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New York/NY: Ruth Westheimer, America's Number One Sex Therapist

One of Germany's most notorious exports bares a side of herself rarely seen.

Ruth Westheimer, America's number one sex therapistImage: DW

Several thousand Germans of Jewish faith fled their home country when the Nazi regime unleashed its fatal combination of terror and persecution in the 1930's and 1940's. Artists and intellectuals left in droves because the regime severely restricted their freedom of expression. Many of them found a new home in America.

Among them was Ruth Westheimer. She was forced to leave her native Frankfurt at the age of ten. The 72-year-old came to the United States via Palestine. Today she lives in New York, where we visited her in her elegant Upper East Side office.

Dr Ruth is regarded as one of America's leading sex therapists. She is well known for her sparkling wit and for being disarmingly frank. As she herself explains, her most distinguishing feature is her pronounced German accent:

"Henry Kissinger and I always argue over this point. He says my accent is stronger than his. But that isn't true: His accent is more pronounced than mine. For my radio shows, my accent was actually a big advantage: whenever you turned on the radio, you knew immediately that it was me speaking. I couldn't be mistaken for anyone else!"

Sex therapy sessions via radio and television have made Dr. Ruth a household name in America. Beating around the bush is not her style; she comes straight to the point when the topic is sex. On her shows and discussion programs, she uses words like 'orgasm', 'masturbation' and 'libido' without thinking twice - something of a new approach in prudish America.

Yet the short, wiry lady with the gray curls and gold-rimmed spectacles doesn't intend to provoke or scandalize with her blatant talk - she only wants to speak the truth clearly:

"My origins and my experience in Nazi Germany have convinced me that one has to stick by a certain thing if`one firmly believes in. I have to speak my mind on what I believe in, this is something that I learned early on in my childhood."

Ruth Westheimer was born in Frankfurt on the river Main in 1928. She was born into a Jewish family as an only child.

"In 1939, I was sent to Switzerland. For me, the foster home I was sent to turned into an orphanage. Neither my parents nor my grandparents managed to get out of Germany alive. In 1945, I went to Palestine. I joined a Kibbutz in Jerusalem."

In Israel, a tough chapter in Ruth Westheimer's life began. At the age of 16, she joined the underground movement 'Haganah' and fought for the foundation of the state of Israel. Then, in 1948 the trained kindergarten teacher took off to Paris to study Psychology at the prestigious Sorbonne university.

Emigrating to the United States was the last thing on her mind. "In 1956 I was making my way back to Israel, where I was planning to spend the rest of my life. And that's when it suddenly hit me that I should go to America. An uncle of mine lived in San Francisco, and I thought to myself, maybe I should look him up, and see whether he is as short as I am?"

In New York, Ruth Westheimer was granted a scholarship, studied Pedagogic and trained to become a sex therapist. In 1981, she had her first late night radio show. Some 450 TV appearances were to follow.

Meanwhile, this grandmother of two has written more than twenty books on sex and family therapy and teaches at various universities. She even has her own website on the internet, where she answers questions, provides a daily sex tip and where you can hear her give advice in real audio .

Her work brings Dr. Ruth Westheimer to Germany regularly. Every year, she attends the world's biggest international book fair in Frankfurt. However, the thought of spending a vacation in Germany is unimaginable for her. She has too many painful memories associated with her native country:

"I have no problem with young people like you and with people my age. After all I was ten years old and they were children too at that time. I tend to avoid older people, though. And I do not like going to the Frankfurt train station. Because that is where I saaw my paaaaaaaarents for the last time."