Vienna, Austria. As a young man Josef was one among the hundreds of Austrian Jewish Scouts who vigorously debated ideology and the particulars of socialism for the best model upon which to build a new homeland – Israel. The signs of rising anti-Semitism in Austria had prompted Josef to seriously consider his future. Ultimately he wished to incorporate his socialist ideals into the building of a nation but his immediate need was for agricultural experience.
In 1937 Josef moved to a farm in Holland to learn farming. After the Germans invaded Austria, his brother and parents escaped from there and moved to Holland where Josef found them farms where they could live and work. Josef's parents, Max and Gisele Grunberger, were able to fly to Amsterdam but they hadn't enough money for a local train ticket. A Dutch couple saw them crying and gave them what they needed to purchase the fare. In this account it was only the first act of compassion given by the Dutch people and was followed up by Dutch underground support. From here his brother immigrated to British Palestine by ship, landing at night on a beach out of sight from British patrols. Josef's parents, however, had to stay in Holland throughout the war, hiding in the basements of two separate homes affiliated with the Dutch underground.
In Holland, the father talk to his family with a plan to meet after the war in Israel and asked everyone to send letters about themselves (when the war will be over) to a specific Kibutz" (Yesod hamaala) . The two brothers went there in 1945 and found the letter of their parents which was sent from Holland. This was the close of the circle and everyone new all are alive. Later on the father and mother immigrant to Israel too.
After Germany invaded Holland on May 10, 1940 most of the Dutch were in solidarity with their fellow Jewish citizens and opposed all measures taken against them. Once, on a bus, a Dutch person deliberately gave up his seat to Josef in front of two German soldiers. The concern the Dutch had for their own citizens was probably matched only by their hatred of the Prussian style militarism displayed in their country.
One morning, out in the field, Josef came across French soldiers who had escaped a POW camp. They attempted to persuade Josef into joining them in their flight to France but he demurred for the time being. Josef and the Dutch farmer fed them, brought them to the train terminal and personally purchased their tickets and newspapers so as to conceal their ignorance of the Dutch language. Josef had an active participation with the Dutch underground resistance but the classified nature of it was such that years later Josef refused to divulge those stories when asked by his son.
Josef had taken this French escape to heart and he was seeing the writing on the wall. Some of his Jewish friends had disappeared overnight from neighboring farms. Four hundred Jewish young people were taken from a nearby farming school. He had asked a few of them to escape with him to Switzerland but most thought that it would increase the risk of being discovered. Finally, only one friend, Hans, agreed to join him; these two would be the only holocaust survivors from that area.
Josef and Hans left the farm and made their way to a distant train station so that local people and railroad employees would not recognize them. They had removed the mandated yellow patch from their clothes. Even so, it was evident that they had been recognized but the Dutch remained quiet in silent resistance.
It was the commencement of a three month odyssey that took them through Holland, Belgium and France. They crossed three borders, walked at night through forest and field, hid by day and ate anything they could find. On several occasions they were almost caught. Part of this episode is related.
Walking at night in a downpour, they crossed the border into Belgium and knocked on the door of a small tailor shop located in a private home. An elderly couple fed them, cleaned and ironed their dirty clothes and let them sleep for two days before buying their tickets to Brussels.
In a cafe in Belgium they met two girls obviously planning a similar escape. Alarmed, the boys proffered advice on the need for discretion and ended up partnering with them on their journey to France. Together, on a small road, they saw two Belgium gendarmes draw near on bicycles. Josef and Hans each embraced a girl and they kissed like lovers. One of the passing soldiers was heard to exclaim, "Viva l'amour!" as they passed on by. That incident served as a warning that a foursome could be a liability. The boys and the girls soon parted company and they went their separate ways.
Josef and Hans continued their trek until fatigued and they decided to take a short train ride. Germans soldiers staged a surprise document check on this one. The boys climbed up onto the carriage roof, held onto a ventilation outlet, and lay low while they passed through a small tunnel. They experienced a sudden preference for walking if they could only get off the train safely. They did but they would learn that that foot travel was not incident free.
The boys crossed the French-Swiss border and were arrested by Swiss soldiers who interned them in Belle chasse Penitentiary in Fribourg Canton. For nine months their fellow companions included other targeted civilians, disgruntled German officers and escaped Russian POW's. With them was a local Swiss journalist who fully intended to support the cause of the prisoners upon his release. The prisoners plotted a coup, captured guns and locked up the guards securing the prison the day before the journalist was due to be released. Once freed, he published an article on the prison conditions that fell short of Geneva Convention standards and it swayed public opinion to their side. The U.S. ambassador visited the jail with his wife, bringing food and beverage to the prisoners. The Russians got drunk and fouled the courtyard but they were all finally released and allowed to remain in Switzerland till
At this point Josef asked to be attached to a farm in the German-speaking part of the country. Many of the Swiss in the area were anti-Semitic and influenced by Nazi propaganda. When the farmer found out that Josef was Jewish he asked to have him replaced but the Swiss authorities refused such a request without cause. Later on, when the farmer got to know Josef better, he regretted his behavior, apologized for it, and became his good friend. Their lasting friendship is probably best illustrated by a warm letter Josef later received in Israel with updates on the cows previously under Josef's care.
In 1944 Josef met and fell in love with his future wife, Susanne, a young Jewish refugee from Germany. For her safety, her family had sent her from Frankfurt, Germany to Switzerland in 1939, a few months before the war commenced. As it was permitted to send only children up to fourteen years of age, her sixteen year old sister could not accompany her.
At war's end Josef and Susanne arrived in Israel on a small refugee ship, landing on a beach at night to avoid detection by the British army patrolling the coast. They joined a kibbutz, got married and had two children. In the 1948 War of Independence they guarded the Kibbutz perimeter against Arab soldiers attack. After independence war Josef became a friend of some Arab neighbors who peacefully coexisted with the Jewish and automatically became Israeli citizens. In the 1950's Josef partnered with an Israeli Arab sharing a tractor between them and splitting the costs and the profits.
Throughout his life Josef was sensitive to the humanitarian issues of his neighbors, eclipsing race and politics. Just as Josef and his friends had benefited from the kindness of strangers so he too gave assistance where paths crossed