Interviewee: WOLF GRUCA
Interviewer: Lawrence Boocker
Summation: Dena Scher
Interview Date: August 20, 2018
Location: Southfield, MI
Interview No.: 08.20.18-WG (audio digital file)
(Approximate total length 1 hour, 20 minutes)
Themes: Jewish Identity, Anti-Semitism, Doctrine, Holocaust, Immigration, Jewish Gentile Relations, Observance
Summary: Wolf Gruca was born in 1920 in Poland, in Czestochowa, a town of about 20,000-40, 000 Jewish. About 10 years before the war (WWII), Jews would keep to themselves, they would walk on one side of the street, Jews were separate from Gentiles, not because of the law, but that was just the way it was. Jews had stores and homes and the Polish people were envious. Wolf Gruca was the youngest of six kids and he was raised religious, going to religious school in the morning, and the Polish public school in the afternoon. At home they spoke Yiddish, he spoke Polish and could read Hebrew. Jews made a living selling in markets/stores. His father was a shoemaker. His mother saw his father in his army uniform and decided to marry him—she got a matchmaker to make it happen. Wolf went to synagogue with his father that was the way it was, “you had no choice”. He loved the prayers and the singing in the synagogue and he loved it when a “maggid”, a rabbi would come to town and give sermons, explaining without a book, just talking to the people.
Example of proper citation/attribution:
Broocker, L. (Interviewer) & Gruca, W. (Interviewee). (2018). Wolf Gruca: Jewish Journeys [Interview Index]. Retrieved from Jewish Journeys Oral History Collection of Congregation Shir Tikvah web site:https://shirtikvah.org/cstoralhistoryarchive
Note 1: Counter index corresponds to track times when loaded into iTunes.
Note 2: Italicized is paraphrase or question by interviewer
0:00 Born in Poland, 5th or 6th city in Poland, place for Catholic pilgrims who would come to touch the big Madonna, would come walking with horses/buggies, big city in Poland. Jewish community, 20-40 thousand Jews, Wide streets, sit around, Jews would walk on the right side, a ghetto, by themselves, and on the left side, the main thing, big clock, this side park, when ever quiet.
5:00 Jews kept them selves separate from non-Jews---not the law, Just walking, anytime, when walking just for pleasure would be separate even though not required, before the war. Before the war, Polish people were very anti-Semitic. Jews went to Palestine. Around mid 30’s, a gsood time before the war.
7:00 In the earlier period, 20’s, what was it like, before the war? (7:32: phone ringing) In my time, Jews all big houses, stores, gentiles were envious, Tues & Friday there was a market, selling stuff, potatoes, vegetables, butter, and milk. Jews selling beside the stores, blouses, shoes. There was a butcher, gentile, a slaughterhouse, on the side every week or two he killed a pig.
10:00 $10 for shoes, negotiated/bargaining—sold for $6; butcher’s wife she make him close the butcher chop, to change the store—in order to sell expensive clothing--$5, $10---his wife, and one daughter made him close the butcher shop. She became an anti-Semite from jealousy because she wasn’t as successful running a business. After 2 years, she made a butcher shop into clothing store, but after two years went back to butcher store.
13:10 Used to make a sukkah, before the war, used to store the sukkah with butcher’s wife, it was the only place where the parts would fit in—in the kitchen. So she did a favor for the Jewish community offering storage for the sukkah parts but wouldn’t allow it after becoming anti-Semitic. She wouldn’t let us put in parts for sukkah---after 10 years.
15:00 The only other place to store the sukkah was near an open toilet (latrine?). We would say Kiddush & motzi in the sukkah during Sukkot. When the sukkah had to go next to the open toilet, Jews would use the sukkah because they were religious but the kids would go for Kiddush and Motzi and then leave immediately because of the nearby open toilet. This was the price the Jewish community paid for this woman’s anti-Semitism.
16:00 So always anti-Semitism in your community—started 8-10 years before war, cause of anti-Semitism was jealousy, because according to the anti-Semites, the Jews had everything. There were also poor Jews.
18:00 My family was religious, 90% were religious before the war, about 10% were not religious. Some Jews only went to services on Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur. Some non-religious Jews belong to the Bund (a nationalistic, pro-Yiddish secular group. Some belonged to Polish patriotic organizations.
20:00 Raised to be religious, youngest of six kids – Mother said put on tefillin before give you breakfast, went every day to religious school—prayers, bible stories, learned how to davin’, read Hebrew. You had to go to cheder – You didn’t give it any thought. Morning was cheder (religious school: Bible, Hebrew, Prayers), afternoon was public school—learned Polish in Polish public schools, once a week for one hour. I know a little bit, better than nothing. At home spoke Yiddish. Not fluent in Hebrew, could read Hebrew, from the Bible but not speak it. I was youngest one—I used to go with my father, for whole 20,000 Jews, there was one synagogue, synagogue and a German synagogue, for the city synagogue there was a very good way to walk, after ate breakfast, went to synagogue, love the prayers, the singing, even now.
25:00 I loved the chazzan, were good rabbis or not good rabbis, there was a little synagogue, like Aaron (his grandson) at Shaarey Zedek, where he teaches and communicates, and goes down to talk to the people. A maggid would travel from town to town- giving sermons. They would pay him, never had a book, would walk around hour, hour and a half, never with book, He could speak extemporaneously for hours. I would enjoy it very much.
27:39 So you are a good critic, you can tell a good rabbi from a bad rabbi, and the same with cantors? 100%. So now your grandson is a rabbi. When he walks down, my heart wakes up, reminds me of the rabbis of my childhood, he doesn’t use a book in explaining. He knows it by head, never opens his book. I enjoy it very much, I remember when I was 12 year old boy—walk up, walk down, an hour and a half, and talking, no book.
30:00 Before war, hard for Jews to walk around, they would hit you on one side and then the other, no protection from police, signs—don’t buy from the Jews, Jews go to Palestine. This was about 1935? Yes. Did you ever wish you weren’t Jewish, it would be easier? Couldn’t go into park, but was afraid. Were the attackers ones you used to be friends with? All, All of them. People lived where they could afford so no separation by ethnicity, had some Catholic friends, neighbors, but that changed. Jewish community did nothing when the change came— The rabbi was only seen on holidays and didn’t help. …..there was a Jewish community center.
35:00 there was nothing the rabbi could do about the change….
When the war started? My father was a shoemaker; he could make the whole shoe. My mother told us when grow up, when we started to go with girls, she told us the story of how they met. She was happy: My father was in the army, came on vacation, my mother saw him in uniform, she never had seen him before and she fell in love with him, so my mother found out where he live and everything, she took information when he suppose to come from the army; in the meantime she got a matchmaker. Same day my father came home from the army, she sent the matchmaker, my father/mother never saw each other. Mother ten years younger. Father was a shoemaker, Mother was higher class. His mother insisted that his father not be a shoemaker.
40:00 one thing agrees, heard mother’s name, 8 horses, in transport, a good living, grandfather retired much, much later. They loved each other to the older years. Never saw close like my father & mother. Mother and father both died in the war. 3-4 years before the war, my father went sick—there were two hospitals, Jewish one and Polish one. Went to both hospitals, then went to Krakow to first rate hospital, but they couldn’t figure it out, father came back home to die—2-3 weeks in bed; cousin came to visit,
45:36 she brought news of a Russian doctor, older two brothers run to him, the doctor demanded a taxi before agreeing to a house call, they ordered a horse and buggy taxi, if he gets through the night, I’m calling a surgeon, gave father a shot every hour, through the night---brothers washed their hands, the surgeon wanted a dish so they gave him a hand-washing bowl. Gave mother a dish of blood and water, doctors went out, and father went back to health, 100% back to health , it took a whole year before he was back to himself, he’s dying, he’s dying, he was like a prize fighter, he was a tall man.
50:00 I know you have talked about your experiences during the war…How did your Jewish beliefs change as a result of experiences that you went through?
When war started, Germans generals took away horses, couldn’t make money, later on in ghetto, small ghetto, later on a big ghetto. People died because they were Jewish. Living in house, everyone was placed in kitchen. Every Jew live in a house you build you up your things. Even if religious, your religion has to go out. People lived on a piece of bread for the whole day, every day,7 days a week, only a piece of bread. When Germans ordered Jews to leave, they lost all their possessions of their lifetime. Very hard to talk about it even now. All the rich people who were Jewish had to move into our neighborhood, into the ghetto… you might have a 1 bedroom, a 2 bedroom, some of the people had to move into your house…So all of a sudden you have very poor Jews, very rich Jews all living together and no one is better than anyone else.
Rich people got poorer and poorer because their stores were closed.
55:00 You could do nothing about people moving in, what you can do? Heartbreaking for everyone… Like sheep, Jews were going away to be killed, to the train, like sheep….
90% were Jewish religious, Did people become less religious? They had no time to think about it. Like myself, I’m all by myself, hungry—7 days a week, most time in my city, in a German camp first, an ammunition factory, later Buchenwald, —I was a toolmaker, if not for that I would have dead long time ago. Parents did not survive, only one to survive.
How were you liberated? Last camp that I was in, a small town…Dora (Mittelbau-Dora) , about twenty, Germans, they cut down trees in the woods and built a shop, about 20 minutes away from camp to shop. From December 1944 How were you freed? Camp was in Germany, left Poland, sent out, the day before the Russians came in.
1:00 Russians were moving closer to Germany….I was in Poland, night shift was sent to Germany, day shift freed 3-4 months earlier. Went to Buchenwald 4 days, then to Dora Has one brother left, called his name on loudspeaker, went to watchman, watchman with bayonet brought to this place, soldiers with bayonets, officer with lots of medals, takes me in room, three plans, wanted to make a mistake—went out the door, saw a few people from his city; 20-25 people sent out from camp, people with some skills—where to saw 3 places. If showed the right thing, got sent to a small place to fix, check out the planes. January to end of May, then took us all, about 100 people, For six days, walked, then they let us go. All day looking at blueprint. Took us to the forest—German soldiers told us not to look, Ten minutes later, looked up and the Germans had gone, fled; went back to little town, cooked potatoes, stayed there for 2 days, then walking to Braunschweig where there was a slave labor camp. Just for women. Need to sleep, let him stay 2 days (since just for 2 days); went to another camp and stayed longer, gave us food and a place to sleep—sent a letter, wanted to go to the English zone. Thought, go to the train,
1:10 Next day I go down to the train, and the second soldier recognized me. I go to the end of the train, the ticket taker there, I stay until the train start moving and then I jump on the train…I think to myself, what are they going to do to me, all I had was my clothes., no family…. Maybe an hour, hour and a half, always come in to take tickets, I was afraid of some one to see me, I have no ticket…after I slow down, I ask, where is the DP (displaced persons) camp. I found my city in Poland, another survivor let me stay the night, and they accept me
1:12 What were your impressions when you first came to the United States? Before the war, there was a place you could eat/sleep, a homeless shelter. They brought me to Detroit because I was a toolmaker. Joint (American Joint Distribution Committee)—Jewish, refugee organization---offer to go to US or Israel, made papers to Joint, after a few months, could come to Detroit, the Jewish center, Claremont & 12th Street, near Taylor, they rented out little flats—a sign, for poor people in Hebrew, when I saw the sign—I lost 99% of my life, I was embarrassed, I didn’t want a hand out. Stay for 4 weeks, then they sent us to flat on Blaine, found a job as toolmaker. I pushed through, had a family, worked 30 years for Chrysler.
1:17 Had gotten away from religion, when you got to the States, did you come back to your religion? Took care of sick wife for 27 years, and I tried the best I could
I am 100 years, if I live one year or one day. I wish nobody; thank god I can live by myself. Purpose is now living, I don’t give a damn, I live now in Trowbridge, sick, old people. I want to live, I can live by my self, and I’m my own rabbi. Thank god, I can live another day—I thank somebody of power
1:20 Now I have some gratitude for God, NOW, not before when hungry, when the war. My time is free time.