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Group portrait of students in an English language class for deaf immigrants

Hilda Rattner (born Hilda Wiener ) was born into a Jewish family in Vienna on June 14, 1904. Not long after her birth, Hilda’s parents realized that she was deaf. Two years later, their fourth child, Richard, was born, and he was also deaf.

Vienna in particular had a very vibrant deaf community where Jews and non-Jews mixed freely. Hilda and her brother Richard attended a Jewish school, where they learned to sign, and it was through these associations and activities that Hilda met Isadore Rattner, a deaf Jew from Poland. They married, and had three deaf children: Nelly, Joseph (who died at nine months), and Lilly. Over the years, Isadore and Hilda grew apart and filed for seperation.

In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria. When Hilda saw Adolf Hitler during a military parade, surrounded by saluting Austrians, she realized that she and her family would have to escape. Hilda began to finalize plans for emigration. In April, 1940, they left quietly in the early morning. They boarded the SS Rex on a ten-day voyage to New York. When they arrived, they found that only their hearing grandmother would be allowed to disembark. Immigration officials were not convinced that four deaf people would be able to support themselves. The following day, they were ferried to Ellis Island, where they remained for five months. They eventually gained admittance to the United States, but only after immigration officials required that the family pay a $2,500 bond to show that they could support themselves while looking for work.

In the evenings, Hilda and Richard attended English classes taught by a deaf teacher from Gallaudet University. They excelled at their studies and quickly learned enough to pass their citizenship exams. Through another student in their class, they learned the fate of Hilda's husband, Isadore. He had been sent to a concentration camp with a group of other deaf people, and was thought to have died in the gas chambers.


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  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Hilda Wiener Rattner
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Group portrait of students in an English language class for deaf immigrants

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