(Vienna 1923 - Vienna 2018): From anthropological measurements in the Vienna Stadium to Buchenwald and Auschwitz
“They treated us like objects”
Paul Grünberg was born on 24 January 1923 into relatively modest circumstances, the only child of Oskar and Else (née Wolf) Grünberg. His mother was a master tailor, his father a furrier. The family came from the former Galicia. At the age of 14, Grünberg began an apprenticeship as a tailor, which he was never able to complete: following the “Anschluss” of Austria to the German Reich, his master emigrated to Switzerland; during the November pogroms, his father was arrested and deported to Dachau. Less than a year later, in September 1939, the Gestapo arrested Oskar Grünberg again, and this time 16-year-old Paul was “taken along” with him.
Father and son were first taken to the police prison at Rossauer Lände, where they were subjected to torture. They were then brought to the Vienna stadium together with about 1,000 other Jews. In the stadium, they were examined and “racial characteristics” were measured by anthropologists from Vienna’s Natural History Museum. In addition, plaster molds were taken of their faces and hair samples were collected: “They made plaster casts and measured my face – my eyes, nose, mouth, ears. They treated us like objects.” Afterwards, they were all deported to Buchenwald concentration camp, including Paul Grünberg and his father.
In Buchenwald, Oskar and Paul Grünberg were put to work in the quarry. Oskar Grünberg died a short time later (1940) in the infirmary; following the intervention of a friend Paul was transferred to the nursery to do gardening work:
“And then transports to Auschwitz were put together and ‘selected’. And we knew that in Auschwitz… we knew that Auschwitz was the end of the line. (...) And all of my friends, all my friends were with me. And there were only two boys on the transport, that was Fritz Kleinmann, whose father was also there, and I was there. (...) So Fritz Kleinmann and I were the only young people who could have stayed in Buchenwald, but who volunteered to go with the whole transport to Auschwitz. Although we knew that [it] ended there.”
In October 1942, Paul Grünberg was deported to Auschwitz, where he had to perform forced labor in the newly established Auschwitz-Monowitz subcamp at the Buna Works. Because of his beautiful handwriting and because he pretended to be an accountant, he managed to be assigned a place in the typing pool, greatly increasing his chances of survival. In the summer of 1944, he was transferred to the typing pool at the notorious Neu-Dachs (Jaworzno) subcamp, a coal mine.
In January 1945, with the Red Army approaching, Auschwitz and its subcamps were evacuated. Along with other prisoners, Paul Grünberg was herded onto the death march, but he was not to arrive at any other camp. In May 1945, the SS abandoned the death march survivors in a forest in the Czech Republic. Grünberg managed to hide in a farmhouse in Reichenberg (Liberec) with a friend until they were discovered and liberated by the Red Army.
After 1945, Paul Grünberg returned to Vienna as the sole survivor of his family. “They brought us back with trucks. I didn’t find anyone there. My whole family was gone. No one was left.” Through a contact provided by a fellow prisoner, he was able to start a job a publishing house, where he worked until his retirement. Until his death on 8 April 2018, he was active as an eyewitness in Vienna.
Interview mit Paul Grünberg (2014). In full: https://www.weitererzaehlen.at/interviews/paul-gruenberg (17.12.2021); compilation: https://www.ueber-leben.at/home/paul-gruenberg (17.12.2021); transcript: https://www.ueber-leben.at/downloads/transkript-ueberleben-im-kz (17.12.2021).
“Es war der Anfang einer sehr schiachen Zeit”. Interview with Paul Gruenberg (2014): https://nunu.at/artikel/es-war-der-anfang-einer-sehr-schiachen-zeit-paul-gruenberg/ (17.12.2021).
Erinnerungen eines Überlebenden. ORF programme on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Producer: Herbert Waibel (27.01.2015): https://tvthek.orf.at/history/Nachkriegszeit/9501723/Erinnerungen-eines-Ueberlebenden/9484829 (17.12.2021).