Mrs. Esther Grunwald (Part VIII)

For how long did you walk in the Death March?

There were many families who came from the family camps to Theresienstadt.

In Theresienstadt we were put into quarantine. There we found a woman by the name of Elsa, who was in a family camp together with her husband and children. While she was there she was put into a hospital and she had a baby. When she came out, her husband and children were gone.

Elsa was so happy to find us there, and for us it was great too. She knew all the ins and outs, and she was able to help us out a lot.

Elsa had a six-month-old baby she was nursing. Since she didn’t want to feed her baby any treifus, she wouldn’t eat the salami or anything not kosher that they gave. However, she insisted that we eat. She took very good care of us.

When were you liberated?

We were liberated on May 15, 1945. We stayed there for about four or five weeks, and then we were able to go back to Hungary.

It took us three weeks to travel from Theresienstadt to Budapest. We were like family already. Elsa watched over us the whole time.

We went to her sister in Budapest. Her sister had never been taken to the camps. She was in the ghettos and then she went into hiding. Her husband was in the labor brigade. He never came back.

In the meantime we went every day with Elsa to find out if there were any surviving members of her family and of our family. She found out that her husband and eight children were all alive.

What were Shabbos and Yom Tov like?

When we didn’t have to go out to work, we tried to daven a little bit. We had a siddur hidden in one of the lagers. We kept track of Shabbos and Yom Tov. On Yom Kippur we fasted, and on Pesach we hid the bread under the mattresses and we hoped that nobody would look there.

When my sister had a job as the cook, she managed to make vegetable soup and get some potatoes for us, so that we didn’t have to eat any chametz.

Can you tell me how you kept your emunah through the horrors of the Holocaust?

Before we were separated, my mother said to us, “Kinder, I don’t know what is going to happen, but you should know one thing: Siz du ein Ribbono shel Olam, un er nemt ker — There is one Eibershter and he takes care.” Then we were separated.

My sister Chavie was very strong. When we heard the terrible news that our parents had gone up in flames, she said, “Du vest zein, d’Ribbono shel Olam vet helfen — You will see, the Ribbono shel Olam will help.” She had a tremendous amount of emunah.

You had mentioned that you clearly saw Yad Hashem in everything. Can you share some stories with us?

One time the Germans decided to empty out the lagers. Trucks came to take us to the crematoriums. Girls ran to hide. Some went to hide on the roof, others ran to the chimney and so did I. It was obviously chasdei Hashem that we were saved.

Did you ever return to your hometown?

I went back with my sister after liberation to the last house that we lived in before we were taken to the ghettos. The gentiles that were living there gave us back half of the property that belonged to my parents. We moved back in and began growing vegetables on the farm.

There were a number of families who moved back and quite a few young girls as well.

I got married in 1946. I married a cousin of mine. We experienced many hardships, including a tremendous amount of anti-Semitism after the war as well. We came to America in 1949.

What message can you leave for the children today?

Grab whatever opportunity you have to learn a new skill. You will never be sorry for what you learned. The fact that my sister knew how to cook and I was skilled in other areas, my brother-in-law was an electrician, made us useful to the Germans. Those that they had no use for they did away with.

The Ribbono shel Olam should help all of us, and guide us in the proper way all the time.

These survivors’ memoirs are being compiled by Project Witness.

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