Edita Grosmanová, né Friedmannová, was born on July 11, 1924 as the third of seven children. She grew up with her two older sisters, Margita and Lea. Their father worked as a glazier. Their mother was ill for a long time and her doctor recommended her not to have more children after she gave birth to her first child. Despite this, she had six more.
In Edita's own words, her childhood was a very happy one. Her family was religious, especially her grandparents. She and her siblings were raised in an open-minded way, living an ordinary small-town life. Edita spent her whole childhood in her hometown of Humenné, eastern Slovakia, which she thinks of often, especially of the Vihorlat mountains. Every time she thinks of Vihorlat, memories of her hometown come back.
“We believed that we lived in a paradise,” Edita said, “that is as good as a child can get.”
One of her fondest memories is of the time she helped with the housework and subsequently, had yellow fingers because of a floor powder they used.
The Friedmanns really cared about their children and ensured they received a good education, including graduation from university. At the beginning, they did not have to go to school on Saturdays because they were Jewish. Later, they had to attend school over the weekend, but they were freed from writing. The Friedmann children always excelled, especially at maths and grammar, Edita claimed. The teachers even took them to upper classes to show them off as a good example to other students.
The summer, without their school adventures, always seemed long and they could not wait for term to begin. While waiting, they used to make pocket money by selling dead nettles and dried linden flowers. From the money saved, they bought little things such as nuts.
This idyllic life however changed radically in 1938. Jewish children were separated from the rest in schools, sitting at desks at the back of classrooms. Edita's sister Lea attended a business academy. One time a man stood up in front of her class.
“This is not a school for Jews!” he shouted at the Jewish children. Lea refused to accept the segregation and left school behind.
When Edita turned 14, she was not allowed to study anymore. In fact, no Jewish children over 14 could. Edita consequently tried to help their parents earn money along with her older siblings.
Life with a yellow badge
The number of orders and bans was gradually rising: no windows oriented out towards the main street, no possession of animals and fur coats, Edita recalled. One of the toughest restrictions was related to her free movement on the streets.
“I did not manage to experience yellow stars as I was already in a concentration camp at that time,” she said
The Slovak anti-Jewish laws were tougher than the ones in Germany. It was difficult reading about it in the newspapers and their neighbours' attitudes change as well.
“I forgot to buy eggs, Mrs. Friedmann,” Edita recollected a moment from her childhood when a neighbour came to their house, asking for help. Edita's mother gave her the eggs.
“After the papers were published, she never even said hi to us on the street,” Edita claimed.
At that time, roughly 60 percent of Humenné's inhabitants were Jews. Most of them were poor.
Hatred kills Slovakia's future
Why the hatred of Jews arose, Edit does not understand even today. However, she knows what it means to have gone through hell. Thus, she does not want other people to experience it again.
“I do not know what is wrong with people. I do not know why they have not learned the lesson. I do not know why they do not understand there is no winner in a war…” she said.
Edita does not understand how people could send their friends, neighbours and acquaintances to death.
“What for? Because of religion?” she asked, not expecting an answer. All those people could have helped the Slovak nation, she claimed.
“We do not know how many young people and children left Slovakia who, if they had grown up, could have become great artists or doctors,” Edita underlined. Those Slovaks sent their own doctors and artists, their future, to the gas chambers, she added.
Sisters in Auschwitz
As Edita's father worked as a glazier, he obtained a presidential exception valid for his whole family but before the documents could arrive, Edita and her sister Lea found themselves on a train to Auschwitz, without their parents. It was on March 25, 1942 when they left from Poprad, eastern Slovakia.
The sisters thought they were travelling to Poland for work; they had no idea about the family's presidential exception at that time. Edita learned after the war that her father had asked his acquaintance, an aryanisator, to travel to Auschwitz and bring his daughters back. But it never happened.
After some time in the camp, the female prisoners began to fall ill due to the poor sanitation and food, as well as exhaustion. Both the sisters became ill.
The memory of Lea is the worst experience of all Edita's war memories. Lea suffered from spotted fever.
“There are no words to describe what was going on inside me when I saw how the rats were running up and down around her,” Edita recalled. Lea's body was gradually weakening.
“Don’t be mad at me for being alive,” Edita begged her sister. Lea died in one of the gas chambers on the night of December 4, 1942. She was one of the last girls from the first transports sent out from Slovakia, to be sent to death.
Edita later suffered from tuberculosis, which was a deadly disease at that time. If anyone appeared ill, the Germans usually sent them to the gas chambers. Yet, Slovak doctor Mancy Schvalbová, who worked in the emergency room, saved Edita's life. During a time when Germans were not gassing people, Mancy treated Edita in the emergency room but at the same time, despite her pain, Edita had to work in the camp. She had to be careful not to hobble or the Germans would have killed her.
In 1944, she and her friend Elza managed to become cleaners of part of the camp. Apart from cleaning, they also had to serve meals.
“It was not the easiest work because the food was delivered in 75kg barrels, but that work appeared to me to be more human and better,” Edita claimed.
The camp was divided into three sections: male, female and family. Very few families survived Auschwitz, according to Edita's memories, as the Germans gassed them all quickly. The women rarely met the men. Electricians and men carrying dead bodies to the incinerators were the only males Edita used to meet in the camp.
Edita also recalled a woman, who had become pregnant before she arrived at the camp. She secretly gave birth to a child, but Elza persuaded the woman to kill her baby and save herself. If the Germans had found out, they would have killed both of them, the woman and her baby. Elza also persuaded the men who worked with the corpses to take the baby to the incinerator. Although it is hard for people to imagine and to believe in such a story, Edita has even more stories like this.
Towards the end of the war, Edita found herself on a death march from Auschwitz. Many girls, who had survived the concentration camp, died during the march. Edita eventually ended up in Warsaw, which had been completely destroyed. Here, she realised that war has no winner.
Return to Humenné and first love
To reach her home, Edita walked or got rides on wagons. She nearly ended up in Siberia. The Russians were transporting Hungarian soldiers there to imprison them. The soldiers believed they were being taken to Budapest. A train manager eventually saved them by telling them where the train was going.
Edita then travelled to Michalovce, eastern Slovakia, where her father was waiting for her. He had no words.
“He was ashamed, really ashamed,” Edita claimed. “He did not know how to talk to me.” Together they travelled to Humenné. Her mother was waiting for her at the railway station.
In Humenné, she also met her future husband, Ladislav Grosman. Many people recognise him as the screenwriter of the only Slovak Oscar-winning film The Shop on Main Street (Obchod na korze, 1965). Ladislav was also a persecuted Jew. His family, parents and three siblings, died in 1944 when the Germans bombed Ružomberok.
It was not a great love at first, Edita claimed. Ladislav left for his studies in Prague while Edita was suffering from tuberculosis again and had to be treated. When Edita recovered, she followed Ladislav to Prague where she took up biology at Charles University.
They got married and Edita became pregnant. Unfortunately, the tuberculosis returned, and the doctors had to induce an abortion to be able to treat her. Two other miscarriages followed later. They wanted to have a big family, but Hitler had caused her a lot of suffering. Edita eventually gave birth to their only child, a son called Jirka.
Ladislav understood her soul, but was not a very practical human being, Edita claimed. Once he invited a couple for a visit, announcing it several hours before their arrival. However, she only had four cutlets at home. She persuaded their son to tell their guests that he had already eaten. The marriage was a happy one, full of funny moments, Edita said.
In 1968, when the Warsaw pact troops marched into Czechoslovakia, they decided to emigrate, to Vienna at first. They did not know where to move next.
“Editka, I do not want to pack suitcases anymore,” Ladislav told his wife. “I think no one will kick us out of Israel. Let's go there.”
Ladislav Grosman died there in 1981. Edita lives with her son in Toronto, Canada.
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25. Mar 2019 at 15:27 | Štefan Jurča, Sandra Polovková (Post Bellum)