OSWIECIM TAUGHT ME NOT DISCARD OR BREAD CRUMBS
An interview with Edita Grosmanová nee Friedmann, who was born in 1924 in Humenne, Slovakia. She is 93 years old and was on the first transport to Auschwitz on 25 March 1942
Translated from original article written by Miroslav Čaplovič | 11.06.2014
Published in Žurnál.Pravda.Slovakia - Journal of the Truth
“My heart was breaking when I saw girls who survived three terrible years in Auschwitz now lying in pools of blood,” Edita Grosmanová nee Friedmann, 90-year-old native of Humenné; describes her horrible feelings about the death march in January 1945. “Those which were unable to walk, the SS shot,” she stresses that talk about the Holocaust is the mission of those who survived it.
Did you have a nice childhood in pre-war period?
It was beautiful. There were seven of us children. “I miss such a big family.” The health consequences of the concentration camp, she only has one son. My Grandparents were very religious, yet tolerant to young people. I embraced our faith. However, I am a modern believer. I see God in the beauty of nature.
When bad times began to set?
My sister wanted to go to the commercial academy in Michalovce. Father particularly cared to prepare us for adult life, at the same time he wanted us to give something to the world, not only to live in the realm of humanity. He considered education to be as important as food. He would say, “Leah,” my sister “is a lawyer and you will become a doctor.” Lea was an excellent pupil, and the professor praised her, but times were changing and she could not get accepted into college.
One Jewish boy managed to get to the president Edvard Benes, to order that Michalovská College accept six Jews. Leah was subsequently accepted, but at the beginning of the school year, a boy stood in the doorway and barred her entrance, saying, “Jews are not permitted.” She was finally able to sit in the rear of the class on a bench, but my sister could not bear the humiliation and left school.
The birth of the Slovak State brought Jews escalating hardships. The authorities wanted Jews to wear a label. It was not the first time in history. We wanted fur coats, but had to hand them over. We were not even allowed to have a cat, because the government banned Jews owing a pet! It escalated to more intimidation and finally culminated in the deportations.
You were the first transport of Jewish girls to Auschwitz.
I did not know where I’m going. My father received notice that I had to go to work. He was a decent man, who stressed that the law must be respected, even if the laws were bad. Who could imagine that we actually hold in our hands a ticket to the concentration camp? From Humenné I went to Poprad, where around a thousand Jewish girls and women had gathered, and then we headed for the rail transport to Auschwitz. It was in 25 March 1942.
The transport was terrible, without food and without water. That first night we were so tired we lay down in the barracks and slept on straw. In the morning they cried out to us to be counted, so it did then every day. I saw that the Nazis even in the evening to prepare themselves for concentration camp deportees. There was a lot of snow, but we had barefeet and wore shod clogs only. We were dressed as inmates. Our heads were cold without hair. Our skin had ruptures, from cuts.
On the way, to Auschwitz, we could each take 20 kg of luggage, but we would not see anything out of our luggage after we arrived. I got a bowl and a spoon for a lousy diet, every morning I get up at four o’clock. At first I was in uniforms from the murdered Soviet prisoners of war.
It was a hard winter. Strong frost, knee-deep snow, high winds. An SS, who had a tradition of resistance behaved said that today we should not go to work because of the weather. The Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler was in camp though and he stomped his boots and shouted “for Jews there is no weather!”
In the morning we received tea, nothing more, which we washed our teeth with and then drank. There was soup for lunch, which was actually hot water with potato shells. It happened that when we were doing in the field, thirsty girl went to the stream and SS men opened fire. Such cases registered as escape. I worked mainly in the area of the river. I would add that the danger was not only malnutrition but also disease.
Almost every one of us caught the typhus fever. Unfortunately, my sister Lea died in Auschwitz. She got a high fever and become unconscious. Although I could not help it, I had qualms about why she died and I survived.
In January 1945, when the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz, but you were not rescued then.
I was on death march, when the SS men took off before advancing Eastern Front. I have seen many horrors in the concentration camp, plus losing my beloved sister, but what followed was the culmination of a tragedy. We did not know how long path ahead of us in the harsh winter. Finally, we marched for about two hundred kilometers. Those that were unable to walk, the SS shot. My heart was breaking when I saw girls who survived three terrible years in Auschwitz and now lying in pools of blood.
After a long journey we were loaded on a train, in Dobytčiakov, and then driven to Ravensbrück. In April 1945 I was fortunate to live to see the end of war. When the SS men fled after the alarm to the bunker we prisoners ran into the kitchen and ate. At the end of the war in Ravensbrück, I had similar feelings as the terrible death march. The hospitals lacked essential medicines and some girls were so ill and starving they could not survive.
What was your return to Slovakia like? My parents, thank God, survived the war. My father owned a glazier and that job saved his life because our family was given an exemption from deportation of Jews. However, the exemption was received after Leah and I had already been sent to Auschwitz. After the suppression of the Slovak National Uprising Jewish exceptions expired, and the Friedmann family with the rest of their children went into hiding in the forest. When I got home, there was a basket of cherries on the table. I did not touch them. In my heart I distributed the fruit among girls in Auschwitz. Nearly seventy years after the end of the war I still do waste even a morsel of food.
Incidentally, my homecoming highlighted love in my heart and I met the love of my life, Ladislav Grosman, who wrote the Oscar winning film “The Shop on Main Street”.
Can you talk about the miracle that you survived such a long time in Auschwitz? I do not use the word miracle. I believe that I stayed alive, so I could talk about the hell of Auschwitz.
Edita Grosmanová nee Friedmann was born in 1924 in Humenne. She was on the first transport to Auschwitz was dispatched March 25, 1942 and was among thousands of girls who then dragged into a Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland. After the war Grosmanová moved to Prague, with her husband, where she studied at Charles University of Biology. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 she and her husband emigrated to Israel. She is ninety years old and lives in Canada now with her only son.