Ruth Hagen Alper, retired elementary school teacher who fled Nazi Germany after Kristallnacht, dies

Ruth Hagen Alper, a retired Baltimore County teacher who fled Nazi Germany and witnessed the aftermath of Kristallnacht as a six-year-old, died of Parkinson’s disease complications and COVID-19 at Brightview Fallsgrove in Rockville on Jan. 4. The former Randallstown resident was 90.

Born in Magdeburg, Germany, she was the daughter of Izaak Hagen, a clothing salesperson and Berta Weissenberg, a homemaker.


Mrs. Alper’s son, Ronald “Ron” Alper, said she and her family became aware of the danger the German government posed to Jews in the late 1930s.

OBIT: Ruth Hagen Alper
- Original Credit: Handout

“Her aunt Ester was street smart and prescient,” he said. “She worked in a lawyer’s office and learned how to bribe Nazi officials to get the papers to leave the country.”


Mrs. Alper also shared memories of Nazi persecution like Kristallnacht, which was Germany’s widespread attacks on Jews in November 1938 and is seen as the start of the Holocaust.

“My mother remembered being told she had to leave her German elementary school because she was Jewish. She also remembered Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, and walking through Magdeburg and seeing burned out buildings and broken glass on the street.”

She joined her parents, her brother Max, two aunts and uncles, and three first cousins, on the steamship Orinoco at Hamburg. One cousin, an infant, died on the voyage and was buried at sea.

“My mother was aware of the incident and how it affected Berta, her mother, all her life,” said her son.

Mrs. Alper arrived in Havana, Cuba in Feb. 1939 because she was not allowed in the U.S. due to immigration quotas being filled. She and her and her parents lived in Havana until the family was able to gain entry into the U.S. in the summer of 1941.

She recalled seeing the steamship Saint Louis idling in the Havana harbor. The ship carried Jews and oppressed minorities but was unable to find a home for its passengers. The Cuban government canceled their landing permits and the U.S. would also not accept the passengers.

“My mother and her family and one aunt settled in Miami, Florida,” her son said. “Her native language was German. She learned Spanish while in Cuba and then had to learn English when the family finally settled in the U.S.”

Her aunts and uncles, a number of cousins and her grandmother remained in Germany and disappeared. Mrs. Alper believed they were likely killed at the Belzec extermination camp in Nazi occupied Poland.


She graduated from Miami Beach Senior High School and in June 1950 received a bachelor of education degree at the University of Miami.

There she met her future husband Clifford D. Alper in 1951. She saw him hitchhiking and gave him a lift. They married in 1953.

Mrs. Alper began teaching elementary school in Miami after graduation.

The family settled in Baltimore in 1960 when her husband began teaching at what was then Towson State Teachers College. They moved to Flagtree Lane in Baltimore County in 1963. She later earned a master’s degree at Towson University.

In 1966, she began teaching elementary school in the Baltimore County system. Over a career of about 30 years, she taught at Scott’s Branch Elementary and Franklin Elementary schools.


“She was an optimist and her students liked her. She was a thoroughly sweet person,” said fellow Baltimore County teacher, Robert “Bob” Cohen.

Her daughter, Lynn Stander, said her parents bought a season subscription to the Washington Opera.

“While my father spent for the tickets, he and my mother would go six hours in advance to ensure they found a free parking spot on the street,” she said.

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Mrs. Alper was a member of two book clubs and enjoyed tennis, golf and bridge. She was also a docent at the Hopkins Evergreen Museum on Charles Street.

“She was a docent for 20 years and the experience mixed her love of teaching with art,” said Stander . “She was masterful in her personal interactions with people. It was about them, not her.”

When she moved to Springhouse assisted living facility in Pikesville due to her Parkinson’s, she arranged to have the Baltimore County Public Library bookmobile come to the facility.


After moving to Brightview Fallsgrove in Rockville, she began a bridge group there.

In September 2022 artist Gunter Demnig installed a “Stolperstein” or stumbling stone memorial at her last home in Magdeburg. The artist has erected many of these stone memorials to Jews, homosexuals, the disabled and Romani who died as a result of Nazi persecution.

Survivors include a son, Ronald “Ron” Alper of Columbia; a daughter, Lynn Stander of Rockville; a brother, Max Hagen of Charlotte, North Carolina; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Her husband, Clifford D. Alper, a Towson University music education professor, died in 2019.

Services were held Jan. 8 at Sol Levinson and Brothers in Pikesville.