On the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a story about the very first transport of Jews to be sent there: 997 teenage Jewish girls. https://t.co/ElKy5HJn8G
— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) January 27, 2020
As world leaders gather in Poland Monday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi-run Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland, Edith Friedman Grosman will be far away in Toronto. On Monday, the energetic 95-year-old, who was on the first official transport of Jews to Auschwitz, plans to live-stream the ceremony from home, but only if she feels up to it.
She’s already returned to Auschwitz four times, and that’s enough.
“I’m glad they’re doing something for Auschwitz 75,” she told The Washington Post. “But they have to do something in 100 years and 125 years, too.”…
They were told they would be registering for three months of work in a shoe factory, and that it was their patriotic duty to help in the war effort. But when they showed up to “register,” they were strip-searched, loaded into trucks and taken away. Most were teenagers, some were in their twenties, and a handful of mothers in their forties boarded in place of their daughters. None of those mothers would survive.
Over the next few days, Jewish girls were swept up from all the surrounding villages. By the end of the week, Friedman Grosman, then 17, and her sister Lea, 19, were on the first official transport of Jews to Auschwitz, arriving by train on March 27, 1942…
These young women arrived at a pivotal moment in the concentration camp’s history. At first, it had been a Nazi prison for Poles of every ethnicity, then for Soviet POWs. By 1942, the Nazis were focusing on gathering up Jews, though they had not yet started their “Final Solution” — mass extermination.
In fact, the girls’ real job wasn’t to make shoes, but to build the very infrastructure that would convert the camp into a death machine. Over the next year, they were brutally forced to demolish old buildings with their bare hands, empty trash out of frozen lakes and build dozens of new barracks. For clothing, they were given the bloody uniforms of dead Soviet soldiers and a few striped dresses with no undergarments. Their entire bodies were shaved, and their shoes were flat pieces of wood with flimsy cloth ties.
Most of them died that first year — of starvation, disease, beatings, medical experiments and suicide. Friedman Grosman’s sister was sent to a gas chamber after she caught typhus. More than 77 years later, her grief is still deep…
At her apartment in Toronto on Saturday, friends brought by so many dishes for Friedman Grosman that she worried she would have to throw food away. In between visits, she told The Post she had one message for the world: “Don’t hate. Because hate brings criminality and hate brings death. I saw it, I was there.”