Grete Stern


Grete Feldsberg was born in 1920 in Mistelbach, a small city 50 km north of Vienna, Austria, as the only child of Ignaz and Irma Feldsberg, nee Zweig. She spent her childhood in Mistelbach. Her father and his brother had a wine shop. The years of elementary school were rather “normal”, but in the thirties, when Hitler came to power in Germany, the then still illegal National Socialists also gained influence in Austria and antisemitism got stronger. She said that since that time she had no contact with Christian children anymore. In 1937, the family moved to the capital Vienna. Ignaz Feldsberg bought a house in Vienna, which Grete was to inherit.


After the Anschluss of Austria to the German Reich in 1938, everything changed. The family’s house was “Aryanised” and the Feldsbergs had to share the apartment with other expropriated Jewish families. Shortly afterwards, Grete’s father died of a heart attack.


In October 1941, Grete and her mother received the order to report for deportation. They were allowed to take only a suitcase each and bedding. The two women were deported to the Litzmannstadt ghetto, in Łódź, Poland, in the first of five transport trains of one thousand Jewish people each. Grandmother Cäcilia Zweig, already 86 years old at that time, remained in Vienna. Saying goodbye to her grandmother is one of Grete's most painful memories. Cäcilia Zweig died in 1943 in the concentration camp Theresienstadt. In the Litzmannstadt ghetto, the National Socialists had already forced more than 180,000 Polish Jews to live there under cramped conditions lacking the most basic necessities. With the deportations from the west, another 20,000 people were added. A few days after their arrival, Grete met the Polish Jew Henrik Apt who supported her and her mother as best he could. He helped them to find work, Grete in the ghetto administration, her mother in a pantofle workshop. Several times, he saved them from deportation to the death camp Chełmno nad Nerem. In late autumn 1942, one year after their arrival in the ghetto, Grete’s mother died of starvation and exhaustion at the age of about 60 years.


In August 1944, when the ghetto was liquidated, Grete was deported to the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. After a few weeks in Auschwitz she was transferred to forced labor in the Krupp Company in Berlin. After further deportations and a death march to the West, she was liberated, together with other women, at the village Vietlübbe in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania by the arrival of the Soviet Army.

1945 and Postwar Experiences

After her return to Vienna, she began working at the Viennese police station. A few years later, she married Bernhard Stern and started a family. In 1970, after the children had grown up, the Sterns emigrated to Israel.