Holocaust Survivor’s Ticket to Heaven by David Weiss
There was no end to my Grandma Genia’s love for her family. She was entirely selfless. It wasn’t just her family that benefitted from Genia’s incredible warmth and kindness. She gave so much to so many despite suffering incredibly tragic losses and immense suffering during her years in the Concentration Camps. While I don’t know what happens to people when they die, if the whole admittance to heaven concept is accurate, she must have gotten in right away. No questions asked. God surely just looked at her, gave her a hug and said “A job well done. Thank you, Genia”.
Life began in a pleasant, loving, but hard-scrabble manner. Genia was one of seven children. Her family lived in the small Eastern Polish village of Maczki. Genia’s father spent much of his life praying and making sure the family was following the Jewish traditions. Her mother ran the family’s general store. Even though they owned the store, the family was quite poor. Each child got one new outfit a year, always at the start of the Passover holiday. While the children went to secular school and had extensive Jewish schooling, their primary responsibility was taking care of the next sibling in line. In other words, each child cared for the child that came after they did age wise. Life was hard but there was plenty of love, singing, dancing and family.
Life got worse for Genia. Much worse. Her village was invaded by the Nazis right at the beginning of the war. Maczki was one of the first Polish villages to be taken. Genia witnessed her parents and two of her sisters being shot and killed right in front of her. Her brother was taken and eventually killed in Auschwitz. Genia and one of her sisters were seen as strong enough to be sent to the Concentration Camps. They were deported to the sub-camps of Auschwitz. For well over four years, Genia worked seven days a week, fourteen hours a day with little food, being tortured and her life in constant danger.
Here is an excerpt from my book “The Everyday Remember: Holocaust Legacy” about Genia’s time during the Holocaust:
Grandma Genia had her one big “thank you” in Florida many years after the war when a lady was so grateful to her for doing the extra work required on a day when she was too sick to move. Had Grandma Genia not have done the work for two that day, this lady would have been shot. It turned a fourteen-hour day into an eighteen-hour day for Genia. I asked Grandma if she remembered doing that. She said that she didn’t know which time that was but that type of thing happened during those years. In other words, Genia saved more than just that one lady during her time in the camps. Continual, non-stop slave labor day after day was Genia’s existence and as she was doing this, there was no end in sight. In her mind, she most likely felt that she was going to do this for years and years until she got sick and died. I can’t imagine what kept her going. I suppose it was her belief in God, but I am not sure what kept that belief going.
Unfortunately, the difficult times were not over. The Russians Liberated Genia and she was put on a train and transported to a Displaced Persons Camp in Regensberg, Germany. She was entirely alone in the world with no possessions except the clothes she was wearing. Genia was encouraged to return to Maczki to see if any relatives survived and to see if she wanted to re-settle there. Rather than supporting the Survivors in DP Camps, the Allies wanted the Jews to move back “home”. Unfortunately, “home” no longer existed. When Genia arrived she found no relatives and her family’s store had been taken(stolen). The people running the store pretended not to know Genia and claimed that they had owned the store for decades. She left Maczki and returned to Regensberg.
With her life turned upside down and suffering tremendous physical and psychological torment, Genia moved forward. I will never fully understand how, but she did. Genia married a fellow Survivor while at the Displaced Persons Camps, moved to Belgium, had a daughter and eventually moved to the United States. She helped her husband start and run one of Milwaukee’s most successful men’s clothing stores, raised her daughter and was instrumental in raising her two grandchildren. She even got to see and meet two of her great-grandchildren. While on this journey, she blazed a trail, inspiring others by her story of survival and the strength she showed to rebuild and learn once again to love life.
Grandma Grinbaum never got over the horrors of what she saw and experienced. She had trauma and flashbacks (PTSD symptoms) even in her later years. She did, however, have times where she was truly able to love life. Being a mother, holding her grandchildren, seeing us grow up, singing and dancing at parties, attending concerts and playing cards with friends on the lakefront each summer. I will never forget the days she would wake up at 5 in the morning, cook until 8, work at the store until 5, come home and prepare dinner before finally taking a rest and watching Lawrence Welk, a Mario Lanza concert or a Dean Martin-style variety show. Each activity, every moment of those days filled with joy.
It was quite a journey. She had every reason to feel bitter or loathe in self-pity. Instead, Genia spent her post-war life spreading kindness, love and compassion to everyone she crossed paths with. As her grandson, I can say that my sister and I were probably the biggest beneficiaries of her richness-of-spirit. She never missed an opportunity to tell us and show us that she loved us. The world took everything away from Genia, but it never shook her faith and never made her an angry person. Quite the opposite.
The Power of Humans is immense. It is beyond what our minds can comprehend. As Winston Churchill said “When you’re going through Hell, keep going”. Somehow, someway and for some reason, Genia kept going and spread the beauty of the human spirit for the rest of her life.
David Weiss was born, raised and still lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Being the grandson of four Holocaust Survivors has always been an integral part of his identity and life. David earned a Bachelors of Arts in Education from Cardinal Stritch University and a Masters of Arts in Education from Viterbo University. He spent eleven years as a second and third grade teacher before starting his own promotions business. David is also an author and teaches at the college level. David and his wife are the proud parents of a six year old daughter.
Purchase the author’s book “The Everyday Remember: Holocaust Legacy”
Purchase the author’s book “Czech Mates: Holocaust Legacy”
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Read more about David Weiss’ new book HERE.