When I was 10, I escaped Nazi Germany on a Kindertransport — a train that carried Jewish children to safety. I had to leave almost all my dolls and toys in Frankfurt, and I ended up in an orphanage in Switzerland. There was only one doll I could take with me, and on the train I gave it to a younger child who was crying. She needed the doll more than I did.
Now I collect dollhouses. I have six. Two are almost as tall as I am — I'm 4 feet 7. I collect them because I have control over them, which I did not have in my life.
People think they're for my two granddaughters, but they're not. They're for me. I did not get to grow up with a family, so the houses all have families of dolls and tiny toys and teddy bears for the children. Most of the furniture comes from England and is of the period between the two World Wars, when I was a child. Every time I went on a trip, I bought something for the dollhouses.
I don't have so much time to play with the dollhouses now, but when I'm sad, I can stand in front of one and move some of the dolls, and it gives me comfort. In one house right now there is a housemaid who is working very hard. I actually was trained in Switzerland as a housemaid. The orphanage trained all the girls in household chores so we'd be able to make a living.
Last summer I bought a small replica of a sculpture called "Kindertransport" by a sculptor who also was an orphan of the Holocaust, Frank Meisler. He was sent to England. The real sculpture is standing at Liverpool Street Station in London, as Meisler's thank-you for being rescued. In the sculpture, there's a little girl who's holding a doll who could absolutely have been me. I have the replica on my coffee table, and when I pass by, I say how fortunate that I was saved. Some of my things are more lighthearted, though. I have a collection of six clay oil lamps that I've found in Tel Aviv starting about 15 years ago. I had to have them because some of them show sexual positions. They're very old — ancient — and very precious.
And my friend made some of my books in miniature for the dollhouse. I have Sex for Dummies; I have Heavenly Sex in there. It's very, very cute.
I've also collected about 40 little turtle figurines, which have meaning for me. If a turtle wants to move, it has to take a risk — it has to stick its neck out. It could get hurt. But if it does not stick its neck out, it doesn't move. So that's me. I stick my neck out. I talked about sex when nobody else talked about it. Friends buy turtles for me as gifts. But don't get me any more — I have enough!
— As told to Christina Ianzito
Dr. Ruth Westheimer, 87, is a sex therapist in New York. Her latest book is The Doctor Is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life and Joie de Vivre.
Below she shares examples from her collection, with a few words about each item.