HHS Member - Warren Grynberg Article

Herschel Grynberg Testimony

Born 1915 in Losice, Poland

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Herschel Grynberg - In British Army Uniform

My father, Herschel Grynberg, was born to Chana Rivka (nee Swzreki) and Schmuel-Yankel Grynberg on the 13th May 1915 in the family home at 9-9a Berka Yoselvitch Street in Losice schtetl, Eastern Poland. His father, Schmuel-Yankel, was a dairy producer who sold milk and cheese products. My father worked in the Jewish shoe industry in Losice, well known for its fine quality boots and shoes.

Herschel is the only member of his immediate family to survive the Holocaust. He had two sisters, Chava Malka and Ester Ruchal, and two brothers, Nuta Leib and Chaim. My father left home on Erev Simchat Torah 1939 as the Nazis were marching into Losice. The last thing his mother said to him was not to travel too far. This was the last time he ever saw his family and Losice, the town where he was born and grew up with happy childhood memories.

His uncle, Israel-Yitschak Grynberg, was well known as the Ornarlik of Losice (a dealer in edible seeds and oil). He can be seen in the photograph with two of his grandchildren, my father's cousins. His wife, my father's aunt, was taken to Siedlce with 6000 other Jews after the liquidation of the Losice ghetto on the 22nd August 1942. She was murdered by the nazis whilst waiting to board a cattle train to Treblinka. This is the only photograph we have of our family in Poland. It was reproduced from the 'Yiskor Book of Losice' published in Israel in 1964.

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Israel-Yitschak Grynberg with two of his grandchildren

My father, with thousands of other Poles, Jewish and non-Jewish, crossed the River Bug into the USSR to escape the murderous Nazi jackboot. The Soviet authorities sent him to Minsk where work was found for him in the forests felling trees. He was later sent to work at a shoe factory in Minsk. After several months he went by train to Bialystok to visit his Uncle Avraham Swzreki. On the journey he was arrested by the Russian Secret Police (NKVD) and imprisoned as an 'enemy of the state'. He was taken to a prison in Brest Litovsk where he was locked up with thirty-five other prisoners in a cell built for seven. The window was small and very high up. He existed in squalor for nine weeks starving and where daylight was non-existent.

After a prison number was given to him, he was photographed and fingerprints were taken. With other Polish Jews he was taken by wagon, then cattle-train for great distances through the Russian wastelands to a forced labour camp in the remote town of Ukhta. On the four-day journey the only rations they received was salty fish. Their thirst was unbearable because they were given no water to drink.

Daily work at Ukhta consisted of felling trees waist-high in water, cleaning out rivers and building roads in extremely harsh conditions. He suffered starvation working through the bone chilling winters until the summer of 1941 when Hitler invaded Russia. General Sikorsky, head of the Free Polish Army, based in London, and General Anders made an agreement with Stalin to release approximately 230,000 deported Poles from the labour camps.

This stipulated the creation of a Polish army, the Anders' Army. Many prisoners left Ukhta and other labour camps. They were starved, they trained with wooden guns on their shoulders and rags on their feet to fight the nazi curse. They trekked through Russia and Iran to Palestine. My father and his comrades then went with the Anders' Army through Egypt until they reached South Africa where they guarded Italians prisoners and brought them to prisoner-of-war camps in England and Scotland. When they arrived in the UK my father was stationed in a Polish army camp in Galashields, Scotland where he underwent full military training in preparation for D-Day, the liberation of Europe.

In early 1944 several groups of Polish Jewish soldiers, one of which included my father, went absent-without-leave. My father's group came to London because of a serious incidence of anti-Semitism amongst the Polish armed forces in Scotland. Tom Driberg, a sympathetic Member of Parliament agreed to help them.

As D-Day was fast approaching the British Government did not want trouble among the allied forces just as they were poised for the invasion of Europe. Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister, and Parliament therefore agreed to the Jewish soldiers being transferred en-masse from the Polish Army into the British Army. The campaign to save the plight of these Jewish soldiers was one of the shortest political campaigns in which Tom Driberg was engaged.

Several weeks later my father was fighting on the Normandy Beaches. He fought his way through France, Holland and Belgium to Germany where he was stationed until 1946 when he returned to England and was transferred to the Royal Engineers. He was demobbed in 1947.

His testimonial as written in his demobilisation certificate stated -

'His military conduct is very good. Honest, sober and reliable. A quiet and conscientious man who has always worked very hard. Always very willing in his manner. Clean and well turned out at all times'. Signed by Commanding Officer, Liphook Army Camp, 25th April 1947

In 1947 my father was naturalised as a British citizen by the War Office and married Rebecca Nitzgoretsky whom he met in London. They settled in the East End of London where he worked as a tailor until retirement in 1979. They have one son, Warren, born in 1948, two grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Herschel anglicised his name to Harry.

After the war he spent many years searching for his lost family. He also spent much time trying to claim compensation for property lost in Losice during those terrible years. But, it was all in vain. Records state  that on the 24th August 1942 the family were transported to Treblinka with over 6000 other Jews from Losice and the surrounding schtetls. There are no photographs to remind him of his mother, father, brothers and sisters and he has no photographs of his once beloved Losice.

Having spent many years in good health he was taken into hospital suffering from pneumonia and peacefully passed away on the 25th September 2009 at the age of 94 years.

He will be remembered by all who knew him as a kind and sincere man, a loving and caring husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. 

Warren Grynberg, London, UK

All photographs courtesy of Warren Grynberg

Copyright: Warren Grynberg - September 13, 2020