Behind Every Name a Story (BENAS) is a project of the Museum's Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center. The BENAS web project consists of essays describing survivors' experiences during the Holocaust.
Introduction to Miroslav Grunwald’s memories
Miroslav (Fred) Grunwald was born on January 12, 1910 near Osijek in Croatia. He died on May 10, 1987, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His wife Ruth (Petric) was born on July 11, 1909, in Hof, Bavaria (Germany). She died in March 2002 in Halifax. Their only child was Greta Grunwald, now Greta Murtagh from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Fred was a Holocaust survivor who spent several years in Dachau. He was prisoner # 60648 (listed as an Italian national under the name of Gruenwald). He rarely spoke of this, but when he was an old man, he wanted to make some kind of record of his life and experiences, so he wrote some memories in a notebook, from which these pages have been transcribed.
Fred's wife, Ruth, was Catholic, but she was also a concentration camp survivor. The family believes that Ruth was in the Stara Gradiška section of the Jasenovac Concentration Camp in Croatia. Ruth was sentenced to one year in the camp for helping Jewish families escape from the Nazis.
Fred died in 1987 as the result of a massive stroke he suffered while watching a PBS broadcast of the Holocaust documentary, “Shoah”. His wife, Ruth Grunwald, lived another 15 years, and died in her early 90s, never having shared the story of her own time in the Jasenovac Camp.
Miroslav (Fred) Grunwald's Holocaust Memories
Suddenly a Prisoner of the Germans
As the German army pushed southward, taking over from the Italians, all occupied Adriatic territory, I was suddenly again on the run and in hiding. But this time I was not so lucky. The Germans had the order to pick up all adult males and transport them for forced labor tasks.
I was hiding in a barn, behind chopped wood when a German patrol reached that place, and searched all premises. They came with dogs and in the barn, they started to bark where I was hiding. My pile of wood was immediately knocked down and there I was standing in front of a submachine gun. Arrested and escorted to the local school and, with a dozen others from there, taken to a command post some 50 miles north, right to the place of my sister-in-law's residence. During an interrogation in that ordinary jail, I denied again that I was a Jew.
I managed to smuggle out a message to my sister-in-law and as a confirmation that she received it, I received the next day, a basket filled with food, which I shared with ten others. Now at least I knew that my family realized that I was alive. We received one tin of soup and a small bread from the (Italian) staff but then, on the seventh day, the Germans transported us in police vans to their closest Gestapo command post in Abbazia (today Opatija). On the basis of my statement that I was a Christian, Italian citizen and a resident with my sister-in-law and that her local business was still in my wife's maiden name, I was released into her custody and thus I was again free, on my word that I would not escape (in which case my sister-in-law would be arrested).
Two days later, I was picked up by the German military police and brought back; this time to the maximum security prison in Coroneo where the Gestapo headquarters was situated. The only Italian was a sergeant at the reception desk, and with a polite apology, he explained to me that I had to deposit my wedding ring and gold watch, all of which I would get back when released from prison (which never happened; instead, twenty years later, I received compensation from the Federal Republic of Germany of 150 American dollars).
The accommodation that lasted thirty days in that “prison cell” deserves some description. Due to overcrowding of the institution, I was placed with 13 other prisoners in a standard toilet-washroom! All of us had to spend 23 hours standing and, in turn, about one hour sitting on the toilet seat! We were really leaning on each other all day and night; semi-conscious and drowsy and just wishing to get rid of the person who was pressing against your body with every movement. A slight improvement in our situation occurred about every hour when, one at a time, we were called for an interrogation. We hardly could walk, but the guards pushed us upstairs.
The first time it was my turn to be interrogated, I nearly fell asleep in the office of the Gestapo officer but I soon was wide awake, after being slapped twice on my face. That was my first realization what Gestapo behavior meant. A telegram was shown to me (in German, my mother's language) from the German headquarters in Zagreb, that I was not a Christian resident of the formerly Italian occupied territory, not an Italian citizen, but simply a Croatian Jew in hiding.
For repeatedly lying, the officer slapped me hard and sent me back to the “cell”. By now out of the 14 inmates who had come with me, only seven remained. I heard a rumor that one was released, one was shot and the others transferred to other prisons or jails.
The food in the cell consisted of one liter of clear soup and a bun (Panini), once daily. Great hunger was now permanent and we hoped that this would end soon; one way or the other. However, it would become much worse.