Ruth Weiss – Germany

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “Life is a never-ending learning process. I learned everyone is unique, yet everyone has equal rights. I learned it is essential to defend such rights, to respect the rich diversity of cultures”.

Ruth Weiss - Germany two.jpg
Ruth Weiss – Germany

An exemplary biography of the 20th century: Ruth Weiss is born into a Jewish family in Germany in 1924. In 1936, she arrives in South Africa with her family and experiences the development of apartheid. She defies the system with her typewriter, quietly but with determination, in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Europe. She does research, reports, forms friendships, participates in projects to overcome racism. Her strongest quality: she listens. Listening is the basis for understanding, understanding paves the way to reconciliation – a model for peace that can be applied globally.

Ruth Weiss, journalist and author, is a restless wanderer between various worlds and cultures, in Africa and Europe, a living story and history book. She has written about her life in her book Wege im Harten Gras. In a postscript to this autobiography, her friend Nadine Gordimer, recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature, wrote of Ruth Weiss’ motives:

“I know that she has not been prompted by vanity; nothing could be further from her nature. I believe that, considering her life, she came to see, as anyone reading this book will, that fate, chance, an accident of birth and the drama of history – call it what you will – have woven her life into a pattern belonging specifically to our century, a piece of social history that should not be kept to herself, but set down for us, her contemporaries.”

Providence, fate, chance of birth: Ruth Weiss was born as Ruth Loewenthal in the German town of Fürth. Although a sheltered child, she was confronted as a ten year-old with the grim reality of Nazism which spared no Jew, whether orthodox or liberal. The experience of that time marked her for life. Although involvement with Judaism receded into the background during Ruth Weiss’ African decades, it later took center stage. She is not concerned with the issue of a “chosen people,” but with the question as to why Jews were constantly subjected to persecution. The author’s latest book, entitled ‘Der Judenweg’ (the Jews’ Path), describes the fictitious life of a Jew, like all Jews shunned by society in the years following the Thirty Years War.

The drama of history: in 1936 Ruth Weiss left Germany and emigrated to South Africa where the family settled in Johannesburg. Her parents ran a general dealer’s store, Ruth continued her schooling. She soon realized that South Africa was a deeply divided country: Black workers had long been exploited by the white minority and numerous laws and daily customs deeply entrenched discrimination. The black disenfranchised opposition was ostracized, in particular the African National Congress (ANC), founded in 1912, and was forced to go underground after 1960. In 1948 apartheid was legalized and became the white government’s deathly ideology over four long decades.

As a young woman Ruth Weiss held various jobs before she became an economic journalist. She worked first for news media in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, subsequently for the Guardian in London, before returning to Zambia, where she worked as a Financial Times correspondent and business editor of the Times of Zambia. Within a short time she became known in her field as an accepted authority. She reported the situation in southern Africa without compromise, including political and social issues, apart from economics and soon ran into difficulties with the authorities. She was justifiably suspected of making common cause with the oppressed blacks. In 1968 she was declared persona non grata in Southern Rhodesia, where she worked at the time, as a result of which she was also blacklisted in South Africa and denied re-entry. Similarly she was barred from Portuguese-held Mozambique at that time.

During the following two-and-a-half decades Ruth Weiss led a restless life with her son in several countries: in Britain, Zambia and Germany, where she worked in Cologne in the African department of The Voice of Germany, and, after 1980, in Zimbabwe. In addition to journalism she became engaged with training. The journalist passed on her knowledge. She organized media seminars and in Zimbabwe trained economic journalists.

In the course of her quiet, but continuous work Ruth Weiss became “a shrewd and greatly trusted interpreter of African thought, aims and strategies, and a friend of many black leaders and – perhaps more important – ordinary people.” (Nadine Gordimer). It seems as if she were for ever learning to combine various threads of her experience. She is assisted by her ability to listen and by the deep and genuine interest in all the people she meets. This woman has experienced and heard stories since her childhood, which she has stored in a phenomenal memory, so that she can recall them at any time and connect them with each other. This web of tales deals with human issues and the urgent teaching that people must live at peace with each other as equals.

Ruth Weiss says: “Life is a never ending learning process. I learned that people are different but entitled to equal rights. I also learned that these rights must be defended. This means that the rich cultural differences must be accepted and respected, so that people of different cultures can live in harmony with each other.”

Many building bricks are used in conflict resolution. For instance, Ruth Weiss worked between 1988 und 1993 together with Dr. Helmut Orbon, Moeletsi Mbeki (the younger brother of the current South African President Thabo Mbeki) and others in the development of the Zimbabwe Institute for Southern Africa (ZISA) at Cold Comfort Farm. ZISA enabled members of the liberation movements and white South Africans – women, legal experts, economists, businessmen and others – to meet each other in secret and pave the way for the peaceful end of apartheid. Until the final years of the 1980s no one imagined that this could happen so quickly. ZISA led directly to the constitutional changes discussed at Kempton Park, leading in 1994 to democratic government. The journal Entwicklungspolitik wrote: “ZISA is a model for successful conflict resolution and crisis prevention – themes currently much talked about, but in respect of which there are few successful efforts.”

A few years later, this project led to Ruth Weiss’ concern with the conflict in Northern Ireland. She visited Ireland regularly over a three-year period and then compared the situation in southern Africa with that in Northern Ireland in a study published under the title Peace in Their Time (British Academic Press), covering events leading to the Belfast Good Friday Agreement of 1997.

Though she returned to Europe in her later years, Africa remained in her heart. This is recorded in a number of different books with African themes: including Women of Zimbabwe, Mandelas zornige Erben (Mandela’s Angry Heirs), the novel Meine Schwester Sara (My Sister Sara), the children’s book Feresia, and a biography of Sir Garfield Todd, to name but a few. Today Ruth Weiss considers her visits to German schools most interesting, where she is invited to talk about African issues, and also about her life. She sees her life under the motto “Closing Circles”. As a preface to her autobiography she chose a poem by Mascha Kaléko, from which the following lines are quoted:

“I always wish to ask you quietly,
Do you know that we are secret sisters?
You, the Congo’s dark-brown daughter,
I, Europe’s pale Jewish child.”

Bibliography:

In English:
South Africa, The Economic Factor (London, 1974);
Strategic Highways of Africa, with Guy Arnold (London, 1978);
The Women of Zimbabwe (London, 1986);
Introduction to Economic Reporting (Harare, 1987);
Zimbabwe and the New Elite (London, 1994);
Sir Garfield Todd and The Making of Zimbabwe, with Jane Papart (London 1998);
Peace in Their Time; the peace process in Northern Ireland and southern Africa (London, 2000);
Continuous publications in African Contemporary Record (NewYork).

In German:
Lied ohne Musik (autobiography, Laetare Verlag 1980);
Frauen gegen Apartheid (ed., Rowohlt 1980);
Die Frauen von Zimbabwe (Frauenbuchverlag 1983);
Afrika den Europäern, with Hans Meyer (about the 1884 Berlin Conference, Peter Hammer Verlag 1984);
Wir sind alle Südafrikaner (short history of South Africa, EB Verlag 1986);
Mandelas zornige Erben, with Hannelore Oesterle (about the uprising of the youth in the 1980s, Peter Hammer 1986);
Die Saat geht auf (Zimbabwe’s agriculture, Peter Hammer 1987);
Feresia (children’s book, a day in the life of a child in Zimbabwe, Peter Hammer 1988);
Menschen werfen Schatten (profile of a land project in the Zambesi valley, Peter Hammer 1989);
Wege Im harten Gras (autobiography, postscript by Nadine Gordimer, Peter Hammer 1994);
Sascha und die neun alten Männer (children’s book, Peter Hammer 1997);
Geteiltes Land (profie of southern Africa, EB Verlag, 1997);
Reise nach Gaborone (short stories, Komzi Verlag 1997);
Nacht des Verrats (thriller, Horlemann Verlag, 2000);
Meine Schwester Sara (novel, Maro Verlag 2002; DTV 2004);
Blutsteine (novel, Maro Verlag 2003);
Der Judenweg (novel, Mosse Verlag 2004).
(Read all on 1000peacewomen).

Ruth Weiss wurde 1924 in Fürth geboren und konnte mit ihrer Familie 1936 in letzter Minute nach Südafrika emigrieren.Sie schreibt darüber in ihrer Autobiographie Wege im harten Gras: ” Es war ein Exil, solange man lebt. Es war eine Reise in ein Land, daß mit seiner Unterdrückung und Vernichtung von Menschenleben nicht anders war, als das Deutschland der Nazis, das wir gerade verlassen hatten.” Ruth Weiss zieht daraus Konsequenzen für ihr eigenes Leben. Sie setzt sich in Südafrika massiv gegen die alltägliche Apartheid ein, wird Journalistin und schreibt gegen das Unrechtssystem. In Südafrika wird sie zur Persona non grata erklärt und darf nicht mehr nach Südafrika reisen. Sie arbeitete damals in Südrhodesien und begleitete die Unabhängigkeit Zimbabwes, muß auch hier wieder das Land verlassen, lebte dann in England, Deutschland und Sambia. Ruth Weiss bereiste fast alle Länder Afrikas. Ruth Weiss beschreibt anhand von Einzelschicksalen sehr persönlich und menschlich wichtige politische Ereignisse dieses Jahrhunderts. Sie erzählt ihr Leben als Frau, als Jüdin, politische Beobachterin und Journalistin. (Siehe den Rest in GRIOT).

links:

WoZ;

Autorinnenlesung;

Nacht des Verrats, Goethe-Institut Kamerun;

Der wundersame Aufstieg des Daniel Löw.

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