Longtime Rappahannock County resident Renate Ruzich, who recently turned 90, finally published the memoir that friends who had seen the manuscript, or heard her tell her story, had been urging her to do for years. Titled “Jumping Off the Devil’s Shovel,” a reference to the metaphorical German phrase for escaping disaster at the last moment, the book is published by AuthorHouse and now available at Amazon.com. It tells the story of Renate’s escape from the family estate in East Prussia in 1945, just one step ahead of the advancing Russian forces.
The Von Kuenheim estate had 23 families serving it. Renate’s father was the owner and operator, but he had been drafted into the German army in 1944. Renate’s stepmother made the decisions now. The regional governor did not allow anyone to leave until January 22. Renate and her brother Gert held hands in the barn, hearing the thunder of artillery shells. They calmly discussed the best ways to die, a common topic among those who had heard the tales of refugees streaming westwards.
Due to the scheming of the stepmother, Renate was alone except for her horse, Tasha. She was 17, had the clothes on her back, a knife and the pistol her father had taught her to shoot. Fortunately, she also had a great deal of practical knowledge. As children, she and her brother were taught everything about horses, farming and forestry. The main roads to the west were packed with people, wagons and horses with many people dying along the way, so Renate found side roads where empty houses sometimes provided fodder for Tasha, shelter for horse and rider, and, very occasionally, food for her. Along the way she met people who helped and protected her, but danger was everpresent.
Renate turned 18 on the trip west and met soldiers from different armies, some of whom treated her badly as a German. When she reached Berlin, she found her real mother through the Red Cross, who helped her become a maid to an American family. She herself became a model and had small roles in movies. Eventually, she met U.S. Army Lt. Rudy Ruzich. Renate lived through the Berlin airlift and the division of the city. She found her father, who had been a Russian prisoner of war for five years. Both her parents were at her wedding.
Renate and husband Rudy, a career officer, later were stationed in many interesting places until he retired; wherever they were posted, Renate soon enough would organize riding schools. Even in retirement, Renate not only rode again, but became a recognized dressage judge much in demand at dressage events in many parts of the U.S. She is now living quietly in nearby Orange.