Masha (Masza Grinbaum) Dembinski
1919-2008





Masha was born in Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland - a small town near the German border. She was the eldest of three daughters. Her mother was a midwife, the daughter of a Rabbi, and her father was a jeweler. When Masha was to attend high school, the family moved to a nearby larger town, Sosnowiec (located just north of what later became Auschwitz).

When the war broke out, Masha was incredibly lucky to obtain a job at the Judenrat writing the green cards that enabled people to work so they could live. No card meant death. For this job she had to live in the Srodula Ghetto so her mother, Bajla, came to live with her while her father stayed home with the younger girls. By a chance misfortune, Masha could not obtain a work card for her father and so he and her two younger sisters were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered.

On a Friday afternoon Masha married Max Pilcewicz, the man of her dreams.  The next day there was a  roundup of men and Max was caught and sent to Auschwitz.

Masha was transferred to Buna, a subcamp of Auschwitz where she packed Trotyl (an explosive powder) into the bombs.  She and her coworkers were stained yellow from working with the poison powder, and could not avoid inhaling it.  When possible, she would under-fill the bombs so they wouldn't explode in battle.  A coworker exposed her for sabotage but she was very lucky that they only whipped her and cut her long black hair - some of the other women saboteurs were executed.  

Eventually, Masha and her mother were sent to Annaberg, a work camp further north in the mountains, where they were forced to do hard labor. In May of 1945 Annaberg was liberated and Masha, with her proficiency in the German language, became the mayor of the nearby town.  She renamed the town and the streets, giving them Polish instead of German names, and took on the task of resettling the survivors by giving them food, housing and jobs

After the war, Masha and her mother went back to Sosnowiec and visited their former, non-Jewish neighbors, who still lived there.  One, who had worked at the door to the gas chambers at Auschwitz, said she was never so moved as when she saw the Grinbaum girls (Masha's younger sisters) marched into the "showers" - the gas chambers.  Another neighbor said smugly to Bajla, "See this soap?  It was made out of your husband's bones!"  They also found out that Max had survived and, emaciated, was walking back from Auschwitz to find Masha.  He and a group of other young men who survived Auschwitz stopped off at a farmhouse asking for food and were given poisoned bread.  Some survived to tell the story.  Max did not.  Masha was able to hold onto only two items during the war period - a small Siddur (prayer book) and Max's picture. She kept the picture inside of the prayer book for the rest of her life.

Masha's mayoral position led to meeting her second husband, Stanley (Szulim) Dembinski, who was also a survivor.  A few years later Masha obtained a very good position in a big city, Wroclaw. There, her mother passed away and they had two daughters. Due to Communism, extensive anti-Semitism in Poland, and U. S. immigration restrictions they could not emigrate until 1965, eventually settling in Rochester, New York. Masza and Stanley spent 63 very happy years together.

Written by:

  Paulina (Dembinski) Kovalsky, daughter   

  Shaina Kovalsky, granddaughter


About 1923, Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland. Masha in the center her mother, Bajla, seated right, grandparents, aunts, uncles and younger sister, Szprinca. Most of the family later perished at Auschwitz.

July 30,1939, Sosnowiec, Poland. Masha & Szprinca her middle sister who perished in the gas chambers together with their youngest sister, Lolcia, at Auschwitz.

About 1938. Masha's father, Pinkus Grinbaum who perished at Auschwitz

Max Pilcewicz, Masha's first husband.

1948, Krynica (spa), Poland. Stanley and Masha.

2005, Rochester. Stanley & Masha