Belgian Holocaust survivor acts out his story on stage to mark ninetieth birthday


BRUSSELS, Oct 4 (Reuters) – In a rundown outdated manufacturing unit in Belgium, Holocaust survivor Simon Gronowski celebrated his upcoming ninetieth birthday on Sunday by starring in an opera impressed by his life – a historical past of affection, religion and forgiveness overcoming the darkest tragedy.

Gronowski was 11 years outdated and residing Brussels when in 1943 Nazis put him, his mom and sister on a practice sure for Auschwitz, the notorious dying camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

The practice was briefly stopped by three Belgian resistance fighters in Boortmeerbeek, 30 kilometres (19 miles) northeast of Brussels. In the following chaos, Gronowski jumped off. He went on to outlive World War Two in hiding. His household perished at Auschwitz, the place greater than 1 million individuals, largely Jews, had been killed.

“I am here because of a miracle. I jumped out of a death convoy,” mentioned Gronowski. “I was very unhappy when I was 14, 15, 20 years old. I cried a lot. But I never had hate. For me, hate is an illness. That I never had.”

Having been a much-loved youngster gave Gronowski the energy to beat his tragedy, he mentioned. In honour of his cherished sister, who was good at classical music and liked jazz, he turned a jazz pianist, on high of his profession as a lawyer.

After protecting quiet for many years about his previous, Gronowski determined within the 2000s to jot down a memoir. That led to a gathering in 2012 with Koenraad Tinel, the son of Flemish Nazis whose brother had served because the jail guard of Gronowski’s household.

Tinel, a sculptor three years youthful than Gronowski, requested for forgiveness.

“The children of the Nazis are not guilty,” Gronowski recounted telling Tinel. “He had the guilt of his father on his shoulders, he felt guilty. These words I said were important to him because they came from a victim of the Nazis.”

“Our pain is not the same. But I understood his pain. And now he is more than a friend. He is my brother.”


Nearly 80 years for the reason that fateful occasions, Gronowski’s again is hunched with age and he cannot stand for lengthy.

But his vivid eyes, fast smile and gestures give him the air of somebody a lot youthful as he talks of his life marked by the horrors of the Holocaust, which has additionally been changed into an ode to like of humanity.

British composer Howard Moody was so impressed by Gronowski’s story after assembly him at a theatre efficiency a number of years in the past that he wrote an opera based mostly on Gronowski’s life and his extraordinary friendship with Tenel.

The opera, “PUSH”, has been carried out a number of instances in Belgium and the UK, however to mark Gronowski’s ninetieth birthday on Oct. 12, Moody placed on a particular efficiency on Sunday through which each Gronowski and Tenel appeared, enjoying themselves.

The efficiency was staged in an outdated furnishings manufacturing unit close to Boortmeerbeek, the place Gronowski jumped off the practice practically 80 ears in the past, to a rapturous reception from an viewers of 300.

PUSH mixes traditional arias with jazz inserts and choral singing. In one grand scene set on the deck of a practice carriage, the choir – collectively impersonating Gronowski’s mom – pushes little Simon off the convoy.

“That’s not something to be light or easy about. One has to give a sense of awareness about what happened and why it happened,” mentioned Moody.

“But also this wonderful positivity that he has in his spirit, which is so inspiring. This touched me as much as the pain of his story.”

Later within the play, a Nazi guard kneels, begging for forgiveness in a strong aria to which the primary protagonist replies in gentle, excessive tones: “I forgive you.”

Gronowski mentioned the opera advocates peace, tolerance and democracy. While the previous couldn’t be undone, the story carries a prescient message, in response to Tinel.

“It is important today because this story repeats itself non-stop all over the world,” Tinel mentioned. “We have to keep on giving testimony.”

Between their scenes, the duo rested on a bench on the stage, touching affectionately and at instances wiping away tears. In the grand finale they embraced one another as they stood with members of the choir singing a bit echoing Gronowski’s motto.

“Despite the past, I believe in the power of human goodness,” they sang as members of the viewers, some additionally welling up, gave an extended standing ovation.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Susan Fenton

Belgian lawyer and jazz pianist Simon Gronowski, 89, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust during the Second World War, and Belgian artist Koenraad Tinel, 87, the son of a Flemish nationalist and Nazi sympathiser, take part in an opera called PUSH in Boortmeerbeek, Belgium October 3, 2021. REUTERS/Gabriela Baczynska