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Benjamin Grünfeld (*1928)

Benny Grünfeld, 2008'© Nina Werth
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Benny Grünfeld, 2008
© Nina Werth

 a  “Unfortunately, all of the employees were Germans, and I was still scared to death for them. Doctors frightened me more than anyone else; I was so afraid that one of them would give me some kind of fatal injection that I hardly dared sleep at night. The doctors had been the cruelest killers in the concentration camps. They were responsible for selecting inmates for the gas chamber.”

(Benny Grünfeld: A teenager in Hitler’s death camps. In collaboration with Magnus Henrekson and Olle Häger (Dallas: Benbella Books, 2007), p. 86.)


 b  “I have always known that I wanted to write down and relate my experiences in the German extermination camps. As early as 1947, I began to write down my experiences, but I gave up. It was too painful and anxiety-ridden. I did not realize then that Nazism would once again rear its ugly ahead around the world […] I haven’t been able to forget all the horrors I have seen; for better or worse, I have been gifted with a photographic memory […] In recent years I have given roughly 100 talks per year about my Holocaust experience. That gives me a great deal of inner satisfaction. I feel as though I am the mouthpiece for all the unfortunate people who were killed just because they happened to have been born Jewish.”

(Benny Grünfeld: A teenager in Hitler’s death camps. In collaboration with Magnus Henrekson and Olle Häger (Dallas: Benbella Books, 2007), pp. 97–98.)

“I had frequent dreams during my time in the camp. They were almost always nightmares, and of a very special kind. Of course, our daily life was a nightmare in itself. In my nocturnal dream world, I repeatedly tried to convince myself that the evil all around me was simply a nightmare from which I would soon awake. But each morning I awoke to the same painful realization that the nightmare was nothing less than reality itself.”[1]


Benjamin Grünfeld, the third of four sons of Hungarian Jews, was born on May 6, 1928, in Cluj, Romania. His father, Josef, was a recognized watchmaker and goldsmith, and the sons, too, were artistically and musically gifted. In 1940, Cluj (Hungar. Kolozsvár) fell to Hungary, and for Benjamin, World War II began in March 1944: His oldest brother, Armand, was inducted into the Hungarian army, and the remaining family members were arrested by the Hungarian police. After a few weeks in an interim camp, the entire family was deported to Auschwitz. They were separated at the ramp: the youngest brother, Sandor, and the parents were immediately sent to their deaths, while Herman and Benjamin were taken through Birkenau to the Buna/ Monowitz concentration camp. Initially deployed in the cement detachment, they had to do extremely heavy labor until Herman managed to join the goldsmiths, and Benjamin, through his intercession, was transferred to “Kommando 26” as camp bookkeeper and a designer of greeting cards.


Time and again, Benjamin Grünfeld narrowly avoided the selections: once, only because his Kapo championed him. Along with the other prisoners, the brothers were forced to take part in the death march on January 18, 1945. From Gleiwitz, they were taken in open freight cars to the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, where they were forced to work in the armaments industry. Finally, their strength at an end, they arrived at Bergen-Belsen, where they were freed by the British Army on April 15, 1945.


Then Benjamin worked at first for the British, painting English-language traffic signs. He developed diarrhea and had to be hospitalized.  a  A short time later, he registered for the medical evacuation program offered by the Swedish Red Cross. Both brothers ultimately settled in Stockholm. In 1948, Benjamin volunteered for the Israeli armed forces and served in the air force during the War of Independence. He was homesick for Sweden, however, and returned there 18 months later. He worked for a Swedish airline, and married Solvej. The couple now have three children and 11 grandchildren. Painting was his way of getting the time in the concentration camp out of his system. Today Benjamin Grünfeld travels all over Sweden to participate in contemporary witness encounters.  b  His memoirs were published in 1995, first in Swedish; an English translation became available in 2007. In 1996, Benjamin Grünfeld went back once again to Cluj and Auschwitz; his journey into his own past is depicted in the film A Round Trip to Hell – with Benny Grünfeld to Auschwitz, by Olle Häger.

(SP; transl. KL)



Benjamin Grünfeld, oral history interview 

(Swedish, with German subtitles)


Benjamin Grünfeld, oral history interview [Swed.], June 6, 1996. USC Shoah Foundation Institute, Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Archive, Code 16248.

Benjamin Grünfeld, oral history interview [Swed.], January 12, 2008. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Norbert Wollheim Memorial.



Grünfeld, Benny: Tonåring i Hitlers dödsläger. I samarbete med Magnus Henrekson / Olle Häger. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1995.

Grünfeld, Benny: A teenager in Hitler’s death camps. In collaboration with Magnus Henrekson and Olle Häger. Dallas: Benbella Books, 2007.



A round trip to hell – with Benny Grünfeld to Auschwitz (Sweden, 1996, directed by Olle Häger)

[1] Benny Grünfeld: A teenager in Hitler’s death camps. In collaboration with Magnus Henrekson and Olle Häger (Dallas: Benbella Books, 2007), p. 31.