The biography of a little-known figure who escaped Nazi Germany as a teenager and, after a colorful series of careers, went to work as a cataloger for the Library of Congress for two decades.
The first book by fellow librarian Stewart takes advantage of Ruth Rappaport's (1923-2010) voluminous diaries and letters as well as an oral history recorded a few weeks before her death, all now stored at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. In 1938, then 15-year-old Rappaport, “a diligent, intense, bespectacled bookworm who questioned everyone and everything,” boarded a train for a visit from her home in Leipzig to Zurich and then refused to go back with the mother who, like her father, would later die in a concentration camp. In Zurich, she was taken in by a series of foster families, one of which complained that she was “spoiled and self-important,” while she waited to get a visa to the United States. A year later, she moved in with her wealthy aunt and uncle in Seattle, where she continued a heavy involvement with the Zionist movement that she had begun back in Germany. After years of dropping into and out of college and working for various papers in Israel, Paris, and New York, she settled on librarianship as a career. In Saigon during the Vietnam War, she was responsible for establishing a network of libraries for those in all of the armed forces. Then, from 1971 to 1993, she worked as a cataloger at the Library of Congress, where her first job was to recatalog a collection that included “pornography, erotica, race-track guides and other items confiscated by the FBI.” Stewart is frank about Rappaport's prickly personality, her tendency to carry on with married men, and the idealism that led her to abandon one project or person after another. Those details, coupled with more admirable qualities like curiosity and drive, serve to make her an entertaining presence.
A lively, chatty exploration of a life that veered in many intriguing directions.