Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
After Auschwitz

After Auschwitz: One Man's Story

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 290
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    After Auschwitz
    Book Description:

    Gruenwald paints his life story onto the larger canvas of some of the great conflicts and movements of the twentieth century. He offers a vivid portrayal of growing up affluent and Jewish in class-conscious Hungary in the interwar period and of the initial promise and disillusioning reality of Hungarian communism.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6036-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Hermann Gruenwald

    There are those who want the world to believe that the Holocaust never happened – that it is all a hoax. To them I say, “I wish you were right. Unfortunately, I know better.” As one who was there, who experienced the horrors firsthand and survived, it has become my duty to share my story. In preserving the integrity of such difficult memories from generation to generation lies the hope that such atrocities can be prevented.

    This book is dedicated to my mother and father, who never got the chance to see their children finish growing up, to enjoy their success,...

    (pp. xi-2)
    Bryan Demchinsky
    (pp. 3-7)

    The tattoo on my left forearm is a daily reminder of a terrible time in my life. It forms a number that was meant to take away my identity. When I arrived in Auschwitz in 1944, I and the other prisoners were known and addressed by our captors only by these numbers on our arms. We were meant to die minus our humanity. But many of us did not die. The numbers offer testament to the experience of those who lived in Auschwitz and survived. They provoke curious looks wherever we go. Some people stare for a moment as they...

    (pp. 8-14)

    It rained money on the day I was born. I don’t remember the event myself, but my aunt Rezsike Rosenblum told me the story many years later. On 4 July 1925, when the midwife told my father she had delivered him a son, he was so ecstatic he threw a handful of pengö, the Hungarian currency, into the air, thanking God for His blessing and the midwife for her services. After the birth of two girls, Father now had someone who would grow up to manage the farm as he and his father and grandfather had done. He had a...

  7. 3 ROHOD
    (pp. 15-29)

    Rohod is a place that will be etched in my memory as long as I live, a place to which I return even today. Before the Second World War, it was home to a few hundred people, certainly under a thousand, of whom just over a hundred were Jews. Rural Hungary at that time still had one foot in the Middle Ages. The houses were simple mud-brick buildings with whitewashed walls and thatched roofs. There were no sidewalks, paved streets, electricity, or street lighting. The village still had a town crier, a man with a drum, who once or twice...

    (pp. 30-48)

    Growing up in Rohod during the 1930s was like living in an enchanted garden with a pack of wolves lurking nearby. We were isolated in our backwater village and lulled by the enduring traditions of rural life. We felt sheltered from what was unfolding around us. This was especially true of me. Caught up in my adolescent pursuits, I was oblivious of the outside world. But so, too, were my parents, whose attitude seemed to be “Nothing bad can happen here.” Looking back, it is easy to see that the wolves were coming after us. We should have seen them...

    (pp. 49-57)

    For two and a half days the train plodded onward. Then, early one morning, just before dawn, it shuddered to a halt. We had arrived at Auschwitz II, or Birkenau as it was called, an execution and distribution centre for prisoners from all over Europe. There was a commotion – yelling, screaming, voices crying, “Raus! Raus!” (Out! Out!). Dogs were barking and there was the noise of what sounded like fighting around us. As we stepped into blinding spotlights we saw the striped uniforms for the first time. These were prisoners who were responsible for taking people’s belongings away. We were...

    (pp. 58-71)

    When my block relief was up, I didn’t show up for the sand mine detail, though I still had to report forappelleach morning. So for a day or two I worked “illegally,” until the sand mine foreman started to look for me. At that point, the food-preparationkapo, who had been a Polish general, made sure the transfer was done officially. Apparently,kaposhad the power to do this – the Germans didn’t much care how the work in the camp was organized as long as it got done. When I returned to the barracks that night, my bunkmate...

    (pp. 72-84)

    In the summer of 1944 I turned nineteen. Horrible things were happening all round me, but personally I was doing better than most people in that wretched place. The kitchen suited my temperament because it was a place where information was traded freely and I could keep informed. People who worked outside the camp came through, as did doctors and other inmates at various times. Everyone had something to tell. Someone once said that a Jew by nature is always asking “What’s new?” That certainly applied to me. I was learning how the system worked – with its gas-chamber selections, random...

    (pp. 85-92)

    By the time Joska and I joined several thousand other prisoners, they were ready to march. I had found a small sled to pull over the snowy ground and loaded it with food for the journey. I had no idea where we were going or how long it would take, but I figured the food would come in handy. If I had known we would be marching through the countryside in the dead of winter for close to a week, I surely would have taken my chances staying in the camp. It may seem hard to believe, but my real...

    (pp. 93-103)

    It was a beautiful day, warm and brimming with summer sunshine. There was a village only about a mile away, but as we approached we noticed a dark, gloomy building. Hanging from it was a sign that indicated it was a military installation. Perhaps it had been a residence for SS guards, but now it was empty. We entered and walked into a room that turned out to be the kitchen. The stove was still hot, and all kinds of food had been left behind.

    “You’re the cook,” Joe Landsman said. “Show us what you can do.” So I prepared...

  14. 10 MAKING A GO OF IT
    (pp. 104-115)

    Our land had been taken over by the state, but with the end of the war and of fascism in Hungary, we expected that it would be given back. Part of it was. Each family was to receive a hundredholds, but anything over that amount was to be nationalized. In our case, this was less than onequarter of what had been lost. Further complicating the issue was the fact that other members of the family – the surviving cousins – still had a stake in the land and wanted their share returned as well. If the hundredholdshad to be...

  15. 11 OUT OF EUROPE
    (pp. 116-132)

    Vienna was still divided into four zones at this time, each under control of an Allied power. I ended up at the Rothschild Hospital in the American zone. It was an enormous complex, run by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association. The hospital’s wards housed thousands of people fleeing Eastern European countries on their way to new lives in the West. I was given a bunk and a blanket items that reminded me of my first days in Auschwitz. But this was obviously a different situation. I met people from all over at the Rothschild. Each one had a...

    (pp. 133-145)

    On arrival in Halifax, we were each given four dollars for food. I was still feeling ill after the terrible crossing and was dehydrated. Craving something tasty to restore me, I spent some of my precious food allowance to buy a jar of dill pickles that I saw in a shop window. Then Eva and I boarded a train for Montreal. As the train pulled out of the station, I couldn’t wait to get at the pickles. They turned out to be my first disappointment in Canada. They were sweet – not the sour dills I was used to. I couldn’t...

  17. 13 ON MY OWN
    (pp. 146-164)

    I was again without a job. I went downtown to apply for unemployment insurance for the first and only time but discovered that the line-up was unbearably long. So instead of standing around, I wandered the streets, taking in a twenty-five-cent triple-bill movie to distract myself, but I kept mulling over what to do. Andy Grosz and I still had the rental space on Mayor Street in the Albee Building where we did contract work at night. I decided to ask the father and son team to whom it belonged, the Abramovitches, if we could use this room in the...

    (pp. 165-180)

    One spring day in 1957, Eva met a young woman whose husband, Tibor Feher, was a Hungarian-born technician in hosiery manufacturing. When I heard about his line of work, I was intrigued. Apparently, the hosiery industry was undergoing a major overhaul as women switched from stockings with seams to seamless hose. Until then, every time a woman took off her coat, she had to check her legs to see that her seams were straight. The seamless stockings liberated her from this annoyance. Naturally, they caught on.

    A new type of machine was coming on stream to produce these stockings. The...

    (pp. 181-189)

    In 1960 I made the first of several trips to South America in search of business opportunities. The market there for seamless hosiery was just opening up. Chile was importing most of its hose, because it didn’t yet have the technology that was already in place in North America. When I inquired about prices, I was told that seamless hose was selling for ten dollars a dozen, compared with the three or four dollars a dozen that we were selling it for in Canada. With those numbers, visions of a fortune sprang to mind. I figured I could send down...

    (pp. 190-202)

    As I said at the beginning, real estate has been a profitable sideline, one that I first got into back when Andy Grosz and I were partners at Evalyne Furs. In 1954 Andy and I, with two other investors, bought a rooming house on Stanley Street north of Ste Catherine. The corner was in the heart of Montreal’s downtown, as it is today, but in the 1950s the area was not as upscale. The price was $68,000. We put down $3,000 while the owner of the building – we’ll just call him Mr P for reasons that will be evident in...

  21. 17 THE BIG TIME
    (pp. 203-219)

    In 1968 Dan McCaughey introduced me to Maurice Godbout, the president of Dominion Corset. Dominion specialized in girdles and other women’s lingerie. The company had a large factory in Quebec City and another in Matane, in the Gaspé. Together, they employed close to five hundred people. As its name suggests, Dominion’s history went back a long time, all the way to 1886, when it was founded by Georges-Elie Amyot. Although a public company, its majority shareholder was Pierre Amyot, a descendant of the founder.

    Dominion wanted to get into what was a new product line for them – pantyhose, Reliable’s specialty...

    (pp. 220-246)

    During the 1970s, my curiosity and maturing business sense propelled me in different directions. I already owned Reliable Hosiery and Classic Lamp and Shade, as well as an interest in several real estate ventures. But I just couldn’t resist getting into something new when an opportunity came up. I was always ready to take a chance. Most of the time things worked out, but not always. One venture that looked promising but turned out to be more complicated than I expected was shoe manufacturing. My involvement started in 1970, when I picked up a newspaper and noticed an ad offering...

  23. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 247-253)

    After I sold Daisyfresh, I felt something was missing in my life. Even with my Texas investments and my ownership of Reliable Hosiery, not to mention my interests in Gaby Shoe and Richelieu Nursery, I still had an impulse to get involved in something new. An opportunity came my way – at least I thought it was an opportunity – in 1990. Two young men, Arieh and Josh Lazare, off ered me a partnership for $2 million in their hosiery business, which was based in Montreal. It was called Siebruck. They proposed that I buy out an existing 50 percent partner, Wertex,...

    (pp. 254-261)

    As I’ve mentioned, my family was an essential part of my getting through the Siebruck crisis. But that’s only a small part of what they’ve done for me. In good times and bad, my life has been enriched by my close relationship with Eva, my daughters Anita and Sandy, and my three sisters and brother. But especially with Eva. We’ve been together for fifty years plus now, and it goes without saying that she’s helped make it possible for me to be what I am and to accomplish what I have achieved. She was a model of patience and grace...

    (pp. 262-266)

    I began this account of my life on a beach in Florida, and I’m returning to the seashore to sum it up. I said at the beginning that life was full of unexpected twists and turns. Some are unhappy events, like getting dragged off to a concentration camp. Others are wonderful and rewarding, like meeting my wife Eva. And some things that happen are just coincidence – or fate, if you want to call it that. It’s all fascinating and hard to explain, and it’s what makes life worth living.

    For instance, back in the early 1970s I was in Barbados,...

  27. INDEX
    (pp. 267-277)