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Liesel Grunberger

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
15 August 1939
Interview number:

Interview Summary:

Liesel Grunberger, née Kober, was born in 1925. She attended the Volksschule am Platz (in Hietzing) and then the Lyzeum in the Wenzgasse. Before her emigration she attended a Jewish school (Stumpergasse, 6th district).. Her mother managed to receive a Domestic Service Visa (through the relatives of Eric Sanders, a friend in Vienna who emigrated earlier) in the UK and Liesel was found a guarantor. Her father arranged that she left Vienna on a train with the Kindertransport (although her papers had been arranged separately) . Her mother was waiting for her in Liverpool street station. Liesel spent the war years with her mother in London, living in hostels. She did not resume her schooling and started working. She also joined the Free Austria Movement and attended regular meetings. She recalls some of the songs which she sings during the interview. They mixed in refugee circles and her mother worked as a pastry cook, first at Willoughby’s and then at the Jewish Arts Club off the Finchley Road. Liesel started war work, (leaving a better paid job in an elegant blouse shop in Piccadilly) following an appeal at Young Austria to support the war effort. She met and married fellow refugee Richard Grunberger who was a leader at Young Austria. Her father, Oswald Kober, had left Austria for Palestine. His boat was docked in the port of Haifa but denied entry by the British and he was deported to Mauritius, where together with 1600 other detainees he was put in a British detention Centre. After the war, many internees were brought back to Palestine, where he lived for three years, before coming to Britain and being reunited with his wife and daughter. After Liesel got married, she worked for an optician and for Barclays International. She had three children and her husband became the editor of the AJR Journal. Liesel lost all her extended family in the Holocaust but has returned many times to Vienna. She sometimes feels nostalgic about the pre-war times in Vienna although she is sure that London is her home and she identifies strongly as British.      


Key words:      

Vienna. Kindertransport. Young Austria. Richard Grunberger (former editor of the AJR Journal). Deportation of Jews from Haifa to Mauritius. Eric Sanders- Quakers


Full Interview


I remember that [leaving with the Kindertransport from Westbahnhof], and I remember, that was the last glimpse I got of my uncle- The family that was shot in Yugoslavia. Because they all came to the station. And I still- There were so many people milling around, you couldn’t find anybody. But when I looked out of the window when the train started moving, I saw them. And we waved, and that was the last I ever saw of them. Ja. I was sad, really.

The person, well she was a teacher, but she was more. She was in charge of the class that I was in. She was - had been an illegal, illegal Nazi. There were lots in Vienna. People who belonged... because you know the party was illegal... under Dollfuss. But a lot of, sort of, pro-Nazi people - especially amongst the teaching profession. They were, they came out suddenly. They had been. And I remember she said there was a...a little talk she gave and she said, “No Jew has ever fought in any wars for us.” And I remember saying, “My uncle and my father did. I have photographs to prove it.” And she said, “Rubbish.” She didn’t do anything to me, but she sort of shut me up.

And I and my friend, Valerie Herlinger, were sitting on the other side [in the park Schönbrunn in Vienna]. And Richard [her future husband] and his friend opposite. And the boys – they were only young boys – they starting with the mirrors, you know, shining in your eyes. And then they left, and Richard dropped a note in my lap. I still remember. “Beautiful unknown, my heart is aglow...” something stupid...Well, he was only a young boy. And then he used to- He and his friend used to walk past my window - a lot. They used to call it ‘Fensterpromenade’. That’s what he used to do.

We had meetings with the YCL, you know, the ‘Young Communist League’. And the rambles we went on with the ‘Young Communist League’. And so much so I became so... enthusiastic... that I had a very good job in the early 40s. I worked in a lovely, very elegant shop in Piccadilly. And I earned a lot of money. And suddenly the... the ‘Young Austria’ authorities said, “Everybody has to work in munitions work.” You know, ‘nobody can work privately’. And my mother begged me not to leave, but I did. And I worked in the munitions factory, where I earned next to nothing. The war effort.

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