Photo sent to Dorchester proof my parents died in Auschwitz
Harry Grenville knew that his parents and grandmother did not survive the Holocaust, but he had no evidence of where they died – until a photograph taken at Auschwitz Museum arrived out of the blue, on email, at his home in Dorchester.
As he looked at the picture of a pile of suitcases, each with its owner’s name painted on the side, his father’s name, Jakob Greilsamer, leaped out.
“It took my breath away,” the retired biology teacher said yesterday.
Mr Grenville, who was born Heinz Greilsamer, was just 13 in 1939 when his parents sent him and his sister, Hannah, to safety in England on the Kindertransport. They were taken to Camelford in Cornwall and grew up with the family of the local bank manager, Tom Jago. They remained in regular contact with their family through the Red Cross, until one last message arrived in October 1944 saying their parents were being sent east.
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When the war ended, Mr Grenville travelled to London to check the list of survivors from the concentration camps. His parent’s names were not on there.
He knew they had not survived the war but until last week he had never had any concrete evidence that they had been murdered in Auschwitz, the largest Nazi killing centre in Europe, where more than 1,100,000 Jews, 70,000 Poles, 25,000 gypsies and 15,000 prisoners of war were murdered.
Speaking at his home on Sunday, as millions around the world were commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, Mr Grenville said: “My sister and I had known for more than 70 years that my parents were killed in the extermination camp at Auschwitz but to get what you might call material evidence was different.
“It was rather an affecting sort of blow – the first evidence I have ever had of that my father, and therefore my mother and grandmother too, actually arrived in Auschwitz. We knew that in 1942 they were sent to a sort of internment camp. It was in former Czechoslovakia, a place called Theresienstadt. The last Red Cross message that ever came from them was in October 1944. The implication of that was quite clear. It said they were expecting to go east, and we knew what ‘east’ meant. All the Theresienstadt internees knew that east meant the extermination camps in Poland.
“They were moved there in these dreadful cattle trucks, from the internment camp to the extermination camps, where most of them were killed very soon after arriving.”
Mr Grenville’s father, his mother Klara and grandmother Sara Ottenheimer, are commemorated in brass plaques on the pavement outside their home in Ludwigsburg.
He remembers his time growing up with Mr Jago, his wife, Violet and their sons, Tom and Geoff, with great affection.
Of his surprise email, he said: “The photographer who took the picture succeeded in linking my father’s name with the town in which he lived and got onto the website of the committee that arranges the memorials, and I am in touch with one of them and he sent it to me.”
Mr Grenville, who has three children and two grandchildren, told a new generation about the Holocaust with a talk at Bryanston School, Blandford, yesterday.