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< Behind Every Name a Story

Grossman Family


The Museum’s Behind Every Name a Story project gives voice to the experiences of survivors during the Holocaust.


Rivka (Hungarian: Regina) née Kleinman Grossman and Mordechai Gimpel (Hungarian: Geza) Grossman were our parents. Our family lived in the bucolic village of Mád (pronounced “Mahd"), about 100 kilometers north of Debrecen, in the northeast part of Hungary, in the wine country near the Carpathian Mountains.

This narrative is told primarily from the perspectives of two of the Grossman sisters, Esther and Iren (Goldie). They recounted their family's Holocaust story in several interviews. Memories from these transcripts are combined with the stories they told their children and grandchildren.

Rivka and Mordechai Gimpel Meet: 1904

This is the story of how our parents met. Our mother was going to school in Vienna. On a train she met an older woman, who happened to be the mother of Mordechai. Mrs. Grossman came home and told her son, “If you would go around the world, you would never find a girl like Regina Kleinman!”

Photograph of Mordechai and Rivka Grossman, taken in the 1920s. Mordechai served in the army of Franz Joseph.

Both of our parents were very well-educated—in addition to Hungarian, they spoke high German. Our father was an officer in the Hungarian army in the 1920s. He had attended public school, and then Gymnasium in Miskolc, 48 kilometers west of Mád. He was quite adept at dealing with government officials, such as the town mayor. If any of the Jews were under threat of punishment for any legal infractions, they would come to Mordechai Grossman and he would write out their pleas. In return, the family frequently received fruits and vegetables from the townspeople.

Rivka Grossman, before her marriage, had attended the Fashion Institute in Vienna. There she learned the fine sewing skills that would later save the Grossman girls from death at the hands of SS authorities in the concentration camps. Our mother had "hands like an angel's, hands of gold." She was an artist at designing and sewing clothing for the townspeople, using the fine fabric sold in our father's store. She was expert at embroidering monograms, among other things. Unfortunately, some clients did not always pay their bills, and so sometimes there was not enough money to buy more fabric for the shop.

Family Life in Mád: 1904–1941

Mád had a lovely Jewish community, near the Carpathian Mountains. Before the war, there were 800 Jewish people in Mád, out of a total population of about 5,000. The town is about 44 km from Miskolc, the closest “big city.” Mád is only 17 km from Tokaj, in the center of the Tokaj wine country. Some people in the town had vineyards, others were wheat farmers. Most of the Jews ran businesses.

Mád was well known in orthodox Jewish circles for its illustrious yeshiva, led by Rabbi Mordechai Leib Winkler, the Rav of Mád, also known as the “Mádder Rebbe.” The Mád Yeshiva was associated with scholarly rabbis from all over Hungary and Europe.

We lived in a large house with two kitchens. The garden had an arbor. Our sister Chana painted murals on the walls. All of the sisters worked outside in the summertime. We had beautiful flowers and a vegetable garden.

Our father Mordechai Grossman owned a general store, with a warehouse—he sold a wide variety of products, including hardware and fabrics. This store was in the Grossman family for over one hundred years. Its rounded walls were one yard thick, with deeply recessed windows.

Family Members

There were seven children—six girls and one boy. Barbara (Borishka), the oldest girl, brother Berel (Barry, Dov), Iren (Irene, Goldie, Goldika), and Bina (Berta) were each born a year apart, from 1909 through 1912. A baby was born in 1915 but died shortly after. Anna (Chana, Chanuka) was born in 1916. After this, there was a gap of several years when our father Mordechai served in the military during World War I. He was a sergeant in the transportation corps in the Austro-Hungarian army. During this time period, our mother Rivka sold milk to help support her family. After the war, Adel (Adele, Udi, Udika) was born in 1920, and Esther (Ester, Estikeh), the youngest, was born in 1921. 

Photograph of the sisters taken in 1944. Left to right: Goldie, Chana, Esther (in glasses), Borishka, Adel, Bina.

Our grandmother Shari (our father's mother) lived with our family. The children in our family went to the public school in Mád. We couldn't get into university because relatively few Jews were permitted to attend, after Hungarian authorities passed a quota law to limit slots for Jewish students. The six sisters were grouped into pairs: Anna and Berta, Goldie and Barbara, Esther and Adel. We went to the movies— we remember seeing The Wizard of Oz. The family was very content.


Rivka taught all of her daughters how to sew when they were very young. She would say that every woman must know how to sew, so that she would be able to make little dresses for her own daughters. On Saturday nights, we stayed up all night sewing, finishing off the clothing that our non-Jewish clients would wear to church on Sunday morning. Mordechai would stay up with us, reading us stories, to “improve our intelligence” while we worked. Rivka used to chide us if she saw us outside playing without any needlework in our hands.

One room in the Grossman house was rented out to the Yeshiva, for students who came from other towns to learn in Mád—they all studied under the supervision of Rav Winkler. Some of these boys went on to become prominent rabbis.

Jews and non-Jews in Mád got along well until about 1938. In 1941, Mordechai had to close the store. Our two oldest sisters, Barbara and Berta, went to Budapest, where they learned how to design womens' clothing. They returned to Mád and started a dressmaking shop in our home, and made a good living.

Our mother Rivka was always singing arias from operas. Father played the violin, and he loved woodcarving. He carved a beautiful Torah yad (pointer) for the shul (synagogue). He was very important in the town, townspeople would ask him to talk to the mayor for them. Everybody admired him. A few years later, this changed.

Our family was religious, but not Hasidic. Esther dated boys, went to parties, and could wear sleeveless dresses. The family's store was closed on Shabbat—they were Shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observant). Mother wore a babushka—she had a sheitel (wig) but never wanted to wear it. She eventually wore it in the ghetto.

We had a maid, and our grandmother supervised her activities. Someone came to clean the house every week. We had a laundress every two weeks.

Shabbat, Holidays, and our Beautiful Synagogue

Shabbat in our home was beautiful. Our father used to sit with the children and read to us from the Tanach (Old Testament). He went to shul every day. Our mother went for Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the new month) and Rosh Hashana (the New Year). Girls didn't really go to shul in those days, other than to visit their parents. Even the non-religious men came to shul every Shabbat.

The shul was unbelievably beautiful. The ceiling had angels and stars, and was painted with pure gold. The women sat in the balcony. There was a smaller shul in the Beis Medrash (chapel) for the more religious people. Father was head of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society); at one time he was the president of the shul.

On Friday night, our father would bless all of us with the traditional priestly blessing. We all lined up, we kissed his face, and when we got older we kissed his hands.

May G-d bless you and guard you
May G-d make His face shed light upon you and be gracious unto you
May G-d lift up His face unto you and give you peace

On Shabbat, we had wonderful meals. There was an appetizer—chicken fricassee or cooked fish, followed by soup of course. We always had poultry or meat. When our mother went to the shochet (ritual slaughterer), she made sure there was food for the poor people. Our mother made delicious farfel, and cakes for dessert. For Shabbat lunch, we had cold food and cholent. There was no eruv (ritual enclosure that allows carrying on the Sabbath), so the maid carried the cholent home from the bakery. For Shalas Seudos (the third Sabbath meal), we would have strawberries and cottage cheese. The table was always covered with a beautiful white tablecloth.

In Esther's voice: My favorite holidays were Pesach (Passover), Purim, and Rosh Hashana. I remember that on the holidays the family enjoyed good meals, dressed up beautifully, and spent time being together as a family. We had new shoes and clothes for Pesach and Rosh Hashana. The shoemaker in Mád made custom new shoes.

Rosh Hashana was a very holy time, and we had delicious food. I remember fried apples with bread crumbs. Our sisters did the cooking, while our parents and grandmother were in shul.

Of course there were special foods for Pesach—our mother force-fed a turkey to make it very fat. After it was slaughtered, she stuffed the neck. She made delicious chicken soup and matzo balls, and very good cakes—everything tasted different than now! We had Meissen china, and beautiful silver flatware. Seder: only the family, sometimes cousins. Grandmother used to dress in all white on Friday night—she would wash herself with cold water at the washstand. “She was like a beautiful angel.”

Mother was very tired after all of the work preparing for the holidays. After Pesach she would go to a resort with natural hot springs, where she would rest up. She would return home “like new”.


Hungarian Jews, including the Grossman family, had interesting traditions and customs. After Havdalah (the ceremony ending Shabbat), Rivka would go to the stream behind the Grossman home get a fresh bucket of water. Everyone in the family had to drink from this water, which they called Miriam Vasser, Yiddish for "Water of Miriam." This custom is based on the belief that Miriam's well, located in the Yam Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), flows into all the wells and springs on Saturday night. Those who succeed in drinking from its waters are immediately healed of any ailments. Therefore, people would draw water on Saturday night in the hope that they will draw some from Miriam's well. Even the Mádder Rebbe himself came to the Grossman home to draw water to bake special matzos for Pesach (Passover).

There were many other customs passed down to the family, that the grandchildren follow to this day. For example, when you have to change the time on a clock, always move the hands of the clock forward—never backward—even if it takes longer! Because life always moves forward.

Signs of Antisemitism: 1938–1944

Our first awareness that something was wrong: when they threw down our friend's father, and broke his back. Our father was beaten. It was a case of mistaken identity—there was another man named Grossman, who was very rich and had fired someone. Our father almost died from this attack but he survived. It was scary to go out alone at night—they could beat you up. In Esther's voice: Even when I went to school, we were always referred to as “dirty Jews.” We always felt antisemitism when we were growing up. I had some friends who weren't Jewish. The non-Jewish boys used to love me, but I wasn't allowed to go out with them. I had a boyfriend who moved to Israel after the war. I was about 17 or 18, and we went to movies and dances together.

Rivka and Mordechai Grossman, in the Sátoraljaújhely ghetto, spring 1944. —Gift of the Cizek and Packer families.

We had an aunt and cousins who lived in Vienna. In 1938, when the Germans incorporated Austria, one of these cousins escaped from Vienna and came to our house in Hungary and hid with us. We used to send food to his family. Our parents were very disturbed, and talked about the situation, but I didn't want to listen—I just wanted to live. After the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and the German conquest of Poland (1939) and Yugoslavia (1941), people from Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia escaped to Hungary.

But where could we run? The only place would be Budapest but we really couldn't go anywhere because of our 92-year-old grandmother. Many parents encouraged their children to run away, but they didn't want to leave their parents. One man we knew passed as a non-Jew in Budapest.

In 1941, the Jewish families of Mád who were not Hungarian citizens were deported to Ukraine. They were all murdered in a ditch. After that, in 1942, when our mother tried to collect money that was owed to her by non-Jewish clients, they refused and said “get lost”.

Why didn't we run away somewhere? It was obvious what was happening. One incident: when we didn't have a dress ready for a Christian woman, she said to us “You deserve your destiny.”

In 1942, after someone left a radio at our house, the police found it and arrested our sister.

Even though our father was so patriotic, and was even in a POW camp in Italy during World War I, that didn't matter to the Hungarian government. He was still persecuted for being a Jew. In 1942, the army called him up again to a labor camp, to supervise a team of Jewish men who were building a road.

Our oldest sister Barbara was married and living somewhere else, for a long time we didn't know what happened to her, and she didn't know what had happened to us.

Starting in 1944, we were forced to wear the yellow star. The day after Pesach, we all had to give our jewelry to a Lutheran pastor—we each put the jewelry into a big bag, as we were lined up in the schoolyard. Our non-Jewish friend, who had been holding our jewelry, brought it back to us because her husband wouldn't let her keep it anymore.
One day soon after that, with no warning, a few officials came to look through our closets.

Things happened very fast—Pesach was April 15, and the next day we couldn't walk very far from our house. That last Pesach, we heard airplanes, and we heard that there was bombing everywhere. A policeman told us to go down to the river because bombs were falling.

Ghetto: April to May 1944

The next thing we knew, we were told to each pack 25 pounds in a knapsack and leave. We wore many layers of clothing. There was no time to pack away the Pesach dishes—everything was just left on the tables. We were taken to city hall, then to the shul, where we stayed for about two days. Our next door neighbor brought food to us while we were in the shul. We passed our belongings to him through the window of his house. Later when we were in the ghetto, he even came to visit us. All of the Jews in Mád were taken at once. The night that we were going to the railroad station from the shul, some punks put down big stones for us to trip over. It was one and a half hours by train from Mád to Sátoraljaújhely (45 kilometers northeast), where we had to live in a ghetto.

Conditions in the ghetto were very unsanitary. Daily life in the ghetto? There was no life. It was just a little street, Kisfaludy utca, surrounded by police. There was nothing to do. We were just looking at our parents' sad faces, who were wondering how they could help our grandmother. Our father built a bed for her so that she would not have to sleep on the floor.

We lived in Mr. Weiss's house. We knew that this was for real—there was no return. We were there for four weeks. Our father was an officer in the ghetto, so he was selected to be one of the spokesmen for the Jews. Some people did escape from the ghetto by bribing the officers—they went to Budapest.

Train to Auschwitz: Late May 1944

We were told that we were being transported to Kenya, Bolivia, or Madagascar. But when we saw the big cattle cars, we realized that wasn't true. In Esther's voice: Our mother and four sisters got into the car first, they went to the corner. Our father, grandmother, and I were in the middle of the car. We couldn't get to our mother who was in the corner—we were packed in like herrings. There were about 15 cars in the train.

We were in the last transport to Auschwitz, and we arrived on the first day of Shavuos. We were in the train for about two days and two nights. There was no food or water on the train.

When they took us to the ghetto, our grandmother was already senile—she wanted to go back home. She carried her tachrichim (burial shroud), made of lace and ruffles, with her to Auschwitz. We, her granddaughters, had helped her sew the tachrichim.

In 1944, our oldest sister Borishka and her family lived in Debrecen. She later said that they were put on a train to Auschwitz, but the train was rejected because there wasn't enough room. She and her husband and in-laws were sent to Austria, and they survived.

Auschwitz: The Beginning, June 1944

The trip ended—we arrived at Auschwitz on Shavuos. We heard “aussteigen aussteigen!”. (Get out! Get out!) It was night. It was like a burning hell, not bodies, but piles and piles of luggage that had been confiscated from the Jews. We saw people in striped uniforms—who were they? The men in uniforms pulled everyone off the train. Young people to the right, men to the left, older people straight ahead. I wanted to follow our mother and grandmother, but a prisoner made me go to the right—“you'll be better off” he said.

We five sisters hid our father, so they wouldn't take him away from us with the men. But the prisoners saw him and pulled him out—they knew we were hiding someone. He went with the men. The people who worked in the crematorium told us that the people in the new transports were sent immediately to the gas chamber and then cremated. Our father was 62 years old, our mother was 61, and our grandmother was 93.

Copy of a page from an alphabetical list of 497 Hungarian and 3 Polish Jewish women transferred from Auschwitz to Hasag-Altenburg (a subcamp of Buchenwald). This page shows the names (highlighted) of four of the sisters. View in high resolution

In Auschwitz, we were brought to special barracks [probably Camp C]. In Esther's voice: I volunteered to take the dead people into the camp to see if I could find our parents. A girlfriend and I carried a body in the ambulance, to see if I could find them. There was nobody there. This was the Vernichtungs (extermination) camp—I think it was in Birkenau. Dr. Mengele came there every week to do the selection. [Note: Many Auschwitz survivors recall seeing and interacting with Mengele, the SS men actually seen by the sisters may have been other SS personnel. Josef Mengele was one of about 20 SS physicians who worked on the selection ramp.]

Dr. Mengele would point at the people in the line, as if to say “You and you go to the left side, go burn a little bit.” Once thousands of kids came in from Lódz, Poland, and some girls were hiding under our bunk. Mengele took something out of his pocket, and hit the four girls. All four of them died—what a monster he was. One day, he befriended a little gypsy boy and dressed him like his own son—dressed him up in a Nazi uniform—and the next day he threw the boy into the gas chamber alive; that's what Mengele did.

In Esther's voice: They gave me a silk dress and a slip, but no underwear. The dress was too long, so I tore a part of it off to wear like a scarf on her head. That night somebody stole the scarf from my head, and someone stole my shoes. I slept in a barrack, on a cement floor, for about a week—they gave us a little soup. We were five sisters together. We did not have numbers tattooed on our arms—we did not know why. [Note: They probably did not receive tattoos because they were being held in a special compound for prisoners to be sent to other concentration camps in Germany.]

Daily Life in Auschwitz: June to October 1944

In Goldie's voice: One night, at two o'clock in the morning, I went with a group of girls—we sneaked out of the barracks to go take showers. While we were in the large round shower room, someone stole all of our clothing, including our underwear and shoes. We had to return to our barracks naked.

One day someone found some beet peels. We rubbed our cheeks with the beet peels to give ourselves some color.

Our sister Goldie (Iren) was a very compassionate woman. She tore the knitted sleeve off her dress to give Esther a hat, and gave the other sleeve to Chana (Anna). So she had no sleeves. Goldie gave Esther her stockings, and she kept her shoes.

Finally, we were sent into a barrack holding a thousand girls. There were twelve girls in each bunk, four layers, three girls on each layer, sleeping head to foot. There was nothing on the boards of the bunk. People were screaming, going crazy, yelling “I want chocolate cake, I want chicken fricassee”—they went wild. We heard that the Nazis put something into the bread and the coffee to calm us down, and to stop us from getting our periods. The people who didn't drink the coffee ended up committing suicide.

In Esther's voice: I never complained, I was just sitting like a “dummy.” My older sisters went to one of the Blockältesten (supervisors), Etta Rubinrot, and told her they knew how to sew. They sewed beautiful clothing for this woman. Otherwise there was nothing to do, just the roll call every morning and evening. One day, out of the one thousand girls at roll call, one girl was missing. From four o'clock until twelve o'clock we were kneeling outside; they wanted to find the girl. A thousand girls were suffering. She was hiding in the latrine and when she came out, they killed her.

In Esther's voice: I did nothing, except for pulling thread out of clothes to help my sisters. On the first day, we sat in a circle on the bunk, and we passed around a big pot of soup. Everyone took a sip. I got a big chunk of meat, and the blockälteste said “spit it out—this is human meat!” After that, I ate only the bread and the coffee, and I never touched anything with meat in it. The soup was terrible—it had bran in it—you had to spit it out. The blockälteste liked us because we sewed for her. She gave us the pail from the margarine so we could lick it out.

In Goldie's voice: Many girls would keep their daily bread in a sack. Once when I returned from taking a shower, I found that my sack had been stolen. Across the barrack, another girl discovered that her bunkmate had eaten my bread in bed. The girl beat her until she finally returned my sack, but it was already empty.

Latrine call was at 4:00 am, there were about 100 seats, for men and women. You would go to the bathroom and wash. It was freezing. There was no soap, no towels. Right after that was roll call until 9:00 in the morning when we were counted. At 10:00, the sun came out so strong, and the electric wires gave off so much heat, that we had blisters on our lips and our bodies. One day we saw a woman who worked in the kitchen, she wanted to give her child a little soup, she put the child on a piece of wood to slide him under the wire—the guards shot the mother. The little girl fell on the wire and was electrocuted. Many people would go to “touch the wire” and then they were lying there dead—they looked so beautiful.

One mother had three daughters and she ate up their bread so the girls were yelling, “Everybody's mother was killed, why couldn't they kill you?” The people went crazy there; they didn't know what they were saying.

We saw many beatings. There were four sisters hiding under our bunk—Mengele [or another camp official] saw them, pulled them out, took an instrument out of his pocket, and hit them all. They died in front of us. In Esther's voice: I could never eat a piece of meat because of the smell of burning flesh and hair.

We saw the flames, heard the screaming, and smelled the burning flesh and burning hair. All night long we heard screaming. The flames were shooting high, and the whole sky was red.

One night—it was probably August—it was pouring. We were on the top bunk (we were privileged because we sewed for the blockälteste). Esther: I must have caught a sore throat, I woke up with a rash and 106 fever. It was scarlet fever, other girls had it too. We were all sent to the doctor, who said you have to go to the crematorium. My four sisters started to scream, and told the blockälteste that they wouldn't sew for her anymore. So the doctor said okay, you have to go out for the roll call, but during the day you can lie next to the heater. I was burning up—I was dying. I saw my mother Rivka come to me, and she pushed me back with her two hands. She said “Not yet”. She did this several times. She looked beautiful.

Then, my fever broke, and I felt better. The next week Mengele came for a selection. My whole body was peeling, so he threw me to the left. Also my sister Berta—we were to be taken to the gas chambers. We went to touch the wire. We were so close to the wire, but the blockälteste saw us, and called “Grossman! Grossman!.” She pulled us away so we could stay with our sisters—she needed us.

In Goldie's voice: I dreamed one night that I was in an empty big place, naked, running, screaming. I saw the searchlights focusing on me, and there was no one else around. I yelled out, "Apuka (Father), I can't stand it anymore!" Our father said be patient until Hoshana Rabba. (When we were released, we saw Jewish guys on a truck, one threw her a twig, he said it was for Hoshana Rabba.)

Leaving Auschwitz: October 1944

The next day we heard that there would be another selection. Goldie traded a week's worth of bread for a pillowcase to put on my head as a scarf, so that I would look healthy. There was a good-looking man with a long white beard, he looked like Eliyahu (Elijah the prophet), who was selecting people to go to a factory. The Blockälteste said, “Please stay. I saved you so many times—don't go away.” Then we said to each other, “Let's go. Whatever is going to happen, at least we are five together.” The Blockälteste said that if we see the trucks coming in the morning, we should say shema yisrael because this is our end. They sent us to the gas chambers. [Note: The sisters were being held in a transit camp, so probably were sent to a holding compound and not the gas chambers.]

We were sitting there for two nights and one day, waiting for something to happen. In the morning the trucks came with hundreds of bodies, and there was no room left to burn people, so they released us from the gas chambers, and they gave each of us a dress and a coat and shoes, and took us to the railroad station. The Germans were waiting there. They gave us a baked potato and salami. In October 1944, they took us out of Auschwitz. We didn't know where they were taking us. These were our prisoner numbers [Buchenwald numbers]:

Adel: 36833
Anna: 36831
Berta: 36835
Esther: 36832
Goldie: 36834

They sent us to Altenburg, a place in the Thüringen region of Germany, where there was a Hasag aircraft parts factory [subcamp of Buchenwald]. At Altenburg, we received new prisoner [Buchenwald] numbers:

Adel: 72198
Anna: 72199
Berta: 72200
Esther: 72201
Goldie: 72202

Altenburg Factory: October 1944 to April 1945

When we arrived at the factory, we got a bowl and a spoon, and they gave us noodles in milk to eat. We each had a bunk bed with a blanket—it was like heaven. We worked all night—from 6 pm to 6 am. The work was very hard—we were inspecting bullets to see if the size was right. Our sister was testing to make sure that the thread was good. During the day the bombs were coming so we went to the bunker. Etuka Rubinrot (who was our Blockälteste in Auschwitz) gave seven tickets to our five sisters so that we could get extra soup. In Esther's voice: One evening I felt like I was being watched—they were calling me a saboteur. The bullets that I inspected didn't fit in the machine gun. But I showed them that the bullet fit in my machine—it was a miracle.

SS guards walked around with guns, and the girls were also watched by others who stared through holes in the walls. After passing through my machine, the bullets went into a room, where they were dipped in ammonia, then loaded into the guns. We had to pass the bullets in trays of fifty, and the trays were very heavy. The SS woman supervisor thought we weren't working fast enough. She yelled “mach schnell” and dropped three trays into our sister Adel (Udika's) arms, and she started to spit up blood—something burst in her lungs. She was barely eating after that; she was very skinny and very weak. They took her away from us, to a hospital, but there was no medication.

One night, Berta (Binuka) was lying down on the floor in the ammunitions factory because she was hungry and tired. I said to her, “The Germans will come and they will take you away.” Berta said she didn't care. The next day I went to the garbage dump looking for turnips. I filled the hood of my sweater with turnip peels—I wanted my sister to have something to eat. The commandant came after me and knocked me on my head with the butt of his gun; my glasses flew away and I ran back to the barracks. They came after me; they called my number—I thought for sure that this was my end. My sister told the supervisor that the commandant was after me, so the supervisor saved me again.

At night, we walked home, frequently barefoot (even during the snowy winter months), for our shoes had been stolen or taken away. In Goldie's voice: My legs were covered in bursting blisters from sunburn, and my skin was scaly from malnourishment.

Starting in January (1945), there was nothing to eat. One SS supervisor brought in an apple kuchen at Christmastime, her mother had sent it. She shared it with us because we were her favorites.

One day they turned off the lights in the factory, they said that there was no more electricity, and we had to go to the barracks. In Esther's voice: I had washed my dress and put it on the oven to dry, and I didn't have time to grab it. I covered myself with a blanket. The factory supervisors got an order to kill all 800 of us, but the yard was too small, so they had to take us to the next city. We were walking through the front—everything was burning around us.

We saw a German woman carrying clothes, who gave us advice: “Children, slow down, sit down. Even if the commandant comes, you tell him that you're not going.” The commandant came—he said “Mach schnell—they are here!” A German plane came very low and started shooting at us with machine gun fire. My hair burned off because a burning tree fell on me. My sister threw something on my head to smother the fire. We were all huddled together. It was very quiet.

It was Friday, April 13, 1945. One boy looked down and saw American tanks lined up. He said “children we are free.” As I was running, I lost the blanket, and I was completely naked. A German guy brought me something to wear.

In Goldie's voice: One hundred girls died when they ate bread which they had found in an abandoned warehouse. They had been poisoned—whether by food poisoning, from bread that was too rich for their stomachs, or by a last malicious act on the part of the Germans, I do not know. Finally the girls realized to stop eating from that food supply. I realized that we should only eat rice and other mild foods; our bodies were just skin and bones.

Liberation and the Immediate Postwar Period: April to September 1945

We looked at all the beautiful American tanks lined up. It was unbelievable. God bless the American soldiers—they had soda and chocolate. They said don't eat too fast—just a little at a time. They told us to go into a house nearby because the war wasn't over yet. In Esther's voice: So I went into the house, and fell asleep under the oven. I didn't wake up until Monday morning. There were pails of milk and fresh white bread. The soldiers made us cream of wheat—they made sure that we ate slowly. It was like a dream. I am still looking for those guys from Texas—they were tall, blond, and so good-looking! We had a good time. We went to live in a repurposed school—there were ten girls together in a room.

Displaced persons identity card for Esther, from Leipheim, Germany, where Esther met her future husband.

Displaced persons identity card for Goldie (Iren), Leipheim, Germany.

Meanwhile, they took our sister Adel (Udika) out of the hospital, with the other sick people. She wrote to us from a town named Penig. When we went to see her, she was near the end. She was very weak. We brought her some food but she couldn't eat it. At that time I had a terrible pain in my stomach. It was appendicitis, so they removed my appendix. While I was in the hospital, I learned that Udika had died. An American rabbi buried her in an Evangelist [Lutheran] cemetery in Germany.

In August 1945, the Russians took over the camp in Germany, so we had to leave. We went home to Hungary, to look for our parents. First we went to see our oldest sister Borishka, who was living in Debrecen. After the war, she had returned to Mád, where she found that our family's house had been trashed.

After visiting Borishka in Debrecen, we decided to return to our family home in Mád. We were driven by two wagon-drivers, who left us on the wagon. Some Russians took the wagon, and threw us down into a ditch—the wagon, the horse, the wine barrels. Both of our sister's arms were broken. In Esther's voice: I had a terrible concussion. We went back to Debrecen. The doctor said that I had to lie quietly. In December 1945 we went to Budapest, and from there we illegally returned to Germany.

Barry and Bina Move from Hungary to Israel: 1958

Our brother Berel (Barry) was a big dreamer. He left Hungary to live in Italy and Switzerland. He tried to go to Palestine, but he was caught as an illegal.

In 1945, when the Russians entered Hungary, Barry returned from a labor camp. He was wearing a German uniform, because that's all he had. The Russians thought he was a German so they sent him to Siberia. He was there until 1948, when everybody was liberated. In 1956, at the time of the Hungarian revolution, he and his family went to Israel. So did our sister Berta (Bina), who also had been living in Hungary.

DP Camp, Leipheim: 1946 to 1948

We had illegal papers—mine showed that I was from Poland. I was placed in Leipheim, a displaced persons camp, and given housing in a “kibbutz.” There were a lot of young people there. When I first arrived, I didn't know how to speak Yiddish. I met a Lithuanian man, who asked me who I was staying with. I responded that I had two “shveegers”—I meant brother-in-law but I said mother-in-law. So he thought I was married and didn't ask me on a date!

Esther's first home in Toronto, with a host family.

Wedding photograph, January 27, 1952. Toronto, Canada.

Photograph of four of the sisters taken in Goldie's apartment in Brooklyn. Sister Esther (not pictured) took the picture. 1988.

Goldie and Anna both got married to men they met in Leipheim. In Esther's voice: I met Sammy in Leipheim, but I didn't want to get married right away—I wanted to live first. I traveled around Germany with my friend Marta Sternbach. In Auschwitz, Marta had been separated from her sister, who said to her “follow the Grossman girls.”

In Esther's voice: I went to Toronto. JIAS (Canada's Jewish Immigrant Aid Society) placed me with a family as a housekeeper. In 1951, Sammy came to visit his cousin in Toronto, and he found out that I was there. We went to a movie, and I came home and told my landlady that I was getting married. When I saw Sammy again I knew that he was “the one.”

USA, a New Life: Starting in 1952

Some quotes from Esther:

I always dream about carrying my grandmother. I dream about jumping through fences. At the Holocaust Museum in Washington, I cried when looking at the liberation exhibit, when the Americans came in… seeing Eisenhower standing at Ohrdruf…my sisters saved me… my mother saved me when I was dying—she told me I had to live.

I am blessed with three wonderful children, six beautiful grandchildren, and four precious great grandchildren.

The Grossman Family Legacy

The six Grossman siblings who survived the Holocaust started families soon after liberation. There are now over 360 descendants living in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel.

To request access to view the Grossman family tree, contact the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center at


Shoah foundation video interview of Esther Cizek
Transcript of interview, Esther Cizek, by David Fox
Transcript of interview, Irene (Goldie) Greenberger, by Naomi Greenberger Lerman

Related Map Links

Europe, 1933
Hungary, 1933