Czestochowa (Poland), Buchenwald, Dora, Osterode/Hartz
Born in February 1920, in Czestochowa, Poland, Wolf Gruca was one of six children. Like many, his family lived in the house that had been theirs for generations. His father worked with his extended family as a teamster, delivering goods from railheads to factories. They were not wealthy, but made a good living. They were an observant family, keeping kosher, and Wolf’s fondest memories of childhood were of the preparation and observance of Sabbath each week. He remembers that every Friday was a holiday with special dishes, clothes and foods. Educated through seven grades of public school, he went on to learn the trade of a toolmaker, a vital skill on which he was to depend for his later survival. His family had a variety of political beliefs, ranging from ardent Zionist to Communist.
The war started on a Friday morning and by Sunday Germans were entering his part of the city. The local population promptly burned down the synagogue. As was common, few in the Jewish population knew what was to come. Armbands were soon issued and movement was restricted with both boundaries and curfews. The ghetto was being formed. Like others, Mr. Gruca hid during the day to avoid the press gangs that would sweep through, drafting those they caught to clean stables, unload trains and for other manual labor. The Germans then forced Jewish leaders to provide labor gangs and Mr. Gruca found himself with two dozen others sent to a factory for two months of forced labor with no sanitation, no change of clothes, and little food or sleep. Finally he was sent back to what had become a much smaller ghetto. The rest had been sent away to their deaths.
Soon the day came when his family was forced marched to the train station and the young were separated from the old. His father, with wife in tow, must have known their fate for he presciently told his children: “I will see you no more.” Two of his brothers, who had been informed upon for caching ammunition, were killed. He was transported from place to place, Buchenwald, Dora, Osterode/Hartz along the way, but often among small anonymous factories, never knowing where he was, what was going on or whether he would live or die. Subsistence rations of bread and gruel gave way to boiled leaves as the German war proved less successful over the course of time. The Nazis did not kill him so they could exploit his tool making skills, but the constants in his life were hunger, beatings, thin clothing, starvation rations, and movement from place to place.
Liberation came when he and his comrades were marched for days, and then ordered to lie on the ground face down. When they looked up they were no longer in the land of the third Reich, but in the British sector. Of his family of eight, only Wolf and one brother survived. Housed in a displaced persons camp, he met and married Regina Waldman. With the help of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, they made their way to Detroit. This committee, universally known and praised as the Joint, helped him find work, and a place to live. He became an American citizen and worked 27 years for Chrysler, having three children, and four grandchildren. His greatest wish is for the happiness for his children and grandchildren. His greatest fear is that it could happen again.