Vi at the Glen residents Ruth and Sigi Veit met in England during World War II. Both orphaned by the Holocaust, they met as teenagers, fell in love, and have been married for nearly 70 years. Theirs is a story of survival, endurance, and most of all, love.
Growing up in War-torn Germany
Both Ruth and Sigi describe a normal childhood in Germany before the Nazis came to power. “We went to school, played with friends, and spent time with family,” said Ruth. She grew up in Frankfurt with her father and older sister, while Sigi lived in Berlin with his sister and parents who owned a kosher restaurant.
On November 9, 1938, when Ruth was 13, her grandfather was taken during the infamous Kristallnacht, a devastating massacre in which Jewish homes, schools and businesses were destroyed. Her grandfather was returned the next day, but it became apparent to her family that they should take precautions to save the children.
Ruth’s grandparents learned of the Kindertransport, a British humanitarian effort that reduced immigration restrictions in order for Jewish children to escape persecution. They registered Ruth and her sister, and within 6 months of the Kristallnacht they had left Germany for England.
Ruth’s sister was sent to a foster family in Manchester, while Ruth stayed with a family in Coventry. After the house was destroyed in an air raid, Ruth was sent to a girls’ hostel in Leeds. Within a few years she got a room in a boarding house and went to work in a factory making artillery shells for the war effort.
Meanwhile in Berlin, a 16-year old Sigi had been a student at the ORT vocational school learning the trade of tool and die making. On August 26, 1939, the boys were told to go home and say goodbye to their families. They were going to leave for England the next day. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Sigi.
Their plans were pushed back one day. “It was the 27th of August at 10:30 in the evening. I remember it well. My parents, cousins, aunts, uncles and sister; about 20-30 people, were gathered in the apartment to say goodbye. I never saw them again. They were all killed. I was the only Veit left in the world.”
Sigi and the other boys from the ORT school were sent to Leeds, England, where they would re-establish the school and where he would meet his future bride, Ruth.
Fate Leads to a Dance in Leeds
After finishing at the ORT school, many of the young men went out and got jobs, and spent many Sunday nights dancing at a Jewish hall in Leeds called the Jubilee Hall. Some of the ORT boys had formed a band, and Sigi and his friends would go there to listen to the music and dance. It was there that he first met Ruth. But it was not love at first sight, at least, not for Ruth.
“We were just friends,” said Ruth. She would go on dates with other young men, and would ask Sigi’s opinion on those she would fancy. Sigi would offer his opinion, but deep down he knew that Ruth was the one. “I used to tell my friends, ‘that Ruth Koch, now she would make a good wife! She’s beautiful, smart and we have the same German-Jewish background.’”
But it wasn’t until they both moved to America that they discovered there was more to their relationship than friendship.
Love Blooms in America
Ruth loved living in England and didn’t want to leave, but when she discovered that her grandmother had survived a concentration camp, she knew she had to go to America to help her sister take care of her grandmother.
Sigi was always in love with the United States. “I remember I used to collect newspapers that featured skyscrapers. And I liked American cars! I was alone and the only people I had were some cousins on my mother’s side who lived in New York,” he said.
In October, 1947, both bound for America; separately, but intertwined. “The last few weeks, when we knew we were leaving for the U.S., we got friendlier and went out,” said Sigi. Ruth took Sigi to the train station in Leeds, where he would leave for Dover to take the Mauretania ship across the Atlantic. Ruth flew to New York, and when Sigi arrived by boat, she was already there to pick him up at the harbor.
Together they explored New York for a while before Ruth had to go to Chicago to be with her sister and grandmother. But they couldn’t stay apart for long. Ruth invited Sigi to Chicago for Hanukkah, and by New Year's Eve they were engaged.
A Living Legacy of Family
After enduring loss and displacement, Ruth and Sigi found a new home together in Chicago, and each other.
Today, there are four generations of Veits in the world.
“We are survivors,” said Sigi. “We have a beautiful family – two children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Our parents would be very proud of the lives we’ve made for ourselves here and very proud of our family.”
All of the Veits live near each other in the Chicago area. “We are blessed,” said Ruth.
Life at Vi at the Glen
Ruth and Sigi are amongst Vi at the Glen’s newest residents, but they fit right in. “We’ve made good friends here,” said Sigi. “We enjoy having dinner and conversation, and then after going to the card room to play some bridge. It makes for a very nice evening.”
On Tuesdays, Sigi meets with other chess enthusiasts in the chess club. Ruth likes to go for swims in the heated pool and participates regularly in exercise classes at the fitness center.
Most of all, Ruth and Sigi enjoy being in each other’s company. Asked what is the secret to a marriage lasting nearly seven decades, Ruth says, “We just happen to love each other. He’s my #1. I guess I’m his #1 too!”