The Worth of People

The Worth of People

Yesterday January 27, 2014 was International Holocaust Remembrance Day as designated by the United Nations. The day was marked by celebrations around the world in places ranging from London, Istanbul, Moscow, and Washington DC among others. The day of Remembrance was established by the United Nations on November 1, 2005. It is designed to remember the awful events of the Nazi regime from 1938 to 1945 which resulted in the murder of approximately 6 million Jews, Gypsies, and political undesirables in Nazi Germany.

I have to admit while I was growing up I was not exposed to Jewish culture. So there are others in this community who are better versed about Jewish culture. If you are interested in Jewish culture or practices ask Shoshana or Thas, either of them are easy to talk too and will gladly answer you questions. I have learned that one can ask them anything and get thoughtful answers.They are a wonderful resource in TUDiabetes community.

So after admitting that I have almost no information about Jewish culture and religion I am going to write about something that is not in my wheel house. But I hope the reader will stay with me even if you discount my views.

I first encountered Jewish people in college. I signed up for chemistry and ran headlong into one of my memorable teachers. Her name is Dr. Ruth Hanig (AKA Reverend Ruth Hanig ). Dr. Hanig was about 4’9” and a fireball of a person. Officially she taught chemistry, but to say she taught is an understatement of what she did. In fact she preached chemistry. Standing on a box she toted from classroom to classroom she professed her understanding of chemistry using hands, voice, eyes and her ever present overhead projector. Students would listen to the Dr. Hanig for one hour (often it went two) twice per week. Then to figure out what she was saying we would go on Friday to talk to the teaching assistant. Dr. Hanig never slowed down and never took questions. She could not be interrupted and she told us on the first day to not interrupt her. It was surreal.

As you can imagine she was one of the most unique teachers I have ever encountered. But she also had another part of her class. Dr. Hanig was a holocaust survivor. At least one class period each semester she stopped teaching chemistry and gave us a more lasting and important lesson.

She entered the camp at Dachau along with her family in June 1939. Her family consisted of her mother, father, two sisters and two brothers of varying age. Her father was separated from her family upon admission to the camp. She never saw him again. She was nine years old and eventually placed in a sub camp which doubled as a munitions factory. Eventually her family was narrowed down to one of her sisters and her. Her sister died of malnutrition in 1943. She was liberated in August of 1944, alone and at age 14 she had no family.

She made her way to a relief agency and eventually to America where she was united with people she did not know. On the trip to America she met a young man who eventually became her husband and together they earned Ph.D.’s, hers in Chemistry and his in Literature. Her husband had similar experiences and he also taught at Indiana University

After earning her Ph.D. at Indiana University she worked as a research Chemist for a large agricultural corporation and along the way she improved food production in the world. As part of her lecture on concentration camps she would show the tattooed number on her neck. Once you saw it was impossible to not look at it.

She was going to follow the path of chemistry no matter if she lived in Germany or America. What stopped her from doing it in Germany was a government policy of racial hatred, supported by a majority of people in Germany. That raises the question what was the cost of her Ph.D.? The cost to America was almost nothing; the cost to Germany was massive. She could and would have been a research chemist in Germany. Dr. Hanig was never upset with the German people but she was upset anytime she heard talk of limited opportunity for students. She would often say don’t judge people by what you think they are; judge them instead for what they accomplish.

Yesterday made me think of Dr. Hanig and her family. The loss to the world of her family was potentially very large. The loss to Germany was a brilliant academic mind. We must remember that when public policy denies people (any people including diabetics) the opportunity to be who they can be the cost is overwhelming.





Thanks for a wonderful blog, Rick. You are a wonderful story teller.

This makes me wish I had Dr. Hanig for Chemistry in college instead of Dr. Oberholzer from whom we learned nothing but chemistry. It sounds as though she taught you far more than that rick. Thanks for sharing.

Thank you for posting this, we should never forget how much harm evil leaders can do in this world. What a fantastic teacher she was.

Awesome blog, rick! What an incredible woman :)

I am so happy that I found this story. I had been discussing my past jobs as a Health Care Provider and decided to look up info about a wonderful patient (more like a friend) that I had cared for in the 90’s. For two years I spent time with Dr. Hanig and her husband David at one of their residence in Newton, Mass. I cared for Dr. Hanig while her husband would leave for his trip to Boston at the Copley Library. I loved them both, but thanks to this reading I learned much more about Dr. Hanig in her younger days. By the time I cared for her, she barely spoke. She was older and very quiet. I know she loved the fact that I would take her for walks (she had trouble with her legs) and do her nails and fix her thinning straight hair. I will never forget her smile and that look of kindness in her eyes. Sometimes I would take her and her husband to Cambridge where we would go for lunch. They were just such sweet people. When Mr. Hanig died, I went to my first Jewish burial and felt honored to place that mound of earth over this wonderful man. Finances changed and Dr. Hanig had to leave and be moved to the Hebrew Rehab. It was there that I found out that years later she had passed.
I still think of them often and just wish that I had met them earlier in their younger years. Thank you Ruth and David for letting me be in your later years when you many times let me know how much you appreciated me.
Both Rest in Peace and thank you for my memories.
Janet Folan


thanks for this incredible story!

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sometimes i wonder why the substantial number of christian russian POWs who died in nazi camps are not noted as often as the other persecuted groups, but i think maybe it has something to do with the slanted recording of history during the cold war. experiments with sulfa drugs, a kind of margarine made from petroleum, and a kind of early artificial sweetner were all performed on my mother when she was a child. these experiments left her weak and scarred. the fact that her teeth were brown and crooked and her legs were too short and out of proportion to her trunk were evidence of the periods of starvation she went through. her mental health was affected as she told me in those dangerous days she could tell the future and read people’s minds. after providing documentation, she did receive reparations from the german government. she told me just writing out her story was therapeutic. she took a lot of hits in this world, more than her fair share, but as she was always telling me, to prepare me, life isn’t fair. she also said not to be bitter, among so many other lessons. i put up some info on my mom at a blog i haven’t been to it for at least 2 years and i just saw that the youtube video is not there for some reason. but it is still on my computer, and i will try to put it up again.


Oh my, @v_prediabetic—how wonderful to have her story to tell. So many stories just ended in those terrible years. I’ve bookmarked the blog to read in detail. She is a powerful looking woman…

My Dad instilled in me a layman’s love of reading history and we have several shelves of books on WWII. I am particularly engaged by memoirs. Dad’s old photos of his ship locked in the ice of the N. Atlantic and later initiation goofiness as they crossed the equator for the first time, were the beginnings of my awareness how large the world is…I truly look forward to reading the blog entries!..Thanks…Judith


Thank you for reporting that you knew her later. She is a doll of a person and she is one my favorite professors.


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All stories of our parents and grandparents and friends have meaning and we can derive much from them being told. PreDiabetic, I am sorry for the suffering your mother must have endured. It is a very valid and interesting subject of who we are as humans.

My purpose in telling about Dr. Hanig is that many years ago I simultaneously disliked, loved, feared, felt sorry for her. Yes she was that kind of teacher. Making her one of the most memorable teachers I have had. I could not think of a better day to tell her story (as I knew it) than the national Holocaust day. To this day I tell of her giving us the real reason she taught. When she told us about her suffering in the holocaust. Up until that time she was merely a teacher.

I read your moms story and she is a woman of much fortitude. Thank you for sharing, surely she is as important as Dr. Hanig. Because all experiences are important parts of how we got to where we are as humans.


To all:

I wrote this blog in January 2014 and we are not up to its one year anniversary but we are close. What I get from this recent flurry of activity is that stories do have great power. They cna influence us and evoke emotion the same as other art forms. However I suspect my Friend Judith evoked more emotion in 1 minute of dance than I could writing 100,000 pages of text.

I hope you understand this is my way to express myself., I do it because I do not paint or sing, or dance. I pray we will keep telling stories. As a community, we are strong when we tell each other stores, do the Big Blue test or dream of seeing Judith dance. Please express yourself. Please tell your stories. The community needs story tells no matter what form they use.


The Holocaust touched many people and of course many were not Jewish. This included huge numbers of Ukrainians, Russian POWs, Russian Civilians, Poles, Yugoslavians and others. The reason the Holocaust remains a particularly Jewish issue for many Jews is succinctly expressed by Elie Wiesel who said “While not all victims were Jews, all Jews were victims.” Millions of non-Jews were caught up in the Nazi death machine but many Jews feel they were singled out for total annihilation. Despite that, when we remember the Holocaust we should not forget all the rest of the millions.