The Current

This Toronto woman survived Auschwitz. Now, at 95, she's still speaking up for the people murdered

Edith Grosman believes she survived Auschwitz to tell the stories of the horror she saw there. “We had to be messengers. Somebody had to survive ... and tell the story,” she tells The Current’s Matt Galloway.

'Somebody had to survive ... and tell the story': Edith Grosman

Edith Grosman was on the first official transport of Jewish people to Auschwitz, in March, 1942. (Padraig Moran/CBC)

Read Story Transcript

A 95-year-old Toronto woman believes she survived Auschwitz so that she could bear witness to the horrors she saw there, and speak up for the murdered. 

"We had to be messengers, somebody had to survive … and tell the story," Edith Grosman told The Current's Matt Galloway.

Grosman was 17 when she and her older sister, Lea, were sent to Auschwitz from their home in Slovakia on March 25, 1942. It was the first official transport of Jews to the Nazi death camp — liberated by Soviet forces 75 years ago — where over one million people perished.

Grosman described life in the camp as living in constant fear, as mass murder was committed all around her. But she says their youth and their desire for life kept them going.

"We hoped that somebody will survive … and in the end we say: we were stronger than Hitler!"

'They cut off her life'

Grosman survived three years in the concentration camp, but her sister did not. By December 1942, she was succumbing to typhus.

"I came in and I saw her — she was on the floor, on the stone floor in a coma," Grosman said.

Unable to work, Lea was killed by the Nazis in a mass gassing of several thousand people on Dec. 5, 1942.

Grosman said she still remembers her sister as someone special, who could have done "something important, but they cut off her life."

"It was hard, and it's hard 'til now .. I cannot understand anything of it."

Survivors and their families were at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp Monday, to mark 75 years since its liberation. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

'You couldn't survive Auschwitz on your own'

In Auschwitz, Grosman contracted tuberculosis, which caused her to limp. But a Jewish doctor stepped in to protect her.

Noticing her limp, she remembers the doctor said: "Edith, you cannot go to work like this. You will be in the same day in the gas chamber."

"Her name was Manci Schwalbova, a very nice woman, and I can say that she saved me," Grosman said.

A big part of surviving Auschwitz was finding sisterhood, says author Heather Dune MacAdam.

"What happened with many girls if they lost a family member, a sister or a close cousin, is that somebody else often stepped into that place," Dune MacAdam told Galloway.

'It's not normal that we survived': Holocaust survivor recalls horrors of Auschwitz

4 years ago
Duration 4:57
Edith Grosman recalls her memories of Auschwitz

She interviewed Grosman and other survivors for her book 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz.

"You couldn't survive Auschwitz on your own, you had to have somebody with you who had your back and and helped you look after yourself — and somebody that you could look after." 

For Grosman, the doctor took her in for care and rest — only sending her back to work every couple of days when a new transport was being organized. Grosman's survival depended on appearing healthy.

She says when the camp was eventually liberated, she felt an incredible euphoria at being free. But as time passed, she wondered how such an atrocity was allowed to happen.

"It's a hard life, so that's why I go, and I speak."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.