Interviewed on 14th and 23rd April 2015 by A Riffat

Bernard Grunberg was born on the 22 March 1923, in Lingen-on-the-Ems, Germany. He lived with his sister and parents, the family experienced the rise of Nazism and Bernard particularly felt the effects at school. Having experienced bullying at his local school, Bernard went to a Jewish college in Berlin. As the persecution of the Jewish population intensified, Bernard left for England on the Kindertransport in December 1938. He became a farm hand and settled in the UK. Bernard’s family were murdered by the Nazi regime .

Bernard talks about how he grew up in a religious household and whether his experiences during the Holocaust changed his relationship or feelings towards religion.

Q. Did your family practice Judaism when you were growing up?

A. ‘Yes. They were, well not hundred percent Orthodox, but you can say ninety-eight percent, and we never missed any of the special Jewish days, religious days, and never missed going to synagogue every Saturday, and never done anything that should, you should not do on a Saturday such as lighting fires or going out with a car or you know, anything in that line. They kept strictly to it I mean, my father would never go out dealing or anything, he might make some enquiries locally at a butcher, that used to take some of the piece that we had, but never done any dealing as such, or anything to do with the business. That was left for the rest of the week, and I mean I can remember even as a very small boy, Yom Kippur was something that you had to suffer as you might say, at the time, I mean you were at the synagogue all day, you were allowed perhaps to go outside, but nothing else, never got anything to eat, and you know there were certain things that were kept, and other things, perhaps smaller items or smaller things on the religious side, were not bothered with. I mean one thing, for instance, we had central heating, and there is a big sort of stove there, it was coal fed never got touched on a Saturday. We had, you used to have a maid, and she use to look after that. My mum used to prepare the cooking on a Friday and the maid finished off on a Saturday, you know all these-- some of these little things were kept and there is other things that, well I cannot think of them at the moment, that were not strictly adhered to. Yes, I would say ninety-eight percent religious, and as far as I am concerned, well we used, because there was not a Jewish school in the town, you went to the normal Christian schools, and I mean that did not make any difference, but you still had twice a week a religious teacher come in and on a Wednesday afternoon and on a Sunday morning, you had this teacher coming from a neighbouring town, and he tried to educate you on the religious side. I mean we never had to attend any religious services at school, that was the only time you were separated but otherwise there was no problem at all. Because nobody ever looked at you as being different, and yeah it was quite a happy time, till later on, after Hitler came to power, I mean that altered things then’.

Q. How religious did you feel growing up?

A. ‘Well I just followed along at home. And more or less had to. I mean I could not make my own mind up until later and that would be after I had left school and went to Berlin. They did not bother if anybody wanted to be religious. Although it was an all-Jewish establishment, and-- do not think there was a religious teacher there, not that I know of, or I can remember. I do not know what went on really there, but I know you never, well I know from personal experience, we never asked about religious side of it, at all. That I can remember, I mean if you wanted to go on a Saturday and go into Berlin to one of the nearest synagogues, because we were on the outskirts of it and not far away the town centre actually, but I dare say there would have been a synagogue nearby, and if anybody wanted to go, well there was nothing to stop them. Because on a Saturday and Sunday we were free to do what we liked and I can remember with a friend of mine, well a lad I got friendly with, we use to go into Berlin particularly over weekend, just walking about sort of thing and look around, nothing special and sort of passed the time away I suppose more than anything’.

Q. Okay, so when you were growing up, was there a large Jewish Community?

A. ‘No. There was only a small community of about ten, maybe twelve families and the-- well there was quite a few children, I cannot tell you how many but you have got a photo of a group of us, well that was one, two families, the children from two families, basically one family, there was three? Yeah four boys, one was he is sitting on the bike when the photo was taken, and none of them survived’.

Q. What types of Jewish communities lived in your area then? Were they Orthodox or--

A. ‘No they were, well you could say mixed, in every respect. I know one particular young man, as I knew him. He would come to the Synagogue once a year and that was on Yom Kippur. That is the only time he had ever come to the Synagogue, and what happened to him? I know he emigrated to Liberia I think it was and got home sickness, so they say, and I think he died there, and they say he died of loss of everything and his surroundings, and well business as well. Because he inherited his mother and father’s outfitters business. Oh, he was quite a character, I do not think there would be anybody in the town who would not know him, because he stood out whenever he was in the shop’.

Q. So, were other religions widely practiced where you lived?

A. ‘Well it is a mixed I mean it reflected how the families in the town, the Jewish families, well how far they practiced the religion, I mean some of them would be strictly Orthodox, others would be semi, and then you have got some of us who would come once a year, or twice a year, to the Synagogue. It was a certainly religious following from all sides, on all sides. I could remember one or two families that outwardly anyway, I mean I do not know what went in the house, what went on, but they appeared to be pretty Orthodox, then you have got others, they could not care less, I mean that there is one family, they had a coal business, well then that was stopped’.

Q. What about other religions? So, non-Jewish people, what other religions lived in the community?

A. ‘It did not matter. There was never any question about separating groups on religious grounds, now they are more classed as inhabitants of the town. And were treated as such, and never any different, I mean even after Hitler came to power, the town itself or town population I used to say, was very tolerant towards the Jewish family, up to till I was there in thirty-eight, well the beginning of thirty-eight, when I went to Berlin, but up to that time I cannot remember ever even a window being smashed, or anything. Nobody bothered about the Jewish families, they are just, well they were isolated, yes, but nobody wanted to speak with them, or to them or see anyway because, well they will be classed as enemies of the state’.

Q. So Bernard, did your experience during the Holocaust change your opinion of your religion? Or God?

A. ‘It changed my religion very much because after I came to England, I was totally on my own. I had got no relatives, nothing. Nobody that I knew, I was a total stranger, and religion did not part-- partake any part of my life after that. Because I have always turned around and said “religion would not feed me, I had to work to live” and never been employed by any Jewish employer, or even tried particularly, that it came about that I always said, “well, religion would not feed me, and I could not be religious, because if I turned around and told my employer I could not work on a Saturday, or any other religious, Jewish, religious day, well nobody would employ me” and I was determined to make it on my own. I did not want to be kept by a certain committee’.