50 Over 50 Project for 2020


Gitta Ryle

Age: 88


"Love yourself.
Accept, adapt and adjust."

Age: 88
Profession: Retired Business Woman. Currently a Public Speaker.

What is the best thing about being your age?
Feeling comfortable in my own skin. Having made peace with myself and humanity.

What hardships have you endured that you feel have made you stronger?
Surviving the Holocaust as a youngster. I was born in 1932, in Vienna, Austria. When I was seven years old, the Nazis occupied Vienna and my father was captured. My mother would not leave the city because her parents still lived there, so she decided the best choice of survival for my 10-year-old sister Renee and I was to be sent to the organization Œuvre de secours aux enfants (OSE), a French-Jewish humanitarian organization which assisted refugee children from Germany and Austria by taking us to France to evade being captured by the Nazis.

At the time, no one knew that the Nazis would occupy France, so for seven years we ran to different locations and hid, staying ahead of the Nazis. I was too young to understand why my mother placed us with this organization. I thought our parents had abandoned us because they did not love us anymore.

In 1946, seven years later, we were reunited with my mother after the war. My father, and most of his family, were killed in Auschwitz. Despite our reunion, I carried a great sense of anger, abandonment, not wanting to live, and revenge upon the Nazis into my adulthood.

It was not until I had my own children and started psychotherapy and a life-long self-examination that I was finally able to forgive myself and be at peace. To truly know myself I had to forgive myself for holding on to all the negative thoughts and feelings I had in my mental and physical body – fear, anger, not trusting society, revenge, etc. Once I learned that, I had a choice to release all the negativity and not be responsible for what others did. I no longer am a victim and I LIVE not just exist.

Today, my discovery of the importance of self-forgiveness in order to heal is what drives me to speak to students and adults about the trauma l went through. My purpose for speaking to groups is also to connect and to make ambassadors of my experience, so that we never forget there was a World War II and a Holocaust.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Bringing three wonderful beings into this world and a great marriage.

What is your most treasured possession?
Health and mental well being. My children and grandchildren.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Contentment is a better word for me – to visit family and friends.

What is a trait you are most proud of?
My tenacity and following through.

What is your greatest fear?
Physical and mental PAIN.

What do you most value in your friends?
That they accept me as I am, warts and all.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Love and accept yourself as you are.

What is your motto or favorite quote?
Live in the moment, and love and peace for all.