Mrs. Esther Grunwald (Part II)

When did you first begin feeling the effects of the outbreak of World War II?

In our town there were hoodlums who became terrorists. They had uniforms and could do what they wanted. They removed the shingles from the roof and went down into the silo. They did this night after night and stole the merchandise from inside the silo. It was reported to the police that there were robberies going on. When they came to check it out, they found my brother’s fingerprints on the locks and he was taken to jail.

In the meantime they questioned the night guard and they did investigations. It took a while until they figured out what was going on. When they discovered what was happening, they found that my brother was not guilty, but that there were more than 30 of these hoodlums involved. They set up a trial.

The people on trial were angry at my brother and came to retaliate. One Friday, they began by smashing all the windows. My brother had a licensed gun and he threatened to shoot them if they didn’t leave us alone. But they weren’t scared off. They came into my mother’s store and took many things. They left us with a note that said that Hitler would come soon and pay for the items they took. Then a bunch of terrorists came to take him away. My brother escaped through the back of the house and he walked from one town to another. He got to a town where the people knew my father and they helped him out. However, my parents spent the whole Shabbos worrying what had happened to him. After Shabbos, he called to let them know he was OK. When he came back home he was only able to go out wearing a disguise.

The terrorists were after us. One night my father woke us up and told us that our house was burning. He instructed us to take our coats quickly, and a few small items, and run to my grandfather’s house where my aunt was living.

At this point we had to move to a different town called Rohed, where my grandfather had owned some other pieces of land. We lived on the outskirts of the town where it was not so anti-Semitic. It was pretty quiet there. My married brother came to live with us, too.

Did you know what was happening in other parts of Europe at the time?

My brother had a radio, so we heard quite a bit of what was going on outside our town. We heard what had happened in Austria, and in Czechoslovakia. We knew that there was unrest in Poland but we didn’t know to what extent it was, and that they were out to get the Jews, primarily. The only thing we saw was that a lot of young people were escaping to Hungary. However, when they told us stories, they seemed so far-fetched that we didn’t believe them.

Even if you believed them somewhat, nobody was ready to uproot their families and just go. Where were you supposed to go to?

Even once we were in the ghettos, we still didn’t believe the stories that we heard. I had a cousin named Moshe who was in Budapest at the time. One day he came to the ghetto dressed up as a sailor. He was blonde and could easily pass as a German. He reported to us that in Budapest they were saying that everyone from the ghettos would be taken on transports and killed. From the bodies they were making soap. We were horrified, and of course we didn’t believe him. My uncle said to him, “Moshe, you dress like a goy and therefore you speak like a goy.”

to be continued…


These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.