Born In: Karlstadt am Main, Germany
Ruth Westheimer is a German–American author, talk-show host, media personality, and therapist, best known for authoring about 45 books on sex and sexuality. Born in Nazi Germany, she faced the Holocaust during the Second World War and lost both her parents to the Nazi forces. She fled to Switzerland and then moved to Palestine, where she was part of a resistance movement briefly. She eventually studied psychology and sociology and moved to America to forge a career as a lecturer. A lecture she delivered on “safe sex” in New York became a huge breakthrough for her career. In the 1980s, she began a radio show titled Sexually Speaking, which later became Dr. Ruth Show. Over the next few years, she appeared on many radio and TV shows, spreading sexual awareness, primarily among teenagers. She became a national celebrity and ended up writing 45 books, mostly on sex and sexuality. She is a citizen of both the United States of America and Germany and lives in the Washington Heights area in New York City.
Also Known As: Dr. Ruth, Karola Ruth Siegel
Spouse/Ex-: Fred Westheimer (1961 – 1997)
father: Julius Siegel
mother: Irma Siegel
children: Joel Westheimer, Miriam Westheimer
Born Country: Germany
Ancestry: German American, German Swiss
education: The New School, Teachers College - Columbia University
Ruth Westheimer was born Karola Ruth Siegel, in Wiesenfeld, Germany, on June 4, 1928, into a middle-class, orthodox Jewish family. Her parents, Irma and Julius, were ardent Jewish people, and she was taught to follow the faith ever since she was a child. She was the only child in the family. Her mother was a housekeeper, and her father worked as a notions wholesaler.
She was raised near Frankfurt. In the early 1930s, the Nazi Party had a great influence on the country and its population. Hitler, the Nazi Party supreme leader, hated Jews and had made his anti-semitic views public many times. Thus, German Jews began fleeing the country.
Tragedy struck the family when they faced the wrath of Hitler on the “Night of Broken Glass” in 1938. That was when Hitler had officially begun rounding up the Jews. Ruth’s father was taken away by the Nazi officials. Her grandmother even paid the Nazi men to take care of her son.
However, by then, Ruth’s mother and grandmother knew that Germany was not safe for Jews anymore. An 11-year-old Ruth was sent to Switzerland, a place many German Jews were fleeing to. There, she began living in Heiden, taking care of young orphan boys and girls. She was not allowed to study but somehow found a way to sneak books in and continued studying.
By the early 1940s, she knew that her parents had died in what was later known as the “Jewish Holocaust.” At the age of 17, she moved to Jerusalem and joined Haganah, a paramilitary organization and an underground Jewish resistance movement. However, due to her short stature, she was only kept as a scout and a sniper. In 1948, she was badly injured by a hand-grenade and was not able to walk for the next few months.
In 1950, she moved to France and studied psychology at the University of Paris. She later became a lecturer at the same university. She then moved to the United States in 1956 and joined the Columbia University and The New School, a private research university.
After becoming a neutralized citizen of the United States of America in 1965, Ruth Westheimer pursued a Doctor of Education degree from the Columbia University and graduated in 1970. She immediately began working at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., which led her to conduct her research on human sexuality.
Over the course of her career, she has taught at Brooklyn College, West Point, Adelphi University, and Lehman University.
Ruth Westheimer has dedicated almost an entire decade of her life to her studies on human sexual behavior. She once felt that there was a significant lack of sex education even in the Western countries. She delivered a lecture to the radio and TV broadcasters in New York about how media could play a greater role in increasing awareness about sex to avoid unwanted pregnancies and STDs.
She was soon granted her own show on radio. In 1980, she started her radio show Sexually Speaking. It was first telecast on WYNY-FM in New York City. The show initially began airing at on 12 a.m. on Sundays, and Ruth spoke for about 15 minutes.
The show was hugely successfully and grabbed the attention of NBC Radio in the mid-1980s. The show was then syndicated for a nationwide broadcast under the title The Dr. Ruth Show. She was loved on radio for her humor and her accent. She also became known for the catchphrase “get some.” Over time, her hard work paid off and American TV and radio shows opened up about the need to discuss sex education.
By 1984, she had also begun getting offers to appear on TV. In 1984, she made her debut TV appearance with the Lifetime show titled Good Sex! With Dr. Ruth Westheimer. It was a half-hour show that was telecast on weeknights. Within a year, the show became extremely popular and was stretched to an hour on weeknights. It was then named The Dr. Ruth Show.
In 1987, she began her own syndicated series on many stations. It was titled Ask Dr. Ruth. In the next few years, she appeared on many TV shows. Over time, she became a popular name in the American TV arena. One of her most popular shows was the teen-oriented show What’s Up, Dr. Ruth.
In the 1980s, she was a well-known public figure and was invited as a guest on talk shows such as Late Night with David Letterman and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Over the next few years, she further appeared on TV series such as Quantum Leap and in many commercial advertisements.
In 2001, Ruth Westheimer began appearing as Dr. Ruth “Wordheimer” on a kids’ show titled Between the Lions. It featured a parody of her role as a therapist, and she spoke to children to ease their fear of long words. Later that decade, she was featured on the Playboy list of the 55 most important people in sex in the last 55 years. She graced the 13th spot on the list.
In 2013, a play based on her life, titled Becoming Dr. Ruth, was released. It aimed at showcasing her life, from her struggles with the Nazi regime to becoming a celebrity therapist in America.
During her career spanning decades, she has written 45 books. Her first book was titled Dr. Ruth’s Guide to Good Sex, which was released in 1983. After the success of her debut book, she went on to write books such as Sex for Dummies, 52 Lessons on Communicating Love, and Grandparenthood.
Ruth Westheimer keeps appearing on American TV talk shows and has been a subject of many documentary films in the recent years, such as Ask Dr. Ruth, which got a theatrical release and now appears on Hulu.
She is a trustee of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.
More recently, she has appeared on shows such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The View, and Sara and Keke.
Ruth Westheimer mentioned in an interview that she had had sex for the first time when she was 17 years old and was living in Palestine. Back then, she had unprotected sex, and she thus urges teenagers to avoid unsafe sex.
She has married thrice in her life. Her first two marriages took place when she was young, and both ended in divorces. In 1961, she married Fred Westheimer and said that the third time was when she actually knew what marriage was. They were together until Fred passed away in 1997. She has two children from her third marriage.
She currently stays in her old three-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights. She has stayed in that house for many years, both before and after she became rich and famous.
She is multilingual and speaks four languages: English, German, French, and Hebrew.
In 2007, she gained her German citizenship back, owing to the German Citizenship Project that aimed at providing dual citizenship to those who had fled Germany during the Second World War.
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