Simon Gronowski, - survivor XXth convoy

 

 

 

 

My father arrived in Belgium in 1920. We came from Poland. He made my mother come over from Lithuania. They married in Ličge in 1923. They had two children, my sister Ita, born in 1924 and me, Simon, born in 1931.

 

My parents established themselves in Brussels. They bought a piece of land in Etterbeek and had a house build. My mother had a leather shop on the ground floor and my father travelled throughout the province to sell the same product as a wholesale dealer. In 1941, my sister was studying in the Lyceum van Elsene. I was in the fifth class in Etterbeek. I had joined the boyscouts. We were happy and we were together as a family.

 

Simon with his parents (Louisa Avenue - Brussels 1942)

Simon in 1942

In September 1942, there were razzias against the Jews, and there were also arrests. We went into hiding, in a small apartment in Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, Terkamerenstraat 326.

 

March 17th, 1943, 9 o’ clock in the morning. We were having breakfast. My father was in hospital. Someone rang the doorbell and two German Gestapo-officers, in civilian clothes, arrested us. We were taken to the basement of the Gestapo, at the Louisalaan in Brussels. The next evening, we were taken with some 50 others, to the Dossin Barracks in Mechelen.

 

I received the number 1234, and my mother got the number 1233. It turned out those were our deportation-numbers. My mother and I were interned for a month in the Dossin Barracks. After that, we were deported. My sister, who had chosen the Belgian nationality on her 16th birthday, wasn’t to be considered for deportation.

 

In the early morning of April 19th, 1943, the convoy was composed little by little. In the afternoon, my mother and I were locked up in a cattle-wagon, together with some 50 others. The train left in the evening. I was 11 and a half years old. I didn’t know, then, that I was sentenced to death en was to be transported to the place of my execution: Auschwitz. Shortly after the departure, the train stopped and I heard shouting in German and a couple of shots. It was the attack in Boortmeerbeek, executed by three young members of the resistance (Livschitz, Franklemon and Maistriau) who freed seventeen people. I fell asleep in the arms of my mother. She woke me up. The sliding door was open and a couple of people jumped off the train. My mother held my hand and brought me to the opened sliding door. She let me slip off the wagon, until I could put my feet on the running board. I used my left-hand to hold on to a bar, and I used my right-hand to hold on to the floor of the wagon. In the meantime, my mother held my collar. I didn’t dare to jump because the train was going too fast. My mother told me in Yiddish: “Der tsug geht tsu schnell”.

 

At a certain moment, the train slowed down and I jumped. I waited for my mother but the train stopped, and I heard shooting and shouting in German. My first reflex was to run back to the wagon, to join my mother, and to not being caught by the Germans. But if I wanted to do that, I had to run in the direction of the Germans, who were shooting at me.

 

All of a sudden, I went left. I ran through the woods the whole night. It had rained. I was covered with mud. In the early morning, I reached a small village, Berlingen, a hamlet of Borgloon. I ran a doorbell. I was sent to the constable of the village, Jules Van Hoenshoven, who brought me to county constable Jean Aerts. He went to the station and was told there were three dead people. People from my wagon, one of them a young woman. Aerts told me in French: “I know everything, you were on that transport, we’re good Belgians, we won’t betray you.”

 

I cried very hard and fell into his arms while I was talking about my mother. Jean Aerts took me to the station in Ordingen, close to Sint-Truiden. I took the train over there and headed for Schaarbeek. I got home in the evening.

 

After that, I went into hiding with several Belgian families, until the liberation. I never saw my mother again. My sister was deported on September 20th, 1943, in the XXII B convoy. I never saw her again too. My father, he was a broken man because of the grief, died in July 1945. I was left behind alone.

 

April 30th, 2000

Simon in December 2001

At present, I’m a father and a grandfather

(December 2001)

 

Simon Gronowski is a lawyer and lives in Brussels.

 

 

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