Some figures discussed in the Names to Know series are not valuable to be known for their contributions to SLIM so much as the story of their life or their impact on the profession. The subject of this edition is one such figure. Siegfried Ruschin attended the school of library science from 1958-60 and did little to influence the history of our program. In fact, the only mention of Siegfried Ruschin that I have located in my search of SLIM history is a lone photograph of him as an Elsie Pine Library Club “Program Chairman.” However, when I looked at that photograph for the first time I knew the guy had to be an interesting fellow. As it turns out, the decision to investigate this peculiar individual’s life was one of the best I could have made.
Full disclosure on this article: it wasn’t written by me; it was written by Siegfried’s cousin, who also happened to be named Siegfried. I had a hard time deciding between this article and the transcript of an interview he gave at a family reunion in 2001, so I’ll make both available. You can read Siegfried’s interview here: interview
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Siegfried Ruschin was born in Schoenlanke, Germany, a small provincial town near the Polish border, on May 18, 1925. He spent the first eleven years of his life in this quiet and pleasant place which was surrounded by lakes and forests. He is the only child of Ludwig and Herta Ruschin. His father was a widely respected baker and owned a bakery, which produced not only delicious bread and rolls, but also wonderful sweet rolls, cakes and pastries. His father came to Schoenlanke after World War I in which he served for four years and in which he lost three brothers. Ludwig’s sister, Paula, and brother-in-law, Ludwig Hirsekom lived in Schoenlanke. Paula had been a housekeeper for her brother prior to her marriage to Ludwig. Their son, Siegfried Hirsekom, was one year older than Siegfried Ruschin and the two grew up together as friends as well as cousins.
Even before the Nazis came to power in 1933, they made their presence felt. Jews were publicly threatened, insulted and beaten and some Jewish establishments were broken into with no police response. Soon Jews were also not permitted to swim in the local lakes. Nonetheless, Siegfried’s father firmly believed that as a good German citizen who had served his country honorably during six years in the army, no serious harm could come to his family. He kept this faith even after his bakery was forcefully closed for a few days on April 1, 1933 in the first nationwide “legal” boycott of Jewish stores and enterprises. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, many of his father’s friends assured him that nothing would happen to the family, that they would not permit it. Unfortunately few if any of these “friends” stood by him, and a few even became ardent Nazis. Only Siegfried’s mother was not deceived. She urged her husband to leave Germany even though many of her forbears were buried in the local cemetery.
Schoenlanke had no Jewish school, so the Jewish children attended the Evangelische Schule (Lutheran School) until on May 18, 1933, they were told that the school was renamed Adolph Hitler Schule and that Jewish children were no longer welcome there. The Catholic school, renamed Hindenburg Schule, accepted the Jewish children. Even there the anti-Semitism fostered by the government was willingly accepted by many, something that Siegfried increasingly felt. It found expression in steady insults, physical threats and acts. While some of the children in the class did not take part in such acts, and some teachers showed concern, they were helpless, less they be accused of unbecoming sympathy for Jews. When children reached the age of ten, many became members of the Hitler Youth and the situation became unbearable. Siegfried dreaded every day he had to go to school. Grade school life worsened almost on a daily basis for Siegfried and all other young Jewish pupils, while it had already become practically impossible for older Jewish students to attend the Gymnasium (High School).
The was a synagogue in town and a smaller Bet Hamidrash, a house of learning, and the Jewish religious, cultural and educational life was very active. Nazi gangs soon interrupted these activities. On one occasion, Siegfried’s father was severely beaten and particularly so by a man who used to frequent their house as a milk delivery man. He had been a Communist, but now appeared in full Nazi regalia. In 1934, the civil authorities were still accepting complaints, but such charges were eventually dismissed on one or other ludicrous ground.
In the fall of 1936, when Siegfried was eleven years old, he was sent to Jewish school in Berlin. Several months later his parents followed and, as incomprehensible as it may appear to us today, bought another bakery in Berlin (the larger cities were more “progressive” and protected Jews until the Nazi government grew too strong). On May 28, 1938, Siegfried became a Bar Mitzvah at the Synagogue Lessingstrasse.
Barely five months later, the well-organized riots broke out all over Germany that have unfortunately gone into history by the trivializing name of Kristallnacht, a mocking term coined by the Nazis. Siegfried’s father was sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and was released after five weeks under condition that he leave Germany as quickly as possible. The Nazis wanted to “cleanse Germany of its Jews” and expulsion was still their policy (the full horror of the Holocaust came later, and emigration of Jews was finally forbidden by decree of October 23, 1941). The problem was however that no other country would accept poor immigrants, which such refugees would be, as no valuables could be taken out of Germany by expelled Jews. In the United States, for example, a citizen would have to vouch that the new immigrant would not become a burden on their welfare system and only a very limited number were admitted under the elaborate quota system.
Eventually the family obtained visa for Bolivia and transit visa for Panama and Chile. They left Berlin on July 20, 1939, departed Amsterdam on the ship “Columbia” the nexte day, and arrived in Crisobal Colon, Panama on August 12, 1939. They were to change ships in Panama, but had made a fortunate stop in Venezuela (at La Guaira) where relatives picked them up and kept them overnight in Caracas. The following day they all drove to the next port, Puerto Cabello, but not before they had discussed the possibility of obtaining an immigrant permit for Venezuela. This conversation led to a change of plans and the course of their future. They proceeded to Panama, where they stayed for five weeks waiting for the Venezuelan immigration permit to be granted. During that time, war broke out in Europe. They arrived in La Guaira, Venezuela as immigrants on about September 21, 1939.
Siegfried’s father worked for some time in a bakery, but then started again (for the fourth time in his life) his own with few resources and from very primitive beginnings. He and Siegfried’s mother worked very hard, indeed in the tropical climate and in an economic and social environment they found it hard to adjust. Siegfried helped in the bakery, delivered the products on foot or bicycle, and worked at night and on weekends in his cousin’s cinema. At the age of sixteen, he started an apprenticeship in another cousin’s photoengraving plant. But after a year, when the family moved to a larger location that promised an increase of business, he went back to work full time in the bakery business. In addition to trying to learn to speak Spanish, he became interested in radio and TV repair and took a correspondence course from an American school (a not very effective and successful way of learning, regardless of high grades). Of more lasting value proved his extensive, if unstructured, reading, when possible.
Siegfried’s first trip to the United States was with his father. They arrive in Mobile, Alabama on October 29, 1951, and in Kansas City, Missouri the next day. They visited Siegfried’s aunt, Paula (Ruschin) Hirsekom there. The previous year, his aunt and uncle, Ludwig and Paula, had visited them in Caracas. They then traveled to New Martinsville, West Virginia to visit Siegfried’s cousin and his wife Fred and Barbara Hirsekom and their daughter Susan from December 28 until New Years Day 1952.
Siegfried arrived in Miami, Florida as an immigrant on February 7, 1956 and his parents joined him in April 1957, in Topeka, Kansas. Unfortunately, his mother died there only two years later, at the age of sixty-eight. Siegfried and his father moved from Topeka, Kansas to Kansas City in 1960.
While in the United States on a student visa, Siegfried had attended Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas (1954-58). While he had been admitted on probation, he was graduated cum laude with a BA in physics in 1958, then attended Emporia State University (1959-1960), from where he received an MSLS (MS in Library Science) in 1960. He became a US citizen on December 21, 1965.
Siegfried worked at the Topeka Public Library from 1956-1959, and started to work at Linda Hall Library, an internationally renown library, on September 1, 1960. His initial position was as Assistant Serials Librarian (1960-63). He was promoted to Acting Serials Librarian (1963-1964) and Serials Librarian (1964-77). In 1978 he became Librarian for Collection Development. In this position he was one of the two division heads and was responsible for all technical processing, which included monograph acquisition, monograph cataloging, serials (including serials records), exchange and documents, and binding departments. Although this excluded supervision of public services, he, like most professional staff members, worked about eight hours a week at the reference desk, a task he enjoyed and found useful for all who generally worked “behind the scenes.” Siegfried had some papers published, most of them on the rapidly sharp increasing prices of serials (and to a somewhat lesser degree in books) and the resulting problems for libraries, especially in the fields of science and technology.
Before his full retirement he was responsible for developing a more extensive and more formal acquisition policy of the library than existed before.
Among the honors he received was election to Tau Delta Pi, Gamma Mu, and listing in Who’s Who in Library and Information Services.
He worked at Linda Hall Library for 33 years and retired on July 15, 1993 after a distinguished career. He made major contributions to the high quality and services to which this highly respected technical library is internationally famous. His dedication, technical skills, and broad interests contributed to the growth of the library and its periodical services and resources. He was highly regarded by his associates whose friendships continue long after his retirement.
In some ways, the story of Siegfried in sad. Many aunts, uncles, and cousins were murdered during the Holocaust, his childhood left him traumatized from these events, he lived alone for the vast majority of his life. But, in all the important was, Siegfried’s story is great and deserving of being preserved. He faced heavy adversity and overcame it. His story stresses the importance of our profession and of being informed citizens. His history lesson is one that all should hear. His name should not be forgotten, and it never will.
Read the Previous SLIM Name to Know here: Elsie Pine
View the New SLIM History Page on Our Website here: History