"And They All Call Me 'Zeide'"

"I was twelve years old at the beginning of World War II," Mietek began. "When I was sixteen, I was crammed into the Warsaw Ghetto with 400,000 other Jews.

October 28, 2010 16:40

KKL-JNF. (photo credit: KKL-JNF)

Mietek Grocher Visits KKL-JNF Sweden Sites throughout Israel

"I have many friends here," Mietek Grocher said as he read the various names of Swedish supporters of KKL-JNF inscribed on plaques at the Yatir Forest Donors Appreciation center. Mietek Grocher, a resident of Vasteras, Sweden, was touring KKL-JNF sites throughout Israel that he helped fund. His story, however, is not only that of a donor visiting projects he helped create. His story is about a man who survived the Warsaw Ghetto and nine concentration camps, someone who is a living testimony to man's ability to cultivate life and radiate love and hope after living through the greatest horrors ever visited by man on his fellow man.    

"I was twelve years old at the beginning of World War II," Mietek began. "When I was sixteen, I was crammed into the Warsaw Ghetto with 400,000 other Jews. When the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was squelched by the Nazis, I was hiding with my family in an underground bunker, which was gassed by the Germans, forcing us out. We were captured and loaded onto a train, with no idea where we going. For three days, we had nothing to eat or drink, until we arrived at our destination, Majdanek. I was sent to the gas chambers. Although everyone thought we were being sent for showers, something inside me told me to get out of there, and I started walking in the opposite direction, out of the gas chambers. Just as I reached the door, the German guard turned in the opposite direction to hear something another guard was saying to him. I ran out and was caught by a Czech, who understood what was happening. He shaved my head so I would look like the other concentration camp inmates and gave me a uniform that was four times my size."I found my father, but we knew nothing about my mother and sister. One day, I was working with a team, and I identified my sister in a group of women. I yelled, 'Where's Mother?', and my sister yelled back that she was gone.

"Towards the end of the war, my father and I were taken to Buchenwald. As the allied forces advanced, the Nazis moved us from camp to camp, always one step ahead of the conquering armies. A week before the war ended, my father was killed by a bomb dropped by an American plane on the retreating German forces. At the end of the war, I weighed 22 kilograms, and had no more will or strength to continue. As I sat by the side of the road, all of a sudden three English soldiers appeared and came over to see why I was sitting there. One of them looked at me, realized I was Jewish, and said 'sholem aleichem'. I broke down in tears.

"I had to be taught how to eat again, like a baby. When I was somewhat better, I was given a choice of where I could go, Switzerland or Sweden. I chose Sweden, because I remembered it from my geography classes as a small, neutral country with nice people. I worked there for forty years for ABB, a major Swedish company. My wife, Esther Grocher, also a survivor, passed away nineteen years ago. Of my entire family, only one other cousin, who lives in Ramat Aviv, survived.

"Today, I spend almost all my time telling my story to high school children all over Sweden. This is my mission. I have already lectured in 147 schools and am booked ahead well into next year. When I finish my talk, I always ask if there are any questions. There are almost never any questions. The schoolchildren just cry.

"I never take money for my lectures, but I leave KKL-JNF's address with the schools and ask them to send whatever they would have paid me to KKL-JNF. I have been involved with KKL-JNF and Keren Hayesod ever since I immigrated to Sweden. We visited Israel twelve times, the first time right after the Six Day War. I have two daughters, four grandchildren, a great-grandchild just born fifteen months ago. And they all call me 'Zeide'."

Mietek was accompanied in Israel by the president of KKL-JNF Sweden, Max Federmann, and Yehudit Strasser, head of KKL-JNF's Scandinavian desk. On Sunday, October 24, Mietek was the guest of honor at the inauguration ceremony of a new picnic site in Hadera Forest dedicated in his honor. After being presented with a KKL-JNF certificate of honor, Mietek was very moved and said that for him, "this certificate and the honor I am receiving from KKL-JNF is tantamount to receiving the Noble Prize." After the ceremony, he planted a tree in the new picnic grounds. He also visited Sweden Park, which is near Beit Shemesh in the Judean hills, and Martyr's Forest in the Judean Mountains, where there is a stone plaque in memory of Mietek's family.

Mietek's fingerprints can be found everywhere, from north to south, on KKL-JNF's map of Israel. When he was shown all the plaques with his name in Yatir Forest, he laughed and asked, "Who is that guy?" He was amazed to see how the forest looked and noted that there were many more trees since the last time he visited Yatir. At the site of the archaeological ruins in Yatir, Mietek was very impressed, because, as he said, "I had heard about the archaeological remains in the past, but this is the fist time I'm seeing them." He also visited KKL-JNF Ambassadors Forest in the Negev, where KKL-JNF's Elisha Mizrahi explained about the local and global importance of the project in terms of water research, taking advantage of runoff water, and how to combat desertification by planting trees in the desert, using new and innovative methods.

Speaking about Mietek, KKL-JNF Sweden President Max Federmann said that he felt privileged to have a personal relationship with him: "Mietek is an ambassador for KKL-JNF wherever he goes, and has been an inspiration for us to make JNF Sweden the active and vibrant organization it is today.  He even has his own KKL-JNF Sweden business card!"

As Yehudit Strasser said: "I feel honored and blessed to have met such a special person as Mietek Grocher, and to have had the opportunity to spend some time with him and be able to listen to him. With all he went through and survived, he has never lost his optimism and his love of life and people. I would like to thank him in the name of KKL-JNF for his ongoing support, and also in the name of Israel and all the people who live here, especially in the name of our children, whom Mietek loves so much, and who, as he says, are our future."

For Articles, comments or use please contact
 Ahuva Bar-Lev
KKL-JNF – Information and Publications
Email: ahuvab@kkl.org.il 
 Phone: 972-2-6583354 Fax:972-2-6583493

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