Nelipeno (Czechoslovakia), Munkacs, Auschwitz, Plaszow, Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Markkleeberg, Theresienstadt
Grunfeld, the only child of Wolf and Dora Wachtenheim, was born in 1924 and lived in Nelipeno in the southeast corner of Czechoslovakia, 30 kilometers from the larger town of Mukacevo, later called Munkacs. There were approximately 500 Jews there and approximately 1,000 non-Jews, and Grunfeld recalls a considerable amount of anti-Semitism. She attended a Czech public school where the students were primarily Jewish, up to the eighth grade. Although her parents owned a farm, her father was a Hebrew teacher. The farm was managed by a tenant farmer.
In March 1939 Germany occupied Czechoslovakia and ceded the area where Grunfeld’s family lived to Hungary. Although certain restrictions were placed on the Jews, conditions remained relatively calm until 1944. Grunfeld’s father was not inducted into the Hungarian labor troops due to his age. Following Germany’s takeover in March 1944, the Jews of Nelipeno were placed into a ghetto in Munkacs. In May 1944, she and her parents were sent to Auschwitz. Her parents were sent to the gas chambers, and after about two weeks, she was sent to the Plaszow concentration/labor camp.
At Plaszow, her labor consisted of carrying lumber from the forest. Her head was shaved, she wore striped clothing, and lived under dismal conditions. Around October 1944, she was shipped back to Auschwitz, this time to Auschwitz II, a.k.a. Birkenau. She remained there for about a month, was not required to do any work, and described her stay as “living like animals.”
In November 1944 she was shipped to the Bergen-Belsen camp near Hannover, Germany, where she did some work in an ammunition factory but received very little food. In early 1945 she was shipped to the labor camp Marklinberg, where she also worked in an ammunition factory.
In April 1945, the inmates at Marklinberg were taken on a death march, destination unknown. No food was provided during the march so the prisoners resorted to eating grass and anything they could find. Grunfeld states that her weight was down to 30 kilograms (approximately 60 lbs.). The march ended at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. There they were given some food and clean clothing and were allowed to take a shower. She and the others were liberated at Theresienstadt in April 1945 by Russian forces.
She met her future husband, Fred Grunfeld, in a displaced persons camp in Germany. They were married in 1948 and came to the United States in 1949. They subsequently had three children.
Grunfeld attributes her survival to being in good health prior to her incarcerations, to not becoming ill while in the camps, and to the support from several of her girlfriends from her home village who she stayed together throughout their ordeal.
Grunfeld lost all of her family in the Holocaust except for one cousin. She has had and continues to have nightmares about her experiences.
The interview was followed by a few brief remarks from her son, Saul.
Date: April 6, 1998
Length: 57 minutes
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Format: Video recording