Misa (later Frank) Grunwald was born on September 30, 1932, to Dr. Kurt and Vilma Eisenstein Grunwald in Olomouc, Czechoslovakia, (now Czech Republic.) Kurt and Velma met in Prague where Kurt was pursuing a medical degree with a specialty in obstetrics. Misa’s older brother John was born in 1928. They were assimilated Jews and identified culturally and ethnically as Czech. In 1934, the family moved to Prague. In September 1938, Germany annexed the Sudetenland border region of Czechoslovakia. In March 1939, Germany annexed the Bohemia and Moravia provinces, where Prague was located. German allies assumed control of the remaining regions and Czechoslovakia ceased to exist.
The German government established persecutory anti-Jewish policies. Misa and John were no longer allowed to attend their public schools. The family was evicted from their home and had to wear yellow Star of David badges. On July 13, 1942, the Grunwalds were transported to Theresienstadt ghetto/labor camp. They were housed apart, with separate quarters for men, women, and children. Kurt worked as a physician. Vilma was assigned to the camp kitchen. Food shortages were common. Misa attended informal classes held for children, drew in his spare time, and visited his parents in the afternoons.
On December 15, 1943, the family was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Upon arrival, they were bused to a special fenced section called the Czech Family Camp that the Germans maintained for propaganda purposes. They were separated by sex and Misa and John lived with their father. During visits to his mother, Misa saw a woman, Dina Gottliebova, painting and they developed a friendship. Dina introduced Misa to her boyfriend, Willy Brachman, a Jewish barracks head, and he hired Misa as his errand boy. Misa received extra food and clothing that he shared with his family. That summer, the Germans decided the family camp was no longer needed. On July 6, 1944, they conducted a selection of prisoners from the December Theresienstadt transport. Misa’s father was sent to F Lager with other able-bodied men. Misa and the other young children were sent left; his brother John, who walked with a limp, was also with this group. Willy Brachman grabbed Misa’s shoulder and pushed him into the line with the older children, which saved his life. This group was taken to D Lager where they worked sorting the clothes of new arrivals. Misa visited his father once and found him much changed and depressed. A while later, Misa saw a group of Czech women and asked about his mother. No one replied and this confirmed his feelings that she had not survived.
In October 1944, Kurt was transferred to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. On January 18, 1945, Misa was forced on a death march as the camp was evacuated due to the approach of Soviet forces. Misa walked through the snow to Gleiwitz, past the bodies of those shot because they could not keep up. At Gleiwitz, they were loaded into coal cars and transported to Mauthausen where they arrived starving and debilitated. Misa then was transferred to various sub-camps. He was liberated in Gunskirchen in May 1945 by US troops who took him to Hoersching to recuperate. Some of his friends soon hopped a train back to Czechoslovakia. A few weeks later, Kurt arrived by car to get Misa. He had returned to Prague, having survived transfers to several camps. In Prague, Kurt sought out newly arrived Czech survivors and he learned of Misa’s whereabouts from his friends.
Kurt and Misa returned to Prague. Misa began junior high and Kurt remarried. When Czechoslovakia became a Communist state, the family decided to leave for the West. They obtained false Italian passports and escaped by train to Austria, then England. In 1951, they immigrated to America. Kurt established a medical practice. Misa, now Frank, studied industrial design at Pratt Institute.
Following Kurt’s death in 1967, Misa found a note written by his mother Vilma to her husband on July 11, 1944, just before she was sent to the gas chamber. She explains that she knows what is awaiting her, that she is thinking about Kurt and Misa, but that she decided she must stay with 16year old John.