Today, Marsha Gruenberg Kreuzman, a Holocaust survivor, will be buried alongside her beloved Robert. Marsha spent decades telling her story and teaching others so that we will not forget the atrocities of the Sho’ah. Please read this reflection & share it — in order to honor Marsha’s memory. These reflections here include the broad outlines of Marsha’s story. The more detailed account is accessible through the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive: http://vhaonline.usc.edu/viewingPage?testimonyID=18431&returnIndex=0#. Marsha and her husband Robert recorded their testimonies as part of the visionary project created by Steven Spielberg.)
Marsha Gruenberg was born in Krakow, Poland. She was the only Jew in her class and stood out as a redhead. She was persecuted and taunted with the cries of “Jew – Jew – Jew.”
In 1939 when the Germans came to Poland she and her family left Poland and went east toward Russia. In Marsha’s words: “Meantime the Germans came into our house and took everything of value. We came home soon after and moved into the Ghetto.” Marsha worked in the hospital. She, her mother, father and brother lived in an apartment with four or five families; 2 or 3 family members shared a bed. Nobody could leave the ghetto.
Marsha was 14 – young and frightened. Her brother was sick and she had to do his work. He was diabetic and they didn’t have insulin. They had to buy insulin outside of the ghetto and smuggle it in.
In October, 1941, Marsha’s mother was deported.
Then she and her brother and father were taken to Plaszow (labor camp) outside of Krakow. Many people were killed. On Yom Kippur, 1943, Marsha’s father was shot. She and her brother had to find wood to bury him. In 1944 her brother died.
Then Marsha walked 50 miles to Auschwitz and then to other concentration camps. She was very sick. On May 6, 1945, Marsha was liberated at Matthausen by American soldiers. She was standing outside of the crematorium when the Americans came.
After the war, Marsha met Robert Kreuzman and came to the United States via England where she went to nursing school and awaited her sponsorship and visa to enter the country.
Marsha has told her story to innumerable children and adults so that they can bear witness and become the carriers of her story.
As a rabbinic student, I asked Marsha & Robert if I could hear and record their stories as part of a history project. Marsha said they agreed because she knew and loved me. Subsequently, Marsha began speaking publicly about her history. I get no credit beyond that, but am proud of what Marsha did in the years since.
Two years ago my children, my mother and I sat in Marsha’s meticulously appointed living room so that my children could hear her story. All three children had known or known about my then 90+-year-old friend whom I had known my entire life. I had long wanted them to sit with Marsha and hear her story, but didn’t know when the right time was. So, as I put it off, at the same time I feared that Marsha might not live until the day they were old enough. Talia, then 8, made the time right when she decided to learn about the Holocaust for a school project of her choosing.
Before we came to New Jersey, I wrote Marsha and asked her to speak to my children, knowing that she would be protective of them, certain she would tell me they were too young and decline.
But, she did not. Instead, elegant, red-headed Marsha sat surrounded by her intricately needlepointed pillows and sepia-toned family photos, and told Talia, David and Noa her story (with some edits considering David and Talia’s age). Marsha began with describing the young red-headed girl in Krakow who was taunted by her schoolmates for being a Jew. She took out scrapbooks and clippings, her few treasured family photos and Holocaust publications that show her in concentration camp barracks. And she took out her spoon. Marsha charged my 3 children clearly: Tell her story. They must tell only the truth and let the facts speak for themselves.
After the visit, Talia realized she had more to do. She heard Marsha’s story as a charge to relate it, to retell it. My little girl then sat down and began to write about Marsha’s life: “Marsha Kreuzman is a survivor of the Holocaust. She survived 5 concentration camps. She was 13 when the war started. Because her family was Jewish, they got treated badly by the Nazis.”
Talia then thought hard about how to explain the Holocaust to her 3rd grade public school class – a class in which she was one of a handful of Jews. Talia then stood up in front of her class and told Marsha’s story, just as it is written here. She and her teacher opened a door into important history. I am grateful to both for their conviction, to Marsha for her love and patience.
I will miss my dear friend Marsha, her heavily accented new year and Pesach phone messages, the homemade gefilte fish she would put aside for my arrival, the great pride she took in my work, scouring the synagogue bulletin for my name and photo. We will talk about her as we cover our Shabbat challah with the needlepointed challah cover she made with great pride for a wedding gift. We will remember Marsha’s instruction to tell her story, get it right, and let the facts speak for themselves. Marsha, we will tell your story.