Can you tell me where you were born?
My name is Esther Grunwald née Wulliger. I was born in Ephaze, Hungary. There were around 20 chassidishe families living there. There were other families who were not chassidish, and then there were some modern Orthodox families and some non-religious as well.
There were no Rabbanim living in our town. The Rav of the next town was Rabbi Jungreis, whom we all followed. In our town there were large shuls and chadarim, kosher butcher shops, large houses and a mikveh.
What do you remember about your family?
I grew up in a chassidishe house. My mother’s father lived three houses away from us. They were Belzer Chassidim. We had cousins constantly visiting from other towns.
My father was a wholesaler of grain. He had big barns containing all types of grain, which he sold all over Hungary, and exported it to many other countries as well.
My mother had a general store. We had a large house and the store was attached to the house. A cousin of mine needed parnassah and so my mother gave him a job in the store. My mother took care of the ordering and bookkeeping and he did the sales.
We were eight siblings. I had an older brother who was 25 years old at the time the war broke out. He was learning in the famous yeshivah in Galante. My second brother was a Satmar Chassid and learned by the Satmar Rebbe. Then there were three more boys, two older than me and one younger. I had one older sister and one younger sister as well.
What type of education did you get before the war?
For the girls, the only Jewish school in our town was not frum. So we went to the Catholic schools, but we had nothing to do with the children there. On Fridays, when they had Bible classes, we went outside.
My parents were friendly with one of the teachers since she lived just a few houses away from us; we had no trouble from her. However, the principal was a big anti-Semite. The children in the school would tease us and hit us all the time, but to us it was natural already. We knew that they lived a different life than we did.
When did you first begin feeling the effects of the outbreak of World War II?
In the late 1930s my older brother went to work with my father and my second brother had gotten married already. My third brother was learning in a yeshivah in Kallev. The youngest boy was a twelve-year-old, learning in a Talmud Torah in our town.
By this time anti-Semitism was growing. In 1938, my father bought a large piece of land at an auction, from a poritz. He worked the land for two years but it still wasn’t officially his. The contract never went through and when they were finally willing to go to contract, the lawyer decided that the auction wasn’t real and a Jew can’t own this piece of land.
My grandfather (Zeidy Jacobowitz) owned 300 acres of land. When my grandfather passed away, my uncle Shmiel Grunwald (the Tzeilimer Rav’s brother), who had no children, offered to move into my grandfather’s house and help take care of all the workers in the fields. They made a goral between the siblings to determine how they would divide the land.
In 1938, when Hitler came into Austria, the streets were quite dangerous already. My oldest brother, who was in business with my father, got a license to travel at night. My father built a silo right near the railroads so they could transfer the merchandise right onto the trains. My father traveled a lot for business purposes and each time he returned home, he found that the gentiles were becoming more and more anti-Semitic.
to be continued…
These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.