Woman recalls the small things that helped her survive Auschwitz

Edith Grosman survived imprisonment in a German concentration camp during the Second World War. (GROSMANPICEdith1_E2)

Edith Grosman couldn’t have known that the shouting commands of a German SS officer would make her difficult life at Auschwitz a little easier.

“Why are those old prisoners still going out for work?” Grosman recalled the officer shouting at the blockalteste, the leader in the prison block. “Didn’t you find any work for them inside?”

Edith Grosman, 88, (now living in the GTA) was transported to Auschwitz on March 25, 1942. She would spend the next three years of her life “living in fear,” as she described it. The tattoo on her forearm (with the number 1970) indicated she had been at the camp since the first transport of about 2,000 girls from East Slovakia.

This former horse barn became the residence for thousands of victims of the Holocaust at Birkenau concentration camp during the Second World War. (GROSMANPICBirkenau Block_E)

The day the SS officer questioned the prison leader, Grosman was returning to her prison block, number 13, in Birkenau concentration camp after a day of hard labour. Drexler, the SS officer, had her reassigned. Grosman was subsequently made cleaner of the block and was no longer sent out to work each morning.

In her new role as cleaner, Grosman was also given the job of distributing the little food they had among the prisoners.

“Everybody wanted to come to us,” she said.

Grosman described how she mixed the soup evenly so everybody got a little broth and some vegetables.

When about 20 Hungarian girls arrived at block 13, Grosman recognized the fear and confusion they were experiencing.

“The block leaders yelled at the new girls, ‘Your parents are going out now through the chimney. You don’t have parents, no family. Everything is gone,’” Grosman recalled the prison guards shouting.

At that moment Grosman made a decision.

“Elsa (Grosman’s best friend at Auschwitz) and me took them and said, ‘They are lying. They want you to be good, It’s not true… Come. Sit down and we will sing.’”

Grosman sang a Hungarian song about a young girl’s dream of being rescued by a prince.

Whether the singing saved their lives, Grosman did not know. But for that moment she comforted them and gave them hope.

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