Simon Gronowski escaped Nazis when he was just 11 years old
Man Travels from Belgium to New Mexico to Share His Story
Gronowski, his family and hundreds of other Jews were crammed into a cattle train bound for Auschwitz from Belgium when three resistance fighters – armed with only a lantern, a pistol and wire cutters – hijacked the train, allowing Gronowski’s mother to lower the boy from the car. About 200 others also jumped from the train; half were shot or recaptured. Gronowski got away, but never saw his mother or sister again.
Gronowski said it took him 60 years before he could tell the drama of his childhood, when he wrote a book, “Simon, Child of the 20th Convoy.” Now, the 85-year-old speaks often at schools and other public locations.
He said in an email, translated from his native French, that he tells his story, not only to testify of Nazi barbarism and to launch a call for peace, democracy, tolerance and friendship between men, but also to express his optimism for the future.
Gronowski will recount his story first-hand, perform on the piano and answer questions from New Mexicans on Dec. 7-9 at various places around the state.
The events are produced by Richard Atkins, the artistic director of the East Mountain Center for Theater in Sandia Park. Atkins, who will also perform with Gronowski, said his message is one of hope.
“When you talk to him on the phone, for an 85-year-old man who has lost basically his whole family, his message is really positive,” Atkins said. “The fact that he is still a working attorney, and has this zest for life and loves American jazz, it’s pretty inspiring.”
Atkins came across Gronowski’s story about 10 years ago, while doing research for a holocaust-themed play called “DelikateSSen.” He contacted Gronowski through interpreters and they have been in touch ever since.
“We became immediate friends after we spoke over the phone,” Atkins said. “We had a great conversation and since he’s a pianist and I’m also a pianist, we actually played for each other over the phone across the ocean.”
Atkins said he has plans to turn Gronowski’s book into a screenplay, because it was the only time in WWII history when there was an effort to hijack a Nazi train that was headed to a concentration camp.
“How often do you get to meet a Holocaust survivor who has such a harrowing, daring escape story?” he said. “I can only hope, which I am sure will happen, that people will love meeting him, love listening to him, love listening to him play the piano and everyone will go home thinking ‘well this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.’”
Atkins said he feels great that there has been such a large response from the community in both interest and contributions. The presentations are funded by the Albuquerque Community Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, the Jewish Federation of New Mexico and private donors. Custom, commemorative coins will be for sale at each event.
“It’ll be very exciting for history buffs, high school kids – they’re getting a lot of students from Santa Fe Prep to the presentation – everyone,” he said. “It’s good for students to meet a Holocaust survivor, in our present world situation. I think it’s going to be an incredibly exciting, emotional experience.”
When asked if he’d like to share anything else, Gronowski simply said: “Life is beautiful!”
Gronowski will perform Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 5:30 p.m. at Congregation Albert (3800 Louisiana Blvd. NE, Albuquerque); Thursday, Dec. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Alevy Chabad Jewish Center (2907 E Idaho Ave, Las Cruces); and his grand performance Friday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 at the Vista Grande Community Center Stage, produced by the East Mountain Centre for Theatre (15 La Madera Rd., Sandia Park).
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