another country, another world. Ruth never lost her German accent, Adams said.
But she became an American, and she loved the life her work, her family’s work, built here. That life included a car she really fancied, a red Cadillac with a personalized license plate that said a whole lot about its owner — in just one word.
“CHUZPAH,” Ruth’s license read.
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