Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lory Gruenberger Cahn: Almost Saved by the Kindertransport, Part 2

by Cindy K. Stewart

Last month I shared the first half of Lory's story—Lori Gruenberger Cahn: Almost Saved by the Kindertransport. After Lory boarded the Kindertransport for England, her father couldn't part with her and pulled her out the window of the train while it was leaving the station. As a result, Lory didn't escape the holocaust with the nearly 10,000 other children who fled German-occupied territories on the Kindertransports

Last month's story ended in March of 1942 with the SS loading Lori and her mother into a cattle car with thirty-five to forty frightened people. The SS had removed a very ill Mr. Gruenberger from their home on a stretcher, and Lori and her mother didn't know his whereabouts. 

Theresienstadt - Prisoners Wait for Food Rations
Courtesy of 
YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York
& the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
After two days of traveling in the dark cattle car with 35 to 40 people and no food, the guards opened the door and ordered the prisoners to quickly disembark. The daylight blinded their eyes. Lory’s father waited outside the train for Lory and her mother, and he appeared perfectly fine. The prisoners traveled by truck to their final destination—Theresienstadt, a Jewish ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Because of his WWI service, Mr. Gruenberger had been given the opportunity to pay the German government to send him and his family to Theresienstadt, rather than to another camp or ghetto. 

Lory and her mother lived in a barrack with 300 other people. They slept on straw mattresses in bunk beds with three people per mattress. Lory’s father lived in a house with older, sickly prisoners. 

Lory contracted spinal meningitis and stayed in the camp hospital for four months. The doctors were also prisoners, but they were able to get medicine for her through the Swiss Red Cross. 

Theresienstadt Photo Taken During Red Cross Inspection
Courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Germans "beautified" the ghetto, dressed up the prisoners, and put on a good show for the representatives of the International Red Cross, visiting from Switzerland. Lory performed for them in a children’s choir. After the visit, more prisoners were crowded into Theresienstadt, and it became necessary to sleep in shifts, one group sleeping during the day and the other at night. 

One day Lory was ordered to report to the railroad station and meet with an SS officer. He informed her she wasn’t going on the transport and sent her back home. This happened four times, and each time she said goodbye to her parents. The fifth time she was called she told the SS officer that she wanted to go. He gave her the chance to back out, but she had made up her mind. He crossed her name off the list and loaded her on a cattle car. Her trip ended at Auschwitz.


Selection of Jews at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Courtesy of Yad Vashem & the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The guards opened the door, and Dr. Josef Mengele stood outside the car with his stick, hollering and cursing at the prisoners. The officers chased the prisoners out of the train, and Lory's glasses fell off and broke. Since having spinal meningitis, Lory wore glasses to take the pressure off her nerves. Her inner voice told her not to pick up the glasses, and she obeyed. Mengele divided the prisoners, sending those with defects to the left, including those wearing glasses. This group went directly to the gas chambers, but Mengele sent Lory to the right, and she lived.

After a six to eight-week stay at Auschwitz, the Nazis transferred Lori to several different camps—Buchenwald, Dachau, Kurzbach and Gross-Rosen. At the beginning of 1945, she arrived at Bergen-Belsen where people died by the hundreds.

Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

One month before Lory’s twentieth birthday, the prisoners hollered and many ran outside. The English army had arrived to liberate Bergen-Belsen. Lori only weighed fifty-eight pounds and was so weak she could only crawl halfway out on her hands and knees. She lay on the ground and prayed to God. A soldier approached and asked if he could assist her. The liberators wanted to help the inmates and gave them chocolate and chicken soup, but more people died from consuming the rich food.

Survivors & British Soldiers outside Bergen-Belsen
Courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum & Lev Sviridov

Attachments of soldiers from the French, Russian, and American Armies accompanied the English Army when they liberated Bergen-Belsen. They put together lists of the names and nationalities of the internees. Lory was fascinated when an American soldier from Germany spoke to her in German. The soldiers took her to a hospital for treatment, and she was surprised to see many people she knew, even folks from her hometown of Breslau.

One month after liberation, the British soldiers burned the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to the ground to prevent the spread of Typhus. The survivors were relocated to a former German Army camp nearby. 
The British Burn Bergen-Belsen
Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Lory traveled by bus to Hanover, a city nearby, to register as a survivor. There she found a man who had lived in the same building with her father at Theresienstadt. He recognized her but said she didn’t look too good. He shared that her father was still at Theresienstadt, but her mother had been transported to Auschwitz three months earlier and had gone to the gas chamber. He pointed out a bus driver whose route went to Theresienstadt once a week. Lory spoke with the driver, and he promised to ask about her father on his return trip. Lory wrote her name on a slip of paper so Mr. Gruenberger would see her handwriting and believe the bus driver. 

Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp
Courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum & Herbert Steinhouse

Lory took the bus back to Hanover the day before the Theresienstadt bus was scheduled to return. She didn’t have a watch, so she waited on the street all night long to meet her father's early morning bus. The bus arrived, but Lory’s father didn't. The driver had checked on him and learned that he had left on a bus for Berlin two or three days earlier. Lori had no way to travel to Berlin and didn’t know how she would ever find her father.

Lory met two young men who’d been traveling around Germany on foot, looking for family. They had come across a little town in Bavaria that wasn’t damaged, and the officers at the American military installation in charge of the area told the young men they’d be happy to have Jewish people locate there. The fellows asked Lory and her girlfriend to join them, and they traveled for a couple of days, begging for food along the road and sleeping with animals, including pigs, to stay warm.

Lori and her group rode into the Bavarian town on an army truck and were sent to a very nice furnished house. Jewish American soldiers, originally from Germany, brought them food the next morning. One of the soldiers was Walter Cahn, and Lory recognized him as the soldier who had taken her information right after the Bergen-Belsen liberation. She was astounded to see him again.

Walter helped Lory locate her father through the Red Cross and Military Intelligence, but it took eight months. After four more months, her father traveled to see her. They had been apart for four years. Lory was thrilled to receive his hugs and kisses.

One year later, in 1947, Lori immigrated to the United States and married Walter Cahn. Over the years she corresponded with her father, but they didn’t see each other again until Lory returned to Germany with her son in 1962. She and her family visited her father two or three more times before he died in 1972.

Lory often pondered what would have happened if her father hadn't pulled her off the Kindertransport and if she hadn't been able to help her parents through the tragedy they had faced. She didn't want to hurt her father, so she never brought the topic up with him. But Lory realized she wouldn't have a normal, happy life if she hated the Germans. She spent many years speaking at universities, schools, and organizations, encouraging others not to forget what the Germans had done, but not to hate them. Lori had a wonderful, happy marriage to Walter Cahn for sixty-one years. She passed away in 2008.

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Source: Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport by Mark Jonathan Harris and Deborah Oppenheimer. Warner Bros., 2000.

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Cindy Stewart, a high school social studies and language arts teacher, church pianist, and inspirational historical fiction author, semifinaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s 2017 Genesis contest, and won ACFW’s 2014 First Impressions writing contest in the historical category. Cindy is passionate about revealing God’s handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of thirty-five years and near her married daughter, son-in-law, and three adorable grandchildren. She’s currently writing a fiction series set in WWII Europe.

8 comments:

  1. Cindy, thank you for sharing this very interesting post. I cannot imagine what dreadful times so many faced.

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    1. Hi, Melanie. Thank you for stopping by today. It is hard to imagine the horror so many suffered during this time.

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  2. Wow! What a stunning story. I have no words.

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    1. Hi, Connie. Thank you for reading and posting. More stories coming!

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  3. Cindy, this was a heart touching post filled with history about Lory Gruenberger and so many others during this tragedy time for many.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Marilyn. Next month I'll be sharing another Kindertransport story about a child who survived to start a new life away from the Nazis.

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  4. Thanks so much for the conclusion to Lory's story. It is wonderful to know she survived, married and had a family. The tragedy of those horrific times is something we need to teach our children and grandchildren.

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    1. Amen, Betti. May we never forget the evil that took place or the courage of those who risked their lives to save the innocent during these dark days.

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