Survivor Portraits – John Gruschka

This month we introduce John Gruschka. John was born in Aussig, Czechoslovakia in 1924.

John grew up in the German-speaking park of Czechoslovakia, where there was a small but significant Jewish population. When the National Socialist party ascended to power, local Jewish families started to flee from the perceived Nazi threat. John’s family made a hurried exit to the Czech capital of Prague in 1938, in the nick of time.

As storm clouds gathered over Europe, John’s family searched for escape routes to leave the country. John’s father and sister went to Palestine, and John was sent to the safety of a distant relative in Manchester, England.

John’s mother, committed to caring for her own frail mother, stayed behind. John’s last farewell with his mother took place at the Prague railway station in February 1939, when he was just about to turn 15. He would never have conceived that this could be his and his mother’s last goodbye.

Hoping for a family reunion in Palestine, John’s mother Helene took up language studied in Hebrew during the Nazi occupation. Whilst sheltered safely in England, John received many letters from Helene in Prague. She encouraged John to practise violin, took interest in his schooling, and continued to mother him as best she could from afar. The Red Cross message service facilitated their communication.

On 8 September 1942, Helene was transported to Theresienstadt concentration camp, and on 1 February 1943, she was sent in a transport to Auschwitz, where she was murdered at the age of 53.

John immigrated with his wife to Israel to join his father and sister in 1950, and moved to Australia ten years later in 1960.

The Sydney Jewish Museum has preserved John and Helene’s letters. John holds one of the many letters that was sent to him by his mother in Prague.

To read more from our Survivor Portraits blog series, click here.

To explore the personal stories and anecdotes of Holocaust survivors, click here for our first online exhibition.


Photograph by Katherine Griffiths

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