Survivor shares stories of life in Auschwitz-Birkenau ahead of 75th liberation anniversary
TORONTO -- Edith Grosman survived almost three years of unimaginable torture in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
At the age of 17, she was one of the first women to arrive at the death camp on March 25, 1942.
Sitting in her Toronto apartment, the now 95-year-old girl said that when the unmarried girls of her village of Humenne, Slovakia were rounded up and sent to go work in the camps, they had no idea what they were in for.
“It was not a concentration camp. They called it in German ‘Vernichtungslager.’ It means death camp... Auschwitz was a death camp.”
The horrors of the Holocaust are well documented, but Grosman is trying to give people a more complete picture of the brutal chapter in history. But she admits that even after speaking to CTV News Toronto for about 90 minutes that, “what I am telling you is, I don’t know, two per cent, three per cent, five per cent from our real life there in this camp.”
The first thing she remembers after arriving at the camp was having all the hair on her body shaved off. She said she was handed an itchy dress, but no underwear.
After several days she and the others were dealing with diarrhea. Something they would hide from the guards for fear of being taken away.
“It was bad, it was bad, because there was no medicine and full of flies. And we all (fell ill with) Typhus, because the clothes (had) lice, (and) transmitted Typhus.”
Grosman says once they realized what was happening when the smoke rose from the crematorium, it resulted in excruciating and constant stress.
“The feelings and the fears … this can never, ever be explained. To live in permanent fear for your life, with no possibility to make your life a little easier, and have a chance to survive. Because the life was not hard, the life was impossible. Unhuman.”
She remembers seeing Nazi soldiers relishing the murders of her fellow prisoners.
“You know they were playing, they were playing with human lives and laughing, laughing when they saw the gas was falling. They were looking through windows … how the people are falling and dying.”
Grosman told CTV News Toronto she always expected to be sent to the gas chamber.
“Everybody was sure that we were going to finish there.”
But she says there were moments of light, even if they were brief. Grosman said that her captors could not kill their spirit entirely.
“When we had only a little bit of time we were sitting and singing... Because otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
Despite the degrading treatment, Grosman didn’t lose faith, believing that she and the others survived to make sure the stories of the Holocaust were told.
“I am sure that God’s spirit was there. And we came from Auschwitz as messengers. Because he needed messengers. Because if nobody would be back, Auschwitz would be forgotten, like a lot of people in the history of humanity.”
Somehow she survived—a fact she can’t even understand 75 years later.
“You ask how we survived, nobody knows. Nobody knows.”
When the camp was finally liberated, Grosman was 20 years old and had to start her life again.
“When I came out of Auschwitz, I had a feeling that I came out of hell. And I said, ‘after hell can come only paradise.’”
She found paradise in her family. She married her husband Ladislav, who eventually won an Oscar in 1965 for writing the best foreign film “The Shop on Main Street.”
A review of the movie hangs in a frame on Grosman’s bedroom wall. The film focusses on a Slovak Jewish shopkeeper facing Aryanization. It’s something they both experienced in their hometown.
Grosman doesn’t have the award on display, but proudly pulled out her replica statue when she talked about her husband’s success. He died in 1981. Ever since, Edith has focussed on her family, her paradise, as well as making sure no one ever forgets the horrific chapter of history she and millions of other Jewish people experienced so many years ago.
“History writes herself. Even when you will go and speak with 100 people that nobody will believe that the holocaust existed, they cannot take it away from the history.”
By sharing her story as she gets “closer to the gate,” Grosman says she is doing what she can make sure no one forgets that chapter in history.