Dr. Ruth Westheimer Overview (02:11)
The sex therapist is famous for her no nonsense approach and support of legalized abortion and AIDS awareness. She escaped Nazi Germany, becoming a sniper in Israel, before entering academics, marriage, and motherhood.
Early Childhood (02:38)
While famous for sex therapy, Westheimer’s Jewish roots shaped her experience. She was born Karola Ruth Siegel in 1928 in Germany to middle class Orthodox parents. She recalls attending synagogue with her father as an only child.
Nazi Regime (02:05)
In 1933, Westheimer turned 5 and Hitler rose to power. Germany's Jewish community was disenfranchised and businesses were marked with the yellow star. The Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of civil rights.
Kristallnacht and Kindertransport (03:35)
In 1938, Hitler ordered a terror campaign against German Jews; 25,000 men were removed to detention camps, including Westheimer's father Julius. In 1939, she joined a group of Jewish children being evacuated from Germany; she recalls saying goodbye to her mother.
Life in a Safe Haven (02:24)
Westheimer, ten-years-old, was placed in a children's home for Swiss Jews. It was kept spotless; hear a typical day of chores. She cared for and taught younger children, and was motivated by Jewish tradition to study on her own.
World War II (02:48)
Westheimer corresponded with her parents from Heiden, Switzerland but they stopped writing in November 1941. They were transported to a ghetto in Poland with forced labor and unsanitary conditions. Survivors were exported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Family Loss (02:38)
Westheimer learned about the Holocaust from children arriving from concentration camps. After five years, she lost hope of her parents' survival. She stayed in Switzerland through her teenage years; hear a diary entry expressing self-doubt and grief.
Jewish Homeland (03:27)
When World War II ended, people discovered the extent of Nazi atrocities. Unable to return to Germany, Westheimer became fascinated with Zionism and immigrated to Palestine. The British placed newcomers in a camp with barbed wire.
Losing Virginity (03:13)
Collective philosophy became integral to Zionist ideals. Westheimer dropped her German first name Karola, adopted Ruth, and joined a kibbutz. She became a kindergarten teacher, but still felt teenage insecurities. She recalls sleeping with a British soldier.
Joining the Haganah (03:22)
Westheimer lost faith in the kibbutzim movement and began studying to become a kindergarten teacher. Learn about political events leading to the 1947 civil war in Palestine. Westheimer joined the underground Jewish army and trained as a sniper.
Arab-Israeli War (02:53)
In 1948, the British withdrew and David Ben Gurion proclaimed an independent Israeli state. A coalition of Arab nations invaded; Westheimer was wounded by an exploding shell and endured a long convalescence.
Emigrating to France (02:21)
In 1949, the Arab-Israeli war ended. Westheimer began teaching Yemeni refugee children but was disillusioned with life in Israel. She and her first husband moved to Paris, where she worked as a Jewish kindergarten director and studied clinical psychology at the Sorbonne.
Emigrating to the U.S. (02:09)
Westheimer married her second husband and moved to New York. She got master's degrees in sociology and psychology at NYU and gave birth to Miriam in 1957. Her marriage ended a year later; she reflects on being a single, working mother.
Contraception and Abortion Work (02:11)
Westheimer married her third husband, a German Jew, in 1961. They had a son, Joel, and Westheimer worked as a researcher at Columbia University. In 1967, she took a job at Planned Parenthood where she became interested in women's reproductive rights.
Becoming a Sex Therapist (03:09)
By 1970, sexual self-help was popular. Westheimer had a PhD in education and retrained as a psycho-sexual therapist in 1976. In 1980, she took a Sunday night slot on a radio broadcast, answering caller questions and speaking openly about sex issues.
Celebrity Status (02:33)
Westheimer published "Dr. Ruth's Guide to Good Sex," expanded her radio show to tow hours, and began doing cable TV shows. She hired actors to represent issues and took a "grandmotherly" approach. In 1987, her show “Ask Dr. Ruth” went on broadcast television.
AIDS Awareness (01:52)
In the 1980s, Westheimer began advocating protected sex; she continues to support AIDS charities today. She publishes a book per year and communicates with a 21st century audience through her website.
Remaining True to Jewish Roots (03:09)
Westheimer reunites with her Kindertransport group and gives Holocaust remembrance talks each year. She's close to her children and continues lecturing on sex education and sex psychotherapy.
Credits: Dr Ruth Westheimer: Extraordinary Women (00:50)
Credits: Dr Ruth Westheimer: Extraordinary Women
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