Ruth Gottlieb: A Poignant Life. Paris: Juifs pour Jésus. 45 mins. In French with English subtitles
Ruth Gottlieb does not seem to be significantly different from any other octogenarian one might meet—other than her remarkable sharpness of mind. But then she begins to tell her story, one of sorrow upon sorrow. From the loss of nearly all her loved ones to the horrors of the Holocaust, Ruth has seen more suffering in her life than most of us can begin to imagine.
Interviewed at her home in France in 2013, Ruth details her life during and after the rise of Hitler. Born in Berlin in 1925, she was sixteen when her parents were deported to a concentration camp. After a year on the run as part of a resistance group, she and her compatriots were captured in Italy by German soldiers. Among those seized was Ruth’s husband, Aaron Gottlieb, to whom she had been married for only eleven months. Aaron was executed immediately, while Ruth was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she remained for many months, ill and starving, until the camp was liberated. As she relates these incidents, Ruth’s tone is noticeably matter-of-fact and her demeanor, detached. Clearly, these memories are too painful to engage on an emotional level.
Ruth goes on to describe her life after the war. She moved to Paris and fell in love with a Sephardic man; they were planning a future together when he suddenly died of an embolism. Later, in Israel, she married Paul Sandelbaum. They had a happy life until Ruth’s older daughter Myriam died unexpectedly. A few months later, due in part to the shock of Myriam’s death, Paul also died.
By this time in the interview, Ruth’s tone is no longer detached or distant. Her grief is apparent in the way she averts her eyes as she speaks, in the long silences as she remembers the loss of so many whom she loved.
Yet Ruth’s story is about more than pain; it’s about hope.
In the final part of the film, Ruth recounts how she and her remaining daughter, Judith, embarked on a search for truth. Moving to France, they explored everything from crystal-gazing to hypnosis to Buddhism, each looking for something to fill the void in their souls.
One day, as Ruth was walking along a seaside promenade near her home, she overheard some friends speaking about religion. One of these friends, a Christian, invited Ruth into the conversation and told her about Jesus. Ruth, still fully engaged in her search for truth, was intrigued.
Over the coming months, as she continued to converse with her friend and to read the Bible (including the New Testament), she came to realize that she had found the truth she had been searching for. She learned that it was possible for her to make a commitment to Jesus and yet remain fully Jewish.
Though suffering had been the hallmark of the first sixty years of Ruth’s life, when she speaks about Jesus, there is no trace of regret. Her eyes light up and her voice is strong and confident, full of gratitude. To see that even after a life filled with the most anguishing sorrows, God can restore joy and peace through relationship with himself—this is nothing short of a miracle. Ruth’s story is certain to be an encouragement to all who hear it. For those who wish to share the good news of Jesus with others in their life, particularly those who object to faith on the basis of the suffering in the world, this film might be a good starting point for conversation. After all, if Ruth Gottlieb can believe in God’s love and redemption, then perhaps even the most hardened among us can find faith.