The story of Ralph Troll as told by Sarah Callahan of Moline, Illinois and illustrated by Autumn Singleton of Rock Island, Illinois.
Sarah is from Moline, Illinois and is very involved with 4-H activities at the extension office at University of Illinois. She signed up for a summer class to become an author through A BOOK by ME. Sarah has two brothers and one sister. She is home schooled and has six pets, including two dogs, one cat, two rabbits and a rat. Sarah is involved with Girl Scouts along with soccer, softball and basketball.
Autumn is a student at East Moline Christian School. She also enjoys many classes through the extension office at University of Illinois Extension Office. She has a passion for art.
In 1938, when Ralph was six years old, his family moved from Darmstadt, Germany to a small, isolated farm in the countryside about ten miles from the Rhine River. They were hoping to escape the Nazi persecution sweeping the country threatening Ralph's mother who was Jewish. Because of this, Ralph was officially designated a Halbjude (literally, a "half Jew") and was not allowed to continue his schooling beyond the elementary level. The Nazi party
Ralph & his little sister
believed a Jewish child was not worthy of an education. They had taken over the schools changing the German student's school day to resemble basic training including marching lessons, etc.
His father was a chemist and continued his work although the lab had been bombed. Ralph, his parents and his baby sister often spent nights in the cellar of the farmhouse or days in nearby foxholes to escape Allied bombing raids. His father built cots so they could be a bit more comfortable in their new cellar "bedroom". Their home sat on five acres and they grew asparagus and potatoes so they did not starve as many people did during this time period. They also raised chickens, rabbits and goats so they were well fed. There they had no running water or electricity - they had a kerosene lamp and a pump to get their water. There were nice German neighbors in the country who risked their lives to protect Jews who were running and hiding. Ralph's family was cheering for the Allies knowing they could stop Hitler's madness.
Although there was a constant fear of attack or betrayal, he and his parents worked hard to keep food on the table and to help others when the need arose. In February, 1945, however, the Gestapo suddenly appeared in the middle of the night and took his mother away to Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. She was forced to travel for five days on a cattle car to reach her destination - a forced labor camp (thankfully not a death camp). His mother was surrounded by sickness (typhus) and had a very meager food supply while working as a slave at this camp. Three months after she was taken, Ralph's father received a letter in the mail which was a receipt for his mother. She was treated no better than an animal - all because of her Jewish faith.
Ralph was now twelve years old and he was fearful yet hopeful his family would survive and be reunited. His sister was being cared for by a family in a nearby town because his father felt she would be safer. Months later, after World War II ended, the Russians liberated the concentration camp, allowing his mother to return to their family. They were determined to leave Europe and come to the United States so they made their way to a Displaced Persons camp where they took care of the necessary paperwork. They were on board the ship called SS Ernie Pile and Ralph saw the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor on January 16, 1947. His family then made their way from New York to Illinois.
He resumed his schooling in Chicago, Illinois unable to speak English but determined to get his education. After serving in the United States Army during the Korean War, Ralph earned a Ph.D., and is professor emeritus of biology at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Today, Ralph and his wife, Loretta, have three children, seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
Ralph was the keynote speaker for the 2009 Yom Hashoah, a Holocaust Remembrance ceremony at Temple Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa. Yom Hashoah translated means "Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust". As part of the annual observance, memorial candles are lit for the six million Jews - and millions of others - who were murdered by Nazi Germany and its allies before and during World War II.
His message to students today is "don't every let anyone tell you you're not worthy of an education". He knows education is one thing nobody can ever take away from you.