Emery Grosinger

"It's better know history so you don't repeat it."

Name at birth
Imre Grosinger
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Ermihifalua, Transylvania, Hungary We lived there until I was eleven years old then moved to Nagyvarod for school. The city was a part of Hungary during the war, it’s now a part of Romania
Name of father, occupation
Emanuel Grosinger, Butcher
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Ilona Rubenstein, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents, my brothers Alexander Grosinger who was 11 years older than me, Leslie Grosinger Garbon who was 9 years older (Americanized his last name at some point), and myself
How many in entire extended family?
“Let me put it simply. Twenty-eight family members were deported. Two survived.”
Who survived the Holocaust?
My cousin Larry Dietz and I. Both of my brothers survived, but were not deported. They spent the war in the Hungarian Army in a labor battalion
The school in our town only went up to fourth grade so my brothers were sent to a Jewish high school in Nagyvarod.  Alex graduated in 1940 and Leslie graduated shortly after.  Both my brothers then entered the Hungarian army.  
The labor battalion did not have uniforms only a yellow arm band.  The company commander of their group happened to be one of Alex’s teachers from school.  He made Alex the company clerk and Alex got a real army uniform.  He would take coupons and go to army bases to buy food and supplies for the group.  He would even go to German army bases and they treated him like any other soldier not knowing he was Jewish.  Because of this situation, both brothers had it relatively easy in the labor battalion.  There were six guards for 150 people.
In the fall of 1943, it was my turn to go to the city for school.  I stayed with close friends of my parents as a boarder.  
On March 17, 1944, I contracted scarlet fever and was sent to the hospital.  It was also the day that the German army invaded Hungary.  My parents tried to get me out of the hospital using non-Jewish friends.  They had a hideaway built in the woods that would have hopefully lasted them through the end of the war.  Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful and I was taken to the city’s ghetto which used to be a lumber yard.  My parents decided to go to the ghetto also and we were reunited there.  
A sad side note is that the deportations started in May, 1944 and the Russian army liberated the city in August, just three months later.   
We spent two to three weeks in the ghetto.  On a Monday morning, we were taken to the railroad station and put on box cars.  At dawn on Friday, we arrived at Auschwitz.  
While in line for selection, I was separated from my parents.  After a time, I saw my father in another line and just being a dumb twelve year old kid, I walked over to him.  He had already been selected to work so I never went through selection.  We were deloused in the showers and spent the next four to five days in Birkenau.  He was then taken to a “transport for work” and I never saw him again. 
I then ran into three friends who I had known all my life.  We all survived.  One died recently of natural causes.  They were two years older than me.  We were housed with 300-400 other youths.  The kids were mostly Polish Jews who were just brought from the Lodz ghetto.  They spoke only Yiddish and we spoke only Hungarian, so we learned Yiddish.
One of my friend’s fathers was a dentist and one day someone spotted him in another section of the camp.  My friend found a way to speak to him one day and I listened the entire time.  The father was a Sonderkommando who pulled the gold teeth out of the bodies.    
After three or four weeks, the entire barrack was lined up and Dr. Mengele came by on his bicycle for a selection.  The weak and infirm were pulled out and locked in a barrack to wait for the gas chamber.  I was one of them.  
I was lying on the barrack floor and I saw a Siddur, a prayer book, lying there so I started to read it.  That was the last time I picked up a Siddur for the next 65 years.  
That night, some older guys broke out a window in the back of the barrack and escaped to another barrack.  I just followed them.  The next day, the locked barrack was taken to the gas chambers.  It was pure luck, no brains at all.  
Near the end of July or early August, the dentist was cleaning up the camp with a wheelbarrow, throwing away trash and garbage, when he spotted my mother.  He was able to get me on clean-up detail so I was able to see her.  
A few weeks later, I was selected again.  And again, I followed a group that broke out.  I cannot believe this happened.  I was only twelve years old.  
In September or October, there was another selection but this one was for height.  They held up a 2 x 4 piece of wood at a certain height and anyone that hit the board was okay.  I was tall for my age and was safe.
One day, a group of Sonderkommando blew up crematorium #3.  They blew the top off and escaped.  Polish peasants spotted them and turned them in.  They were taken back to the camp and executed, including the dentist.  I knew that the roof was blown off the crematorium because I was selected to clean up the rubble.  I walked into the crematorium with this complete sense of calm, I wasn’t scared at all.   
In November, three of the four of us were taken to the main camp at Auschwitz and we were told we were going to learn how to lay bricks.
On Christmas, 1944, we were served a mash with green peas.  It was heaven.  For the next few weeks we did nothing.
On January 18, 1945 all the prisoners were lined up on the main street.  The Russians had broken through into Poland and were close to Auschwitz.  At that moment, one of my friends found an older cousin of mine on my father’s side.  So it’s my cousin, my friend and I, arm in arm.  We start marching with all of the other prisoners through the fields, about 100 yards off the road.  On the road, you could see the dead bodies of the prisoners who could not march any longer.  We marched all night.  
After marching twenty-four hours, we arrived at a burnt-out railroad station.  The name of it was Leipzig but I don’t know how to spell it.  The next morning we were packed into open box cars in freezing temperatures.  After maybe six hours, we arrived at Gross Rosen camp.  It was a miserable, awful camp.  We spent one month there until mid-February.  
This time we were loaded onto closed box cars with straw in them.  We traveled for about a week.  The Allies were bombing all around us continuously, to the left of us, to the right of us, but we were never hit.  
We arrived at Oranienburg and a camp called Sachsenhausen.  We happened to be located in a suburb of Berlin.  This camp was a luxury in comparison – food.  We were all assigned duties.  Teams would go into Berlin to dig up bombs that had not exploded during Allied air raids.  
After about eight to ten days of that, we were once again put into boxcars, but this time it was different.  There were only twenty of us in each car, there was straw but there were also two armed guards in the middle of the boxcar with us.  Along the way, we traveled through a station to the main platform of a city, which was unheard of.  When we looked out, there was confusion everywhere, people running around everywhere.  This was the first time that I noticed something was wrong.  We were given food at this time also.  Twenty years later I discovered that the British had just firebombed Dresden and we arrived two days after the bombing.  
After ten or twelve days, we arrived at Mauthausen concentration camp.  We had to walk up a hill into the camp and along the way we passed some sub-camps and a rock quarry.  Later I found out we were in Austria, near the Danube River and the city of Linz. We were surprised when many of the people working in the camp, aside from the Germans, were Spaniards.  They were the cooks, etc.  They fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil war and ran to France when they were defeated.  They were captured by the Germans when France was invaded.  
A week later, this was near the end of March, we were lined up on the main street; my other three friends had disappeared by this time.  As I was standing there, I look up at the guy next to me, he looks down and we recognize each other from our hometown.  He sees that a German officer and a secretary are going down the line getting everyone’s information.  He says do not tell them you are Jewish, tell them you are Hungarian.  
When the German officer asks what I am, I say Hungarian.  He turns to the secretary and tells him I am a Jew.  But the secretary had already written Hungarian and didn’t change it, maybe too much of a bother.  The same thing happened with my new friend.  He said Hungarian, officer said Jew but secretary had already written Hungarian.  
Because of this however, when the time came to be assigned to barracks, we were put in barrack #2 with the Hungarian government officials who had tried to switch sides near the end of the war.  There were cabinet ministers, secretary of state, etc.  
Our barrack had better treatment than the rest of the camp because these were political prisoners.  We also had the best view in the camp and one day we saw six Red Cross trucks pull up with food.  However, it was raining so a lot of the food got wet and was put in the basement of the hospital/crematoria building.  I broke into this basement and filled up my pant legs with food and took it back to my barrack.  I did this five times.  If I had been caught, I would have been shot but I didn’t care.
Mauthausen was an awful camp.  This is where the Dutch military was executed and where prisoners were forced to carry very heavy stones up 186 steps out of the quarry.  I did end up finding my friends again at one of the sub-camps.
The Germans pulled out across the Danube and the Spaniards and some Yugoslavian prisoners broke into the armory and didn’t let the Germans come back into the camp.
I was liberated by the 11th Armored Division on May 6 or 7, 1945.  
I walked into a barrack and asked if anyone was from my hometown.  A guy jumps up and starts hugging and kissing me.  I have no idea who he is.  When he tells me, I still don’t believe him.  I know that person, not this one standing in front of me.  I go to get one of my friends and they both have to convince me it is him.  He did weigh close to 300 pounds when I had seen him last and now he was 88 pounds.  
Two weeks later my friend, this guy, and myself start out for our hometown.  My brothers were there for already one year by then because the city was liberated eight or nine months earlier.  In a town of 10,000, about twenty percent were Jewish.  We all lived in one of the houses five or six guys – and we stayed there one to one and a half years.  
Being a curious guy, at one point I checked out the Halutz (pioneer) camp to see about going to Palestine.  But I was constantly reading about the British putting Jews in camps on Cyprus and I didn’t want anything to do with that, so I quit.
In the summer of 1947, based on the sound of the word, I had decided I wanted to go to Canada.  No other reason.  My oldest brother, Alex, said no.  Along with another couple, Alex had gotten us some old Romanian passports from the 1930s.  
We met a Yeshiva bucher, a student named Jacob.  He happened to also be a master forger and forged us Belgian visas into our Romanian passports.  We traveled from Transylvania to Budapest.  While there, Alex goes to the Czech consulate explaining we are on our way to Belgium and would like a visa to go through Czechoslovakia.  He gets the visas and we go to Prague.  We stayed three or four months in a flea bag hotel that happened to be loaded with Jews from Palestine.  They were the forerunners of the Hagana (Israeli soldiers) and were in Prague for military training.  The other couple we were traveling with got visas to go to France, so they left.  Alex also visited the French consulate to get us visas to pass through to Belgium.  While in the consulate, our passports were checked and as the official flipped through each page, he said “forgery, forgery, forgery”.  But in the end, he approved the visas.  Alex also met someone who had visas to go to Peru for sale so Alex bought some.  
Now it’s the end of January, 1948 and we arrive in Paris.  We hook up with that other couple and Alex heads to the U.S. consulate to request a visa to cut through America on our way to Peru.  Just as we were about to leave, we got a call from the U.S. consulate that our visas were approved, a six week visitor visa.  
But we didn’t have money for passage so Alex goes to any relief agency he can find.  He ends up at a Catholic relief agency in Paris and they arranged us passage to sail on the flagship steamer, the S.S. America.  We traveled from Chambord to New York.  It was so easy to passage from the Catholic group because they were also helping Nazis get to South America.  
On Thursday, April 29, 1948 we arrived in New York.  The authorities wanted to verify our visas so we stayed on Ellis Island until Monday morning.  That Friday night, while on Ellis Island, I took a walk to the water’s edge and looked at the most beautiful city in the world.  New York City at night was unbelievable.  
We had relatives in New York so they showed us around for the day.  On Tuesday, we headed to Detroit to visit more relatives.  While in New York, we had bought airline tickets to Peru.  When we went back to New York to catch our plane, I said I didn’t want to go.  My brother goes to Peru and I go to live with my aunt and uncle in Detroit.  
We needed to decide what to do about myself because I was a man without a country.  I was not a citizen of the United States.  We decided that I should report to the immigration authorities.  They let me stay but I had to check back with them periodically.  
Two years later, in 1951, I walk into an Army recruitment office to join the Army.  It was the height of the Korean War at the time.  They asked my citizenship and they refused to allow me to join.  At around the same time, I had registered for the draft.  I knew that if I served in the military, I would become a US citizen.  
In 1953, I got drafted and had basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky.  I was assigned to the 9th Infantry and we were stationed in Ulm, Germany.  After one year in Ulm, I was transferred to the 1st Infantry, which was a tank company near Frankfort.  I became a cook.  
On April 26, 1955, I was called into the American Consulate.  I had no idea what for and I thought I might be in trouble for something.  They started asking me questions about civics, who was George Washington, etc.  The next thing I know is that I am raising my right hand and becoming a United States citizen. 
Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Where did you settle?
Detroit, Michigan
Occupation after the war
When and where were you married?
1963 in Southfield, Michigan
Roberta, Teacher
Eric, food distributor Kari, works for American Jewish Committee
What do you think helped you to survive?
Dumb luck, sheer luck, stupidity, the dumber, the better, naiveté, instinct. I never believed I could survive.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
It's better know history so you don't repeat it.
Charles Silow
Interview date:

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