Share this article

print logo

Apple CEO draws inspiration from Amherst woman's Kristallnacht recollection

Apple CEO Tim Cook earlier this month spoke about 100-year-old Ruth Lansing and her recollections of Kristallnacht.

Cook learned about what the Amherst resident saw Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, when Nazis unleashed widespread terror against Jews, from her comments in a radio interview in November with the BBC.

The recent attention has surprised Lansing.

"It never occurred to me that the BBC would pick up my story and that Tim Cook would quote excerpts from my speech," Lansing said.

Cook spoke of her in a Dec. 3 speech in New York City for the Anti-Defamation League's "Never Is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate." He received the ADL's first "Courage Against Hate" award.

"We as individuals have the power to know, and feel and act; and we ought to use it. That's a lesson that Ruth Lansing knows well," Cook said.

"Ruth just turned 100 on Nov. 13," he said. "She was recently interviewed by the BBC for a more solemn occasion, the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, an event she witnessed firsthand while visiting Düsseldorf around her 20th birthday. She remembers the shattered windows, the fine China and furniture thrown into the street, the businesses smashed, the curses of the mob.

"At a moment when the struggle against hate has renewed importance, the BBC asked Ruth if she had something to say to the world to mark her 100th birthday," Cook said. " 'Yes, I do have a message,' she said. 'We only have one life, so why not use it to make the world a better place?' "

The ADL has shown that incidents of anti-Semitism were nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than they were in 2016.

Cook also wrote Lansing and enclosed an Apple-made gift along with the letter.

"I recently heard your powerful and moving memories of Kristallnacht on BBC Radio. Your memories of this dark chapter in our history are more important now than any time since, and I wanted to thank you for sharing them with the world," Cook wrote.

Cook enclosed the speech he gave to the ADL and said the audience had been "moved by your strength and resilience, as well as your hopeful dream of a future free from hate."

Lansing was touched by Cook's letter and gesture.

"He sent me a lovely letter and an iPad Pro with all the 'fixings,' " Lansing said. "How is that for a birthday present?"

Lansing, who was born in Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1948, was profiled in "The Survivors," a special section of The Buffalo News published on April 23, 2017, about Holocaust survivors who are living in Western New York after having fled Eastern Europe to escape the Nazis.

Lansing's parents, a sister and other relatives perished in Nazi concentration camps.

More recently, Lansing wrote a Nov. 4 column in The Buffalo News about living through Kristallnacht and how it was a harbinger of things to come.

The Buffalo News' column, which appeared a week before Lansing's 100th birthday, was followed by a talk she gave at Congregation Shir Shalom in Amherst. Soon after, the BBC came calling.

Lansing is also scheduled to give an upcoming talk at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown. She previously spoke there in 2002. It's particularly fitting since Jackson, a future Supreme Court justice, was chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials. Lansing, working with the U.S. Army as an Allied civilian employee, was a translator at the trials.

"It is very kind that the people at Jackson Center want to interview me again," Lansing said.

Ruth's son Tom Lansing, in a social media post, expressed his amazement at his mother's newfound celebrity.

"For the 99 years of her life, my mother Ruth Lansing was just living her life, raising a family, playing tennis and on occasion speaking on her experiences regarding the Nazi atrocities and losing most of her family in the Holocaust," Tom Lansing said.

"At 100, however, she has become a minor international celebrity, first speaking on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht and then being interviewed by the BBC for the world to hear. One of those people who heard her was Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple computer ... Life starts at 100!"

Ruth Lansing believes it's important that people remember the horrors of the Holocaust, and the inhumanity that can be unleashed by authoritarians with the complicity of an ignorant public.

"I would like to think that the horrors of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust will always be remembered," Lansing said.  "The Jewish people certainly will never forget.

"For the rest, memory being what is, I am not too sure," Lansing said. "One can only hope."

There are no comments - be the first to comment