Across the Siegfried Line

Across the Siegfried Line

This is an except from The Ruby Family Histories (2006), written from Helga Ruby's point of view. 

When we were ready to go, an official SS car came to pick us up at the door. Some SS officials did a nice business smuggling Jews to the border. We were placed in the back seat of the big black car together with a young Jewish man, who had also paid to be smuggled to the border. Two Gestapo men sat in the front seat. We were on a high-speed road that only official cars were authorized to use. We were sitting in the back, but sometimes the men in front would order us down on the floor. Once we got to the western part of the country, we drove along the Siegfried Line, the German military line facing France and Belgium. Everywhere we saw soldiers and military activity.

Finally, well after it was dark, they stopped somewhere, and told us to get out and run across a wide ditch, which was the Belgian border. There were German border guards nearby, but apparently they had been bribed not to shoot at us. We were told that on the other side of the ditch, inside Belgium, there would be people waving white handkerchiefs who would help us. I remember that during the escape I felt no sense of panic, even when I stumbled and fell in the ditch. I just got up and kept moving. I felt numb and emotionless, like a wound up toy. We had no way of knowing whether the whole thing was a trick and the border guards would shoot us. The point was just to keep moving, to survive.

We crossed the ditch and, sure enough, there were the men with the white handkerchiefs. They motioned us to follow them to a farmhouse, where we were to hide until the following night. Our saviors quickly turned out to be the most despicable human beings I ever encountered in my life. They were smugglers and had been so for generations. Ogi was nearly raped that night by the thugs. It was the young Jewish man who came with us who saved her. Then they extorted more money from us than previously said, but we had no choice but to pay it.

We were dependent on those awful people because we still had to get to Liege, 50 miles from the border. If we were to be apprehended by the Belgian police before reaching Liege, we could be sent back to Germany. 

We slept during the day and moved at night, walking on trails through the forest. I remember walking in my sleep. After four or five nights of walking in the dark and sleeping in farmhouses during the day, we arrived in Liege. We were finally safe from being sent back to Germany.