She survived Auschwitz. Then Argentina’s dictatorship took her child

Mother of Plaza de Mayo Sara Rus, who passed away in January at 96, ‘turned the concept of victim into life and light’

Sara Rus. Credit: HIJOS X account

Sara Rus’s loved ones remember her as a woman who loved to dance. Cheerful, musical, and full of an infectious verve, she always animated those around her. Yet her joy was a story of survival, transcendence, and triumph of the human spirit. 

After surviving the horrors of Auschwitz as a young woman, she sought refuge in Argentina in 1948 and started a family. There, in 1977, the civic-military dictatorship took her son, Daniel. Rus joined the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, marching around the square outside the Casa Rosada to demand the safe return of Daniel — and all those disappeared by the regime.

Rus passed away on January 24, one day before her 97th birthday. At a recent celebration of her life at the Anne Frank Argentina Center in Buenos Aires, her family, comrades, and prominent members of Argentina’s Jewish and human rights communities paid tribute to how Rus forged unfathomable suffering into a life force that inspired those she met. 

“We all thought, how can it be that this woman so full of love can have gone through what she went through?” said Jonathan Karszenbaum, director of the Buenos Aires Holocaust Museum.

From Auschwitz to Argentina

Rus was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1927. As a child, she loved to play the violin. One of her first encounters with the Nazis was the day officers came into her home, saw the instrument, and asked who played it. When Sara’s mother pointed to her, the officer took it and smashed it on the table. 

Rus was never able to finish primary school. At the age of 12, she entered the Lodz Ghetto, where her entire family was confined to one room. From there, she was sent to Auschwitz.

She was liberated on May 5, 1945. Three years later, she left for Argentina to start a new life with her husband, Bernardo, whom she met in the camp.

Here not only did she start a family — in addition to Daniel, she also had a daughter, Natalia — but managed to reconnect with her love of music. Decades after arriving in Argentina, a young music student played the violin for Rus, before giving her the instrument. “It meant a lot to her to recover that violin,” said Patricio Gil Mariño, literature teacher at San Andrés school.

Mother of Plaza de Mayo Vera Jarach, who, like Rus, survived both the Holocaust and the dictatorship, attended the ceremony. Speaking from a wheelchair, she said that she had always had “enormous admiration” for Rus’s strength.

Bearing witness to tragedy and injustice

“There are parallels in our lives. She had a far harder story than mine because she survived Auschwitz. But last century, we both lived through the two greatest genocides of the twentieth century,” Jarach said. “We were both marked by horror, but also by the great efforts we made to bear witness to these great tragedies and injustices.” 

“Now there are few of us old women, we have to leave a legacy. Sara knew how to live, smile, and be. And she’s here with us. Always present, as we say of our disappeared. Now, and forever.”

Speakers at the event described how Rus left her mark everywhere, from schools and universities to the justice system. Judge Daniel Rafecas described how the young perpetrator of an antisemitic attack, who wore the SS logo on his trousers and had long refused to change his ways, had a “click” after hearing Rus’s story.

Jaqueline Gies, the granddaughter of Nazi war criminal Roberto Gies who went public with her story, spoke via video from Berlin of her meeting with Sara. The two met in November 2019 at the Anne Frank Center in Buenos Aires. Gies was nervous about the encounter. But when the two women met, they embraced. There, according to Anne Frank Center director Hector Shalom, Sara said: “I didn’t choose to be a victim. She chose to tell the world about her family.”

Rus has two granddaughters and became a great grandmother in 2013, and by 2020, she had five great grandchildren. A documentary about her life, La memoria y después (The Memory and After) by Eduardo Feller, was released in 2018.

As she aged, Sara began to shrink. Her rabbi, Sabrina Chemen, didn’t notice. “I never saw her as small,” she said, “and that’s the sign of greatness.”


All Right Reserved.  Buenos Aires Herald