Meet Holocaust survivor Paul Grinwald

Growing up in France

Paul was born in Paris in 1933. His parents Leon and Malka were Polish but had left Poland some years before for economic reasons and had moved to Paris, where they married. Leon worked as a baker and Malka worked part-time for a tailor. In 1936, Paul’s little sister Suzanne was born.

The family was traditional and observed Jewish holy days. Leon worked for his uncle, who had a bakery in the centre of Paris. Paul was impressed by the extravagance of the place:

Paul Grinwald, 1935.

“It was so luxurious, all over mirrors on the walls, all the tops were marble, and the grills for the baguettes all shining chrome. There were all sorts of chocolates and I ate white chocolate for the first time in my life.”

Paul attended kindergarten in Paris from age three and went to government schools later. He loved school, was an avid reader, and enrolled in the communal library.


German occupation

In 1940, soon after the Germans had occupied France, a series of antisemitic laws were introduced that excluded Jews from public life, requiring their dismissal from positions in the civil service, the army, commerce, and industry and barring them from participation in the professions including medicine, law, and teaching.

“I remember that I had to take the radio to the police station, bikes and motorcars had to be handed in, too. In the Metro, the Paris subway, we were only allowed in the last carriage. And we were not allowed into cafes or restaurants. I went to my library where I was asked whether I was a Jew. When I said ‘yes’, the librarian said ‘We don’t allow Jews here’, tore my library card into pieces and threw it into the bin. I was devastated because I liked reading so much.”

In 1941 the Germans started to send Jewish men to labour camps. Luckily, they were looking for Paul’s father under the old address, and neighbours warned Leon. He decided to leave for the unoccupied part of France and travelled to Lyon, where his sister lived, while his family remained in Paris.

From June 1942, all Jews were forced to wear a yellow star on their clothes. Paul remembers his teacher saying: “You will have noticed that a number of your classmates are obliged to wear a yellow star. I just want to let you know that nothing has changed, these students are no different from yesterday and you should stay friends with them. Whoever is going to discriminate against Jewish students will have to deal with me.” The speech moved Paul deeply.

Evading the Nazis

Rumours spread that the Nazis would arrest all women and children on 16 July.

Paul’s mother and a few other Jewish families who lived in the same building asked the concierge whether they could hide in the cellar, to which the concierge agreed. At 5: 00 am, there was knocking at the door, a lot of commotion upstairs, and heavy boots could be heard.

Around two hours later, the concierge called the group to come out and go back to their apartments, but to stay there and not go out. Paul’s found out his aunt and her two children were arrested and sent to Drancy, and from there to Auschwitz.

For two weeks, Paul’s family would constantly look through the shutters to see whether the Germans were coming back.

Eventually, Paul’s family tried to escape Paris. This was an arduous process that saw the family hiding in various places throughout France before arriving in Lyon on 6 August 1942.

Watch Paul’s testimony: 

Under false identity

In November of the same year, the Germans occupied the whole of France. Paul’s parents had not registered with the authorities in Lyon and had organized false papers for the family.

Paul’s parents thought the children might have a better chance of survival on their own, so they arranged for them to stay on a farm. Paul did not like to be separated from his parents, but they explained to him why it was necessary. The farmers were nice people, and Paul was allowed to saddle the horse and drive the cart. His mother came once a month to pay the farmers.

In the hut in the countryside, France 1944. From top: Paul, Paul’s uncle with son, Paul’s mother, his aunt, Paul’s father, sister and the goat.

One day Germans came to search for the children. They had been told Jewish children were working on the farm. But Paul and his sister Suzanne were out in the fields, and the farmers lied about their existence.

After a year, Paul’s parents ran out of money, so the children had to leave the farm and live with their parents again. One day, the house was raided by French police, and the family escaped to a little hut in the countryside which an uncle had bought as a hideout.

They had false papers by now but no money. They grew vegetables in the garden, and had a few rabbits. Paul’s father began to bake cakes, and Paul and his mother would sell them at cafes. Because of rationing, cafes were not really allowed to sell biscuits, but they had them under the counter for their good customers.

Paul and his family moved into his uncle’s apartment in Villeurbanne to escape the cold of the hut. On 4 January 1944, policemen in civilian clothes rushed into Paul’s uncle’s shop at the front of the apartment looking for Jews.

Paul and his family were saved by a butcher’s wife who risked her life to hide them in the back of her nearby shop. She closed the doors, drew the blinds, and the family waited for hours until the French policemen stopped monitoring the area.

The family moved back to the hut in Casset. There were a lot of air raids at this time, and often they were hiding and shielding in the fields. In early September, Paul saw truckloads of Allied troops moving on the main road – they were liberated!

When the war eventually ceased in May 1945, the family moved back to Paris, where they had to reclaim their apartment in a court case. Paul went back to school, for the first time in three years and was upgraded by two levels. He finished grade 7 as the best student in the class and was inscribed into the school’s Honour Board.

Arrival in Melbourne

Paul’s father wanted to get away from Europe. He had a brother in Australia, and so the family boarded the first ship from Europe, the “Ville D’Amiens” from Marseille to Sydney, a sea journey that took 11 weeks.

They arrived in Sydney in November 1946 and took a train to Melbourne, where Paul’s uncle picked them up.

Paul with his sister and parents in Melbourne, 1954. Paul and wife Sarah with daughters Jenny and Sharlene, son-in-laws Harold and Richard, and grandchildren Ariella, Monique, Brayden and Juliana, 2000.

Paul’s uncle had a bakery where Paul’s father started to work. Soon, he bought his own little bakery in Carlton and made bread and cakes. Paul used to help in the bakery. He got up at five in the morning and delivered the bread on a horse and cart.

In 1947 Paul commenced his education at University High School. As a bright and engaged student, Paul eventually won a scholarship to the University of Melbourne, where he studied commerce. He graduated in 1953 and began working as an accountant, opening his own firm several years later.

In 1963, Paul married Sarah – an Australian girl with Polish heritage. They had two daughters and four grandchildren.

Paul started work as a volunteer guide at the Melbourne Holocaust Museum in 2005. Today, he speaks to students weekly, spreading his message:

“There is no such thing as race; we are all one human race and no different from each other.”

Watch testimony from our survivors through the Eyewitness Project.