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Karl Grünbaum was the youngest son of Noah Grünbaum and the only child of Noah and his second wife, Josefine [Sophie] Grünbaum to survive infancy. He was born in 1876 In Themar and lived there until 1913, thirty-seven (37) years in total.
In the first years of his life, Karl Grünbaum lived at Hintertorstraße 170, Themar, about halfway between the Market Place and the Bahnhof/railway station. In the old postcard below, the house/business is at the left side of the photograph, looking south towards the Rathaus and Market Place. The June 2014 photo shows the building as it is today.
Karl attended school in the old Bürgerschule near the Bartholemew’s Church. At some point in the late 1800s, Noah Grünbaum moved his business, Warenhaus N. H. Grünbaum, from Bahnhofstraße 170, as Hintertorstraße was renamed, up the street to #150, closer to the railway station.
Significant changes in Karl’s life occurred in the early 1900s: first, the death of his father, Noah, in January 1901 and Karl’s marriage in 1904 to Hulda Schlesinger seem to have set in train a complex transition in the ownership of the family business. Normally, the eldest son, in this case Hugo, would be the one to carry on the family business. Instead, it seems that stepbrothers Hugo and Karl may have initially run the Warenhaus together after their father’s death.
In 1905, however, when Bertha [née Grünbaum] and Jacoby Seckel decided to move from Themar — and after Karl and Hulda’s marriage — Hugo decided to take over the Grünbaum & Seckel business. On 1 May 1905, he announced the opening of the business in his name and its relocation from the Market Square to Bahnhofstraße 143, more or less right across the street from Warenhaus N. H. Grünbaum. Hugo and his wife, Klara, and their young daughter, Mira b. 1903, moved from Bernhardtstraße (now Leninstraße). Karl and Hulda continued to operate Warenhaus N. H. Grünbaum and in the photo below, one sees Hulda at the upstairs window and Karl in the doorway. [click to enlarge]
Hulda Grünbaum (née Schlesinger) was born in 1876 in the small town of Wasungen, where the Schlesingers were one of at most two or three Jewish families in the town. Her parents were Abraham and Fanni Schlesinger (née Fuchs), and she had at least one brother, Gustav, b. 1883. On 29 January 1911, Hulda gave birth to a little girl whom they named Irene. The couple immediately announced their happy news in the local newspaper and the wording of the announcement suggests that all was well with the infant. Sadly, however, Irene died five days later on 4 February 1911.
In 1912, Karl sold the business to Markus Rosenberg. The reasons were probably varied: the advertisements of the two Grünbaum businesses through the years indicate that both stores may have carried similar stock and, while this can often promote a healthy economy, the community base may not have been able to support too many similar businesses. There may have been subtle family pressure on Karl, as the younger son of Noah Grünbaum, to be the one to move rather than Hugo.
It is also possible that Karl and Hulda simply decided to seek their fortune in the larger city of Erfurt. Erfurt, which lay in the State of Saxony, had a population of around 111,000 in 1910 and a Jewish community of around 750. Karl and Hulda moved to Erfurt on 1 April 1913 and moved into an apartment in Regierungstraße 19 which, we believe, is the second house to the right In the photograph above. On 29 February 1916, daughter Ilse was born; five years later, a son, Kurt, was born.
On 23 October 1916, Karl, 40 years of age, was conscripted into the Germanarmy and served until the end. The images below show Karl Grünbaum in full war regalia, left, and with his mates. In both group photos, Karl is in the first row, but at opposite ends of the row. The men in the lower group image are identified in the list on the back of the card.
In the years after WWI, Karl and Hulda established a number of businesses: starting in 1920, they operated Firma Grünbaum & Co., Lack-Farben- u. Kitt-Industrie/Paint, Varnish, and Putty Supplies. During the 1920s, they added additional products to their range of offerings. In 1924 they opened a store for Manufakturwaren/ general manufactured goods at Regierungstraße 18, and by 1930 they were also selling Webwaren, items such as stockings, socks, etc.
Karl was frequently on the road visiting smaller towns and villages in the eastern parts of Saxony and Thüringen. Hulda too travelled as the children grew older.
We know something about the comings and goings of the family from the postcard collection that Ilse kept from her earliest childhood. It was such a precious possession that it accompanied her to England in 1939 and then on to Australia in 1948. The postcards are a wonderful resource, speaking to us, as they do, of a close and loving family. Karl sent a constant stream of messages from places to which his business took him; both parents wrote to Ilse when she spent her holidays in Schmalkalden with grandfather Abraham Schlesinger and uncle Gustav and his children, Karl and Anni. Grete, Norbert and Max Rosenthal, the children of Minna Rosenthal (née Grünbaum), Karl’s stepsister, also maintained a close connection. Below is the image of one card that Karl sent in 1921 to 5-year-old Ilse from the Leipzig Messe just to say ‘hi’.
The Nazi Regime’s takeover of power in 1933 opened the door for immediate persecution of families such as the Grünbaums. The government called for war against Jewish businesses, ordering a boycott of all Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933. The family’s socio-economic situation deteriorated steadily during the 1930s and the Grünbaum businesses in Regierungstrasse closed in September 1938. In September 1939 Karl was forced to give up his license to travel to market his products.
We do not know if Karl and Hulda were exploring possibilities for emigration before November 1938. But the situation changed dramatically with the 1938 November Pogrom. Karl Grünbaum was arrested in Erfurt, as was his son Kurt Grünbaum, at 17 younger than most to be arrested. Among the 10,000 men crammed into the four purpose-built barracks were their relatives: Hugo Grünbaum from Themar, Norbert and Max Rosenthal from Apolda, and Gustav and Karl Schlesinger from Schmalkalden. Karl would also have known most of the other men arrested and brought from Themar.
Most of the Grünbaum men were released in December — Karl Grünbaum, for example, was released from Buchenwald on 8 December 1938. The one exception was Max Rosenthal who was kept in Buchenwald until 12 April 1939.The future was clear: there was no place for Jews in Nazi Germany. Nazi policy, which was to eliminate Jews from Germany through forced emigration or expulsion, remained in place until September 1941.
Ilse and Kurt Grünbaum were able to escape before the trap snapped shut. With the German invasion of Holland, Belgium, and France in spring 1940, however, both Kurt and Ilse were deemed ‘enemy aliens’ — Ilse was allowed to remain in London where she worked as a domestic. As her son writes, “to some extent, the war followed her to London. I recall her saying that she spent some nights sheltered/ sleeping in underground railway tube tunnels, during the German bombing blitz of London. …[S]he did have a social life, notwithstanding all that, and she maintained correspondence with a couple of friends for many years.” Kurt was rounded up in London on 1 July 1940 and deported to Australia on 6 September 1940 on the infamous ship, HMS Dunera.
There are hints in archival records that Karl and Hulda applied to emigrate from Germany — to the United States if at all possible and if not there then to England. It is also possible that Hulda’s brother, Gustav, who left Germany in April 1939 with his wife and two children for Argentina, did what he could to secure immigration papers for his sister.
But all efforts failed. On 19 September 1942, Karl and Hulda were deported to Theresienstadt; they were on the same train as Karl’s stepbrother and stepsister, Hugo Grünbaum & Minna Rosenthal (née Grünbaum), and sister-in-law, Klara Grünbaum (née Schloss).
The three children of Noah Grünbaum — Hugo, Minna, and Karl — and Hugo’s wife Klara all perished in the Theresienstadt Ghetto. Hugo and Klara died in October and November 1942; Karl died in March 1943 and Minna died in June 1943.
Hulda Grünbaum, however, did survive. In early 1945, an agreement was reached whereby Jewish organizations paid Heinrich Himmler for the release of Jews from Theresienstadt Ghetto. On 5 February 1945 at 4 p.m., Hulda was one of 1200 Jews leaving Theresienstadt for Switzerland. Around 6 p.m., the train crossed the Swiss border at the town of Kreuzlingen and proceeded on to St. Gallen on 7 February 1945. From there, the survivors were taken in groups to various places throughout Switzerland; Hulda was part of a group who went to Montreux in the southwest corner of Switzerland. The group arrived there on 17 February 1945 and they were housed in the Hotel Belmont. Later in 1945, Hulda moved to Locarno and stayed in the Grand Hotel Brissago.
On 16 February 1945, Aufbau, the Jewish newspaper in New York City, published the first list of names of the Jews who had reached Switzerland. Hulda’s name was among them. It is possible that her relative in California, Paul Wildau, who had himself escaped to the United States in May 1938, may have seen it and followed up as quickly as possible to make contact.
On 11 April 1945, Paul Wildau sent the following telegram (below left) to Hulda at the Hotel Belmont:
“ILSE KURT WELL. ILSES ADDRESS FLAT 24 HAVERSTOCK HILL 69 LONDON NW3 PVT KURT GRUENBAUM V513682 8th EMPLOYMENT COMPANY AMF [AUSTRALIAN MILITARY FORCES] AUSTRALIA KISSES = PAUL WILDAN [ Editor’s note: name is WILDAU].
Hulda wrote a postcard from the Hotel Belmont to her daughter Ilse shortly thereafter:
“I am sending you this card to remember my liberation from Theresienstadt to beautiful
Switzerland in the Montreux Hotel Belmont. [I was] deported on the 20th September 1942 to Theresienstadt and left for Switzerland on 5 February 1945. Arrived in Montreux on 13 February. My deepest love, Mutti.”
And on 11 November 1945, Hulda wrote to Kurt from the Grand Hotel Brissago, Locarno, where she had been taken to recuperate: “Dear Kurt, I send you the very warmest greetings from beautiful Switzerland. Love, Mutti.”
Hulda Grünbaum left Switzerland for England sometime in the winter/spring 1945-6. She and Ilse remained in London working their way through the endless bureaucracy to acquire the papers that would allow them to travel to Australia to join Kurt. Ilse acquired her papers in April 1947, Hulda in September 1947. But it was not until 13 May 1948 that she and Ilse set out by ship for New York, then to San Francisco and finally on 25 May 1948 aboard a Pan American flight to Sydney Australia.
Hulda, Ilse and Kurt (who formally changed his name to Ken Green) lived in the area around Melbourne, Australia. Hulda Grünbaum died in 1963. Ilse Meller, née Grünbaum, died in 1981, and Ken Green died in 1983. Both Ilse and Ken married and formed families in Australia, and it is their children who are sharing with us their family treasures to help tell the story of their grandparents, Karl and Hulda Grünbaum! We thank them.
If you have any information or questions about the Grünbaum or Schlesinger families, which you would like to share, please contact Sharon Meen @ email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be pleased to hear from you.
- Unless otherwise indicated, all images have been provided from the Grünbaum/Meller Collection.
- Jutta Hoschek, Ausgelöschtes Leben. Juden in Erfurt 1933 – 1945. Biographische Dokumentation. Verlag Vopelius; Auflage: 1. Aufl. (9. November 2013)
- Aufbau is available online at: https://archive.org/details/aufbau
- Information and images about the rescue of Jews from Theresienstadt in February 1945, see: digitalassets.ushmm.org/photoarchives/result.aspx?search=MUSY%20MISSION