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A Letter to Ira about Ruth’s Death July 19, 2008

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Ursula Nienhaus
Berlin, Germany

Dear Ira,

What sad news to hear! I do hope, though, that death was a blessing to Ruth, after she had problems speaking, which must have been a very strange hardship on her. I am thinking about Ruth, and I am sure that I will never forget her.

Maybe you also remember this:

Ruth was still living by herself in a seventh-floor apartment near Central Park on the Upper West Side when I first met her. It must have been sometime in the autumn of 1983, when I was visiting Gerald Sider on my way to the International Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future in Peace and Justice in Romulus, N.Y. Jerry wanted to do some repair on Ruth’s TV and took me with him to keep her company in the meantime.

Being German, a historian, an “unorthodox lefty,” and an outspoken feminist, I still felt a little shy meeting Ruth, a very remarkable Jewish woman whose biography Jerry had given me in broad outlines. Ruth Baharis, however, welcomed me in all openness very cordially; she introduced her two cats to me and got me into a conversation on history and politics, outlining her sympathy for anarchists — in response to my confession about a master’s thesis on Mikhail Bakunin.

Anyhow, we spent some intense hours together, and she asked me kindly to please keep in contact and tell her regularly about the social and political developments in — at that time — West Germany, especially Berlin. Thus, in later years Ruth took me for history walks on the Lower East Side, let me have sumptuous meals at the “Odessa,” made us stroll through SoHo, or took me to Coney Island for swimming in the Atlantic, always discussing big politics and the ongoing changes in the neighborhoods of New York as well as our private lives and loves, in tacit verification that the personal is political.

After Ruth married Ira Gollobin and moved to the Lower East Side to live with him, they finally even came to visit me in our Berlin feminist center where we had fresh cherries for lunch from the Farmer’s Market, which Ruth so much wanted me to appreciate. And on each New Year’s Eve there was a long telephone call. In return for all the love you both, Ruth as well as you, dear Ira, gave me, I somewhat let her “check” all my life partners on various visits to New York. Ruth took them to the United Nations, Grand Central Terminal and the Empire State Building, where she liked to take photographs, talk about Susan Sontag to us, and later exchange the photos. On one such stroll, she had me stare into a show window as she explained the term “camp,” years before this term made its entrance into German gender studies. She always shared my annoyance about the strange fact that many renowned scholars are forced to teach for free at universities in rich capitalist Germany. Thus, I feel honored to have met her so often and have learned from her. I definitely do miss her, and I will keep her in warm memory.


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