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Ralf, born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on September 10, 1933, and his older sister Elinor (Elinoor), born in Hamburg, Germany, on September 8, 1929, were the children of Herbert and Betty Oettinger. Ralf's father, Herbert, served in World War I and received the German Iron Cross 1st Class medal. After World War I Herbert and Betty Oettinger emigrated to Amsterdam to escape antisemitism. In Amsterdam, Jews were well-integrated into Dutch economic and social life. Ralf's father was a successful tobacco merchant and the Oettinger family lived comfortably.
Ralf was almost seven years old, in May 1940, when the Germans occupied The Netherlands. Persecution of the Jews began immediately. Antisemitic measures were enacted; Jewish businesses and bank accounts were confiscated; Jews were barred from most professions and their children were expelled from the public schools. Ralf could no longer play with his non-Jewish friends and was forced to wear the yellow star. Friends, neighbors and teachers suddenly began to disappear. Ralf and his family struggled to cope with the drastic changes in their lives.
On June 20, 1943, the Germans conducted a massive door to door raid. Ralf and his family were arrested and sent to Westerbork Transit Camp, from where they were deported, in spring 1944, to Terezin (Theresienstadt) Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia. Severely crowded and lacking food, medicine and heat, the ghetto was infested with vermin. Ralf and his family were always hungry and constantly lived with the fear of being deported to the death camps in Poland. Herbert, his father worked in the administration of the camp. In September 1944, a day after Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement), Ralf's father was transported to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland. Two weeks later, on October 18, 1944, eleven years old Ralf, his fifteen years old sister Elinor (Elinoor), together with their mother were deported to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. They were gassed immediately upon arrival.