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Remembering the Holocaust

Frank “Misa” Grunwald was a boy when Adolf Hitler came into power and the Nazis occupied Europe. “Everything brings me back to that time. Picking up my grandson triggers memories of so many kids who were killed,” Grunwald said. “Every third or fourth situation triggers a memory going back 65 years. If there was a pill that could block this bittersweet reflex, that would let you enjoy today what you are enjoying, it would be heaven.”

“Misa’s Fugue” is a documentary chronicling the life of Grunwald and his family, from a small Czech village to Prague, where his father could expand his medical practice. It was there that Grunwald developed a love of music and art, while listening at the feet of his parents.

The film shows Grunwald’s everyday family life alongside the rise of Hitler’s rule.

In 1939, Germans invaded Gruwald’s homeland and instituted anti-Semitic rule. Grunwald and his brother, John, were expelled from school, and the family was evicted from its apartment. Three years later, the family was deported to Theresienstadt settlement camp, and in December 1943, to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Gruwald’s parents were sent to lines for work. Grunwald and his brother, who walked with a limp, were sent for extermination.

Grunwald was spared when a friend shoved him into a group of teens. “It’s important to know that my story is not special,” Grunwald said. “This is what happened to Jewish kids during that time. What’s unique is that I survived.”

“The horrors of that time will never leave me, but telling my story is important,” Grunwald added. “Giving a firsthand account of the horrors that one body of people can do to another body of people, to educate this generation, that was my purpose in making this film.”

“Misa’s Fugue” was presented by the Office for Intercultural Learning and the Holocaust Commission in conjunction with the Virginia Festival of Jewish Film. After the film, Grunwald and Bill Jucksch, camp liberator, answered questions, along with Elena Barr Baum, director, Holocaust Commission, and TCC Professor Jamie Haines.

Jucksch was 19 when he fought with the Army’s 71st Infantry Division to liberate the Nazi concentration camp where Grunwald was sent to die. “The film absolutely reflects what happened, but it doesn’t show the dead bodies. People were in piles, some dead, some alive and the stench was unbelievable. It was worse than the worst horror movie you’ve ever seen. We’d never heard the word concentration camp, so we really had no idea what we’d found until we saw walking skeletons.

“There were no photographers on the front lines. I didn’t see any from France to Germany to Austria.” Added Grunwald, “This was not an easy project. But it was worth it to help teach tolerance and acceptance of all people.”

“Misa’s Fugue” was told through film and interviews with Grunwald, and the documentary was edited, musically scored and visually supported by students and faculty of Fleetwood Area High School in Pennsylvania.

Tidewater Community College student Cathy Frohbergh attended the screening and question-and-answer session. “I’m in such awe of their story and so grateful for this opportunity to hear it,” she said.

Student Cindy Snead agreed, noting, “I learned the imagination can turn anything into hope. I was intrigued that Misa did not allow himself to be bitter. It symbolized that you can live through any atrocity – to fugue – he put his mind in another place.”