Claire Grunwald was standing off to the side in a shaded area of the Capitol lawn. She immediately stood out to me: regal-looking and smiling in the blistering hot Washington heat as she listened to a small crowd of admirers. Approaching I then noticed the sign attached to her walker: “I’ve been there — I’m a Holocaust survivor.”
At a rally against antisemitism, Grunwald’s sign was more than a statement, it was an embodiment of everything that the rally was about. Born in Hungary in 1932, Grunwald is a living testament to surviving what the end result of antisemitism is.
“I’ve been through the Holocaust and I hate what is going on,” she told me. Referring to the rise in antisemitic attacks, she added: “I feel this is how it started in Hungary. I was born in 1932, and I grew up with more and more hate for the Jews. I don’t want this to happen here to my children and my grandchildren.”
For Grunwald the Holocaust started out “step by step.” First, her non-Jewish friends did not want to play with her anymore. That turned into her being scared to say that she was Jewish because that would have gotten her beaten up on the street. That escalated into Jews not being allowed to hire non-Jews for work, that evolved into taking away business licenses from Jewish owners so they had to close up their shops.
“Then we had to put on a yellow star,” Grunwald said pointing to her chest. “Slowly, step by step.”
After that the Jewish schools were shut down.
“And then came the ghetto. After that we had to squeeze into the ghetto, and after that they took us into the big factory where they brought everyone from the vicinity.”
After a brief pause, Grunwald’s voice changed to a more somber, serious tone.
“And I was lucky, we were lucky, I got on the right transport. Yes we were lucky baruch HaShem,” for a woman who’s seen so much pain and destruction she ended that sentence with a small smile.
That smile quickly disappeared though as the conversation pivoted back to the rally. Grunwald believes that we are in another dangerous time in history.
“It’s horrible, people attack us because we are Jewish? Thank Gd so far the government doesn’t wholly agree.”
I asked her if she had any advice and she broke me off before I could finish the question.
“Read your history,” she said very matter of factly. “And I would also say that everybody who has abused the Jews have disappeared throughout the ages and we are still here.”
She then ended our chat with a request.
“Be a proud Jew. Be a proud Jew. Never be ashamed that you are a Jew.”
I thanked her, shot a couple of more photos and walked away.
Looking back I saw Grunwald surrounded by another crowd of people, her face beaming as she greeted them, I snapped one last photo with her words still echoing in my head: “Be a proud Jew.”
Originally Published Jul 15 2021 01:09PM EDT