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Photographs of Lala Grunfeld

Grunfeld II
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

German forces invaded the Soviet Union in late June 1941. Reaching Ukrainian lands within weeks, the Nazis encouraged antisemitic Ukrainian nationalists to humiliate, torture, and murder their Jewish neighbors. Lala Grunfeld was a sixteen-year-old Polish Jewish student living in Lwów (present-day Lviv in western Ukraine) when her father, Samuel, was arrested and killed during organized pogroms in late July 1941.1 The Germans confined the Jews of Lwów to a ghetto later that year, but Lala and her surviving family members managed to escape with the help of forged papers identifying them as non-Jewish Poles. 

Living under false identities, Lala, her mother, Sidonia, and her younger brother, Julius, moved to Warsaw in order to avoid being recognized by any former acquaintances from Lwów.2 Arriving in Warsaw in April 1943, they saw large sections of the ghetto in flames as the Germans brutally suppressed the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Sidonia found work managing the household of a wealthy German civilian, and Lala and Julius each found jobs in German dentists' offices.

The featured photographs show Lala in the Warsaw office of Dr. Adolf Schmoll, a dentist from Hamburg who also served in the SS. She quickly became his chief assistant. Schmoll was an ardent Nazi and a vocal antisemite. He hung portraits of Adolf Hitler in each room of his practice and wore his SS uniform while he performed dental procedures. Lala discovered that two others who worked for Schmoll were also secretly Jewish—as was his Polish mistress.3

When the Warsaw Uprising began in August 1944, Lala and Julius volunteered to fight with the underground Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa). He became a courier and she served as a medic, drawing on the skills and knowledge she gained working in Schmoll's office. She escaped through Warsaw’s sewers as German forces destroyed the city, but she and her family were deported from Warsaw to Germany as Polish forced laborers. Her mother managed to contact the wealthy German she had worked for in Warsaw, and he arranged for them to live on his estate outside of Berlin until the end of the war. 

These photographs of Lala Grunfeld (known to her German and Polish coworkers as "Halina") show her at work in Warsaw in 1943 or 1944. Preserved by the Grunfeld family, both images are damaged, but the photograph of Lala engrossed in her work appears to have been intentionally torn to retain only her image. Whose arm is in the foreground, and why were they torn out of the picture? In one photograph, she poses with two unidentified people, presumably Schmoll and another dental assistant. What can these photographs tell us about her daily experiences as a Polish Jewish woman working for an officer of the SS?

These pogroms became known as the Petliura Days. Simon Petliura was a Ukrainian nationalist leader whose forces perpetrated pogroms in the years following World War I. For more, see Alexander Victor Prusin, Nationalizing a Borderland: War, Ethnicity, and Anti-Jewish Violence in East Galicia, 1914-1920 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005).

Julius would later adopt the Hebrew name Yehuda Nir. For his autobiographical account of the Grunfelds' experiences living underground, see Yehuda Nir, The Lost Childhood: A World War II Memoir (New York: Scholastic Press, 2002).

Yehuda Nir, The Lost Childhood: A World War II Memoir (New York: Scholastic Press, 2002), 98–99.

 

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 66391
Date Created
1943 to 1944
Photographer / Creator
Unknown
Location
Warsaw, Poland
Lviv, Ukraine
Lwów, Ukraine
Still Image Type Photograph
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