Can you tell me where you were born?
My name is Mrs. Hindi Merlin, née Grunstein. I was born in the town of Nizimy Remetach. At that time it was part of Czechoslovakia but it was constantly changing hands — first to Slovakia, then to Russia, etc. When I was three years old my family moved to the city of Munkacs. From there we were on the move to Zilina where two of my mother’s sisters lived; however, the town was extremely Zionistic so my family moved to Tirnava. Tirnava was a very nice frum town with a shochet, Jewish stores, chadarim and shuls.
What memories can you share with us about your family?
My parents were Shimshon Eliyahu and Gittel Grunstein, both born in Hungary. We were four children; I had an older brother and sister and one younger brother. We were Munkatcher Chassidim. In fact, the Munkatcher Rebbe was the mohel and sandak at my oldest brother’s bris and the Rebbe came to the vacht nacht in our sukkah.
My father was a veteran of World War I. During the war my father’s arm was injured and he had limited use of his hand afterwards. He received a letter as a war veteran that he was 75 percent incapacitated. Due to the wound, he also received a stipend from the government, which he invested in a restaurant. Although my mother didn’t have an official job, she did part-time work as a tailor.
What kind of education did you receive?
I went to a Bais Yaakov school. My brothers attended cheder where my father taught.
Did you feel anti-Semitism prior to the onset of war in your town? Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at the time?
As my brother walked to cheder the gentile boys would beat him up. So each morning my mother awoke at 7 a.m. to accompany my brother so that he would be there on time without sustaining injuries. We knew that they were hurting the Jews in Poland and Germany as well as other towns in Slovakia, but we viewed it as anti-Semitism; we never imagined that humans could be so cruel.
When did you begin feeling the pressures of the war?
In 1940 the German soldiers marched in. There was no one to apprehend them or fight back. The situation changed very rapidly from bad to worse.
One night as my father was returning from davening Maariv, he heard someone shouting, “Help! Help!” and saw a gentile beating a Jewish man. Although my father had just one working hand, he was a tough person and he returned the blows to this gentile man. The gentile promised to get even with my father.
When the German soldiers came into town, this man, along with an SS soldier, arrived at our door. Luckily my father was not home at the time. My mother secretly sent a message to the cheder where my father was teaching, warning him not to come home but instead to go straight to the train station. My mother packed a bag of food and clothing and my sister and I took it to the station where we met my father. Every few weeks the soldiers would return to check if my father was there. My father would continuously send us money to live off. He was forced to stay away from home for four years.
How were the townspeople affected once the Germans settled in town?
The Germans began their mission by confiscating the Jewish businesses. In addition, they were constantly fabricating stories and making trouble for the Jews. All the Jewish schools were closed.
In 1942, they began rounding up the Jews and taking them away in cattle cars headed for Auschwitz. This is when we realized that something terrible was about to happen. We, too, were taken to the railroad station.
My mother had identification papers which she presented to the Germans. She told them that she was Hungarian and not Slovakian and therefore she was sure that we would be exempt from this round-up. Under normal circumstances the Germans made no differentiation between Slovakian Jews and Hungarian Jews; a Jew was a Jew and everyone was taken. However, Yad Hashem intervened; the guard on duty told my mother that if she takes her family and leaves the country within 48 hours she will be okay, but if they find her after that, she will go along with the rest of the townspeople in the cattle cars. Naturally my mother took the family and we immediately escaped to the border between Slovakia and Hungary.