Ruth und Yehuda Zeilberger

The Ruth Alexander-Zeilberger Collection

Letters and Diaries of a Family

The Ruth Alexander-Zeilberger (1915–1979) Collection is closely linked to the Hans Julius Wolff Collection and is to some extent a result of it.

Ruth and Hans Julius Wolff were the grandchildren of Adolf Pinner. Through their mothers, Frieda Pinner-Alexander and Käthe Pinner-Wolff, they were in close contact until they emigrated (and then afterward). As a result of the cataloging of the Hans Julius Wolff Collection, contact was made with Ruth’s sons, Doron and Gil Zeilberger. With great dedication, the two made it possible to analyze the Hans Julius Wolff Collection in its family context.

In 2012, inspired by this work, Gil Zeilberger presented the Jewish Museum Frankfurt with two folders of letters from the estate of his mother, Ruth Alexander-Zeilberger.

Letters from Frieda and Paul Alexander, 1938/39

Many also show the emotional distress felt by all of the children and their parents that no country had taken in the sixth child, Elisabeth (Bethchen) because of a heart illness she had had from birth. Reflected in the parents’ letters is the anguish of all five children and their partners over their inability to fetch their parents and Elisabeth to a safe haven abroad. For their part, Frieda und Paul Alexander could and would not emigrate without their sick daughter. In 1942, Frieda and Paul fell victim to the Nazi regime, as did Elisabeth, who escaped murder by taking her own life just one day before her parents were deported.

Letters to Ruth Alexander-Zeilberger, 1934–1938

Paul und Elfriede Alexander, die Eltern von Ruth Zeilberger
Paul und Elfriede Alexander, die Eltern von Ruth Zeilberger

Folder 1 consists of 65 documents, including both letters and postcards, which Ruth’s parents, Frieda und Paul Alexander, wrote from Berlin in 1938/39 to their five children who had emigrated to Palestine and South Africa. The letters are not only a unique testimony to the close family ties, but also offer valuable insight into the pressures and harassment faced by the family members who had remained in Germany.

Folder 2 is the exciting find that Gil Zeilberger made in summer 2012 during a visit to Israel: the correspondence, badly damaged by mice, that his mother, Ruth, had collected in a folder. The 220 documents comprise 152 handwritten letters, 25 typed letters, and around 43 postcards that were sent to Ruth, mostly between 1934 and 1938. The letters from her siblings abroad and a number of friends provide extensive information about the difficult pioneer years of German immigrants in Palestine. Ruth’s siblings in Palestine offer detailed descriptions of what immigration to the region means. They clearly portray all aspects of life to avoid giving their sister the wrong impression of daily routines. These accounts paint an authentic picture of their lives as immigrants. In addition, all the letters show a fine command of language.

A lively portrait of Ruth Alexander-Zeilberger emerges not only in the letters written by this large Berlin family, but also in those from her female friends and colleagues. Ruth must have been an extraordinary person even as a child, for she is treated affectionately by all of her family members. This is particularly evident in the letters by her grandmother Anna Pinner (“Omama”) and her aunt Käthe Wolff-Pinner. Although Ruth is the youngest member of the Alexander family, her siblings often go to her for advice.

Her parents also make clear how strong their ties to Ruth are and how much importance they attach to her judgment. Based on her parents’ letters, we can follow general developments in Berlin during the Nazi period and trace Ruth’s personal development as well. For this purpose, readers should first look at Folder 2, which covers the period 1934–1938, and then turn to Folder 1, which sheds light on the period 1938–1939.

Ruth Alexander-Zeilberger as a youth worker and music teacher

Ruth und Yehuda Zeilberger
Ruth und Yehuda Zeilberger

The letters written by Ruth’s friends and colleagues at the places where she worked (Israelitische Jugendhilfe München, Israelitisches Waisenhaus Dinslaken, etc.) also show just how much Ruth was valued as a director of youth work at each of these institutions. Trained in this profession, she immigrated to Palestine in July 1938, studied music there, and became a devoted music teacher. From 1942 to 1946, she was stationed in Alexandria, Egypt, as a member of the “women’s corps of the Palestine unit of the British army,” in which she held the rank of first sergeant. During this four-year period, she studied organ under her friend William (Harry) Gabb, later organist at Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal and sub-organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

She then moved to Jerusalem, where she also worked as a music teacher. In addition, in 1948, she served as a lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Forces. She met her future husband, the renowned educator Yehuda Heinz Zeilberger (1915–1994), at a party in Tel Aviv given by Kaethe Jacob, a leading, highly respected music teacher in the country. In 1949, the couple married and moved to Haifa, where their sons Doron and Gil were born.

Ruth served as a devoted, enthusiastic music teacher until her retirement. In the 1960s and 1970s, she was the first educator to promote music and rhythm instruction for young people with disabilities. She established herself as a pioneer in this field in Israel, and her teaching methods were later adopted by many other music educators. The letters in this folder reflect Ruth’s many talents.

Letters to Ruth Alexander-Zeilberger, 1946–1948

Folder 3 contains the letters that Ruth Alexander received from her siblings and friends between 1946 and 1948. In February 2013, Gil Zeilberger donated the originals to the Jewish Museum.

Singspiel for the Jewish orphanage in Munich, 1937

In April 2013, Gil Zeilberger presented the Jewish Museum with two additional important documents for the collection of his mother, Ruth Alexander-Zeilberger.

One is a Singspiel, or music drama, that Ruth composed as a young woman (Folder 4). In April 1937, Ruth presented this work as a farewell gift to the director of the Jewish orphanage in Munich. She had evidently performed it with the children there in her capacity as kindergarten teacher. The fourteen-page didactic poem introduces children to the Jewish High Holy Days. The original is in good condition.

The diaries of Ruth Alexander-Zeilberger, 1946/47

In addition, the museum received photocopies of two diaries that Ruth Alexander kept in 1946/47 while undergoing analysis. The treatment had become necessary as a result of the trauma Ruth had suffered due to the violent death of her parents and her sister during the Shoah.

The Jewish Museum Frankfurt wishes to express its heartfelt thanks to Gil Zeilberger for donating these important documents written by his mother, Ruth.

VolunteerKarola NickKarola Nick supports the museum by recording and transcribing the hand-written documents in the holdings of the museum’s archives. She was awarded the Medallion of the City of Frankfurt in 2017 for her many years of volunteer work.