Henry Greenbaum was born Chuna Grynbaum in Starachowice, Poland, on April 1, 1928. His father, Nuchem, ran a tailor shop out of their home while his mother, Gittel, raised the family’s nine children.
Before 1939, Henry enjoyed a typical childhood, attending public and religious schools and playing soccer with other children. However, in the summer of 1939, rumors of an impending German invasion became rife. Having heard that factory jobs might offer some protection, Henry’s father arranged for Henry and three of his sisters to work in the munitions factory. Shortly thereafter, his father passed away unexpectedly. Two months later Germany invaded Poland, and Henry and his family escaped to a nearby farm to avoid the bombings that preceded the ground invasion of their town. While Henry and his brother David were out picking tomatoes on the farm, they came across a Polish soldier who was fleeing from the Germans. David decided to escape with the soldier but made Henry go back home to their mother.
When the family was forced to move into the Starachowice ghetto in 1940, Henry and his sisters continued to work at the factory. The family remained together in the ghetto until October 1942, when Henry’s mother and two of his sisters, along with their children, were deported to Treblinka and killed. Henry and his three remaining sisters were selected to work in a nearby labor camp. (His other sister, Dina, had immigrated to the United States in 1937.) Henry helped produce springs in a factory while his sisters sewed uniforms in an SS tailor shop. His sisters Chaja and Yita died in the camp. In 1943, he and his last remaining sister in the camp, Faige, tried to escape; Henry was shot in the head during the attempt. When he regained consciousness, he went to look for Faige and found a cousin who tended to his wound. It was not until the next morning’s roll call that he learned Faige had been killed in the escape attempt.
In 1944, Henry was deported to Auschwitz and incarcerated in the Buna-Monowitz subcamp, where the I.G. Farben Company owned a factory established for the purpose of producing synthetic rubber and fuel. As the Soviet army approached, Henry was evacuated to Flossenbürg, a concentration camp near the Czechoslovakian border. When American forces neared Flossenbürg a few months later, the prisoners were sent toward Dachau on a death march. Henry was liberated at Neunburg vorm Wald on April 25, 1945, by US soldiers from the 11th Armored Division.
After liberation, Henry began to search for his family. In Bergen-Belsen he found the cousin who had cared for him after he was shot. The cousin subsequently returned to Poland, where she found Henry’s brother Zachary, who had been imprisoned in the Vilna ghetto, and told him where he could find Henry. Once the brothers were reunited, they sent a telegram to their sister Dina in the United States, letting her know they had survived, and settled at the Zeilsheim displaced persons camp near Frankfurt until she was able to arrange for their immigration. In the summer of 1946 Henry and Zachary arrived in New York, where they were met by their brother David. Of his immediate family, only Henry, his two brothers, and his sister Dina survived the Holocaust.
Henry and his late wife, Shirley, settled in Bethesda, Maryland. They have four children. Henry served as a volunteer at the Museum, sharing his experiences with visitors.