Krass, Rosita Grynbal
Paris, Toulouse, Goussainville, France; Caracas, Venezuela
Rosita Krass (Rosette Isabele Grynbal) was born in Paris, France on June 12, 1938. Her parents, Leon (Leib) Grynbal and Celia Szyf Grynbal were Polish Jews and were both born in Klimontów, but did not know each other then. “They were about 4½ years apart in age and both had different political views, but they were very much into politics…. In those days, the situation for the Jewish people was starting to deteriorate. Usually the male off-spring, as soon as they became of age, would leave; but the girls stayed close to their parents and did not dare to find jobs or become independent of their homes.”
Leon was one of seven siblings of Henach and Malka Grynbal. His oldest brother, Srulke, became an attorney in Chicago, then married and moved to Gary, Indiana, where they had a curtain store…. The second brother, Shia, went with his friend to Brazil in the early 1920’s and worked there for about a year as a street car ticket collector. “Until his dying day, he claimed that he and his buddy hired an Indian guide who canoed them through the Amazon jungle, to Venezuela.” In a small town outside the capital, he married the owner of his rooming house, a woman who was 13 years older and was pregnant out-of-wedlock. “They moved to Caracas, the capital, and, with her well-to-do family connections, she was helpful to my uncle who became a very powerful man in Venezuela.”
Another brother, Moishe (Maurice), was a Zionist and he went to Palestine for two years. There he acquired a British passport because it was under British mandate, which eventually saved his life…. He did not like Palestine and immigrated to Paris where he married a French-born Jewish woman. During the war, he was apprehended and sent to Drancy detention camp. He was there for two years and was not sent on any of the trains to concentration camps because of his British passport. “Hitler always hoped that Churchill would join him, so, he never touched a British citizen.”
Leon’s youngest brother, Yechiel, went to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War. He did that for two years and then he went to Paris. Just before the war started he immigrated to Palestine.
Two sisters stayed in Klimontów, where Jews had lived for 800 years, and where there were 2500 Jews out of 4500 people. One sister was married with two little kids and the younger one, Ava, was single. After the Germans invaded Poland, they came to Klimontów and took the Jews to the closest, smallest town, Sandomierz, and, in the main square, the older people and maybe the little kids, were killed by the Germans. The others were put on trains. “My whole family was put on trains and killed…. My grandfather, Henach Grynbal, owned the biggest store in town and was wealthy. So, he offered his neighbor, friend, I think he was his employee, all of his money to please save his daughter. He said yes and reportedly he took her to the attic and beheaded her.”
Celia Szyf, was the fifth of eight children of Orish and Rifka Szyf; four boys and four girls. The oldest boy, Alter, went to Paris in the very early 20’s and died of TB…. The second child, Martin, came to Detroit, Michigan…. Her two older sisters, had each been married and each had two children, and they all died when the Germans came…. Another brother, David, went to Brussels, where he was active in the underground during the war. After the war, David, his wife, and son moved to Australia…. The youngest sibling, a brother Yankel, also went to Brussels. He was very much to the left politically and he was an idealist. He thought that in Russia he would be okay and he went there and learned to be an accountant. After about two years, Stalin was afraid of Trotsky, so he killed all the Polish young men, including Yankel…. The youngest girl, Mina, later came to Paris and she was a single girl, working and living with Celia, Leon, and Rosita.
“My mother (Celia) was 4’11” and very, very smart and she always said ‘not me.’ One story that she told me was that they were sitting at the table. It was Shabbat. Everybody always observed Shabbat. It was a beautiful summer evening and the window was open and the breeze was coming in and they heard a shot. It turned out that the Polish young men had shot a family next door and killed an 11-year-old. So, my mother, at that moment, decided I am leaving here; I am not staying, even though she was a girl.
“She had an uncle in Lodz, her mother’s brother, and he had a very large ladies’ underwear factory. She went to work for him and learned very quickly to make ladies’ undergarments, brassieres, and slips…. She also was very involved in politics, what was called a Polie-Zionist. She had a boyfriend. When she dropped him, he denounced her and reported that she was involved in politics. Since that was against the government, she ended up in jail…. My grandfather, Orish Szyf, who was not a person of means, walked a huge field, in the middle of winter, to take a train in Sandomierz to go to Warsaw to find a lawyer. He wrote to his two sons, Martin in Detroit and David in Belgium, to send money to pay for this lawyer who got her out of jail, and then to pay for a smuggler to smuggle her out of Poland through Holland and Germany to Belgium…. She lived with my uncle David for one year, found a job, went to school at night to learn French, and decided that she had enough of Brussels. It was too quiet for her. She had a girlfriend/third-cousin in Paris, so she took the train and she ended up in Paris.
“In the early 1920’s, my father (Leon) went to Venezuela to join my Uncle Shia, with whom he was the closest. He was there for a year-and-a-half and he thought it was very primitive, so, he decided to go to Paris to join his brother Moishe…. Soon after my mother came to Paris in 1933, she met my father and three months later they were married. And then five years later I was born.
“The Germans got to Paris in 1940. I remember the day that they came in. I had to be a year-and a half old. I was with my father on one of the broad boulevards there, Avenue de la Republique. I was standing in the first row with my dad, holding his hand. I was very impressed by these soldier’s boots that were very, very shiny and they walked like machines. You could see their boots going together, boom-boom-boom. Very precise. Very shiny boots, I think I was shorter than the boots. Suddenly one of the soldiers broke this line, came directly to me, and he patted me on the head and gave me an apricot. And I was very scared.
“When the Germans came, they themselves did not come to get the people; it was always the French police. The first thing they asked was for the Jews to come to the city hall and register; and my parents did not do that. Then they asked for the Jews to wear the yellow band; my parents did not do that. And then they said to wear the yellow star; I think my mother did it for like one hour and then she tore it off. But she kept that yellow star, as a souvenir…. In the meantime, people were disappearing. They were coming at night and surprising people, knocking on the door and just taking them away, very quietly. Nobody ever yelled. You just heard the siren and you just looked down and you saw two people walking away and this van.
“We lived in an apartment building. We were on the fourth floor. There was just one floor above us, which was the attic. It was a beautiful, beautiful apartment in Le Marais, in the 3rd Arrondissement…. Before the war, many German Jews had fled Berlin and had come to Paris, thinking that France would be safe. They were all industrialists and had manufacturing companies, so they were sending extra work out and that’s how my parents started a little sub-factory in our apartment. From 1933 to 1940, they had five machines and they hired people and they had a lot of work. They made money, enough to save, which again saved our lives…. They turned all of their money into silver dollars and buried it in the coal cellar of the building….
“In France, the buildings all have superintendents and they are all female. These concierges really ran those buildings. They had the key. They took the rent. They did everything. You have a lease and it is for life. They cannot evict you unless you vacate the property. So, we were lucky in that the concierge was a very friendly woman, very kind woman. She was not an anti-Semite. So, my mother had the key to the coal cellar and this woman had the key; no one else. Also, below us, there was a family where the woman was Jewish and the man was not. They rented the lease to the attic above us….
“When the Germans came to Paris in 1940, people started to evacuate. Because my parents had money, they could buy train tickets. We went to a town in the south, Toulouse, in the Vichy. The Jews from Belgium, including my uncle, also came to Toulouse. Toulouse had barbed wires and my mother realized that this was a concentration camp. It was right by railroads and there were barbed wires. So, she thought that if she had a choice to stay here, she would end up in a French concentration camp, but if she went back to Paris, she would end up in a German concentration camp and the Germans are much cleaner people than the French, which is true. So, we went back. Anybody that stayed there, absolutely, after three-months were gone; they were put on trains and taken to Poland, to be burnt. So again, that’s another luck or ingenuity.
“In the meantime, my Aunt Mina married a man who was a French Jew, with a little boy, but she was still living with us. This man had cousins who had a summer home in Goussainville, a suburb, 30-kilometers north of Paris. North was a good thing in our lives because it is closer to the Normandy area and the Germans got to Goussainville before they came to Paris…. When things started to get very bad, my father went to stay in Goussainville, to go into hiding because they were starting to take men, quietly. This was all through word of mouth. The friends would come and tell stories. So and so has disappeared, so and so has disappeared, mainly men. So, my father went and it was just my mother, my aunt, and me, a little kid, in Paris….
“This is all that I know from hearsay…. I do remember bombs and I do remember us running to the attic many times. I do remember times when there was a big knock on the door and again running to the attic because the man downstairs would warn us. I do remember the times when there were bombs coming and we had to run to the Metro to hide from the bombs…. In August, 1942, there was a famous roundup, when the Germans rounded up, I think, 42,000 Jews, mostly non-French Jews; Jews who were in France, like Polish or Romanian or Slavic Jews. My mother and my aunt knew about this because you could see what was happening out on the street, so they started to run….
“The first place they went to was my French aunt, whose husband was in the Drancy detention camp, and who had been living with a French soldier. They knocked on the door and my five-year-old cousin opened the door. She yelled to my aunt that we were there and she said, ‘close the door’ and she closed the door on us. So, we had to keep running. We went from doorway to doorway just running, running, literally running from the Germans. That was a night of horror. That is a famous night….
“After this roundup day, we went to Goussainville where we met my father. My father had a room in somebody’s house and we were there just for a little bit and then he found a house to rent that had no electricity but it was very fine. Very soon after that, the man that owned the house told us to put up a wire and get electricity from the neighbor’s house for free. And so, we had electricity and we lived there the three remaining years of the war.
“For us, living in Goussainville was just a matter of extreme luck because there were towns right next to it where Jewish people just disappeared daily, all of them actually.… The mayor of Goussainville was Doctor Jean Gaston Charles Rousseau and he was also the town doctor and had a nice house. The rumor was that his wife, Henriette Rousseau née Péress, was Jewish and that was the reason that he did what he did, but I have no way of knowing…. There were 50 Jewish families, not 50 people, and every single Jewish person survived. Of course, the Jewish people did not register. But whenever the Germans came to the house where the authorities were, they said we have no Jews here; and they would just leave.
“The only thing I remember is that the Germans would send V-1 bombs that were driven without pilots and they would just send them like missiles. And then they came up with the much more powerful V-2, very large. They would just go ‘vroom’ and explode. Once there was a big field in front of our house and I was playing there and I saw it coming. I remember running home yelling, ‘Mommy, Mommy, there’s a V-2! There’s a V-2!’ I just remember playing there. I just remember it being a wide-open space and very free.
“I did not go to school. I was home-schooled by my dad. I don’t remember having any friends. But life was quite fine. Neighbors sold us food. There was milk. I remember that there was horsemeat and my mother saying I am not going to have any, but she made sure that I got, at least twice a week, a little beefsteak, filet mignon…. It was very calm. I do not have any fearful feelings. I imagine they kept me in a cocoon. Whatever they did, it was magical because I don’t remember. I have no horrible feelings about the war or France or anything….
“I was not allowed to say that I was Jewish and I was not allowed to mention my last name at all. I was told if people would ask me my last name, I was to say that I did not know it. I did not remember it. One time, we were at the fair and I got separated from my parents. The way I found my way home was to ask people where Dr. Rousseau’s house was and from there I knew how to go home because we went to Dr. Rousseau quite often and he was a very good friend to all of us.
“In the meantime, my aunt Mina was living with her husband’s family in Goussainville. He was in Paris, where he was very active in the underground. He kept sending messages to her that he wanted to see her. So, she would go to Paris and, one of the times that she went, he was in the hospital. He had pneumonia. He gave her papers to give to other people and the Germans caught her and she never came back. She ended up in Auschwitz and she was gassed. She was 28-years-old.
“We survived the war that way. Every three months my mother took the train to Paris. She was short, but she had very high cheekbones and very big black eyes and black hair and they thought she was a gypsy, and they never caught her…. She took the key from the concierge, opened the coal cellar, took out enough money for us to still have money to pay three months’ rent in case something happened to her, and went back to Goussainville.
“After the war, again, very lucky, but maybe because of my mother’s timeliness in paying the rent to the concierge, we had an apartment. 99 percent of people who had vacated their apartments had no apartments. The people who ran the buildings immediately would ‘sell the key’ to the apartment. Everybody came back to apartments that were filled with French people and you could not get them to leave because there was no eviction in those days.
“I think the invasion was in June. I’m not so sure that’s when the war ended. There was no newspaper. There was no radio. They did not know that the war had ended…. In August, my father couldn’t stand it anymore and he hitchhiked with American soldiers to Paris. He got a job with the American service people washing dishes. One of the officers was Jewish and he wanted the Jewish star, so my mother gave it to my father and he gave it away in exchange for chicken bones so she was able to make chicken soup. Since she knew how to sew bras, she was able to do that in exchange for a huge sack of potatoes that lasted for six months.
“I do remember my aunt, who had refused to help us, coming with my cousin, ringing the doorbell, and my mother opening and the woman throwing herself on the floor and saying ‘Please, forgive me. Please forgive me,’ kissing my mother’s knees. And my mother said to her, ‘Stand up. I forgive you, but I will never forget it. Just leave.’
“I also remember survivors coming to our apartment and sleeping on the floor because my parents let them in and helped them…. Little by little, they started again with machines and they had good work again…. But then one of My Uncle Shia’s friends came to Paris, knocked on the door, and said: ‘Your brother wants you to come to Venezuela. It’s much better there.’ My father went and six months later, my mother followed. She sold the key to our apartment, in May of 1947, for $10,000. And that was a lot of money in those days.
“We went to Venezuela and my mother was always unhappy there. She wanted to go back. In fact, as soon as she got there, she got pregnant and she was so unhappy the baby died…. They went to get a visa to get back to France and the French wouldn’t give my father a visa. They gave visas to me and my mother. And so, we stayed in Venezuela and my parents again started, but this time on their own, a small industrial business and they made shirts and pants for the army and did very well.
“I grew up in Venezuela, a Latin American country with lots of revolutions. Every two years there was always a revolution. The last revolution lasted a really long time. I was a sophomore at the university and they closed the university because the students started the revolution and they were successful.… So, I came to the United States to go to school. I applied to NYU and I was accepted. My major was biology, but I did not speak a word of English and it was really scary to be in New York…. We visited Michigan and my Uncle Martin and my cousins suggested that I stay in Michigan.”
Rosita enrolled at Wayne State University and met and married her husband, Allen Krass, in 1962. They have three children: a son, Howard, who is married to Stephanie and has twin girls, Charlotte and Julia; a daughter, Jennifer, who is married to Mike Bruynesteyn and has two children, Lila and Adam; and a daughter Michelle, who is married to Andrew Silberstein and has three children, Olivia, Charlie, and Jack. Her father, Leon Grynbal, died in Michigan at age 81 and her mother, Celia Szyf Grynbal, died in Miami at age 95 ½.
Rosita shares her story, hoping to learn more about what happened in Goussainville. “I would like to know more about the other 50 families that survived along with us. I would like to know more about Jean Rousseau. Why was he so helpful to us? It’s a mystery.” She also wants others to know that “There are bad words about the French people from the Jewish community of the world. It is not true. I have nothing but good memories and good luck. I am here because of the French people. They helped us with everything; the superintendent of the building; the people in the apartment below us; the people in Goussainville. Everyone, everyone; there was not one French person who betrayed us or wanted us dead. Not a one. I never knew of one.”
Date of Interview: June 28, 2018
Length of Interview: 54 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Mark Einhaus