History books forget that the first transport of Jews to Auschwitz was all-female. Most of the victims were teenagers.
World leaders gathered in Poland on Monday in order to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. While historians and politicians typically take note of the first transport of Jews to the death camp, they ignore a key detail. The first transport was full of girls - all in their teens. Sadly, many of them perished due to starvation, disease, beatings, medical experiments, and even suicide. However, some of them survived to tell their story. Edith Friedman Grosman was one of them. In an interview with The Washington Post, she revealed the tragic realities of Auschwitz.
Friedman Grosman spent her childhood in the village of Hummené, Slovakia, with her sister Lea and their parents. In 1940, Slovakia joined the Axis powers, forcing the family to forget their regular lives as they knew it. Friedman Grosman, only a teenager at the time, had to stop her education at the public high school and her father was coerced into selling his glass-cutting business to a Christian, whom he then continued to work for. The Jewish crackdown was hence in full swing. Despite all this, it still came as a shock to the families of her village when the town crier announced that all unmarried women 15 and older had to report to the school gymnasium in two weeks.
When the girls were paraded into the gymnasium, they were informed that they would be registering to work in a shoe factory for the next three months. However, this couldn't have been further from the truth. Jewish girls, including Friedman Grosman who was then 17 and her sister, 19, were scoured from all the nearby villages and packed into a train on March 27, 1942. The first transport of Jews to Auschwitz. When they arrived at the camp, the girls built the infrastructure that would ultimately turn the camp into the "death machine" it finally became, toiling away with bare hands in bloody uniforms once worn by dead Soviet soldiers.
Friedman Grosman lost her sister at the camp. After she caught typhus, she was sent to a gas chamber as her final sentencing. "I saw her there almost dead, and the rats were visiting her," Friedman Grosman, now 95 years old, said. "She was a beautiful girl. And nothing is left over of her." Once the waves of other Jewish prisoners came flooding into the camp, the girls were "promoted" to "easier" jobs, such as shifting corpses from the gas chambers for cremation, sorting through the piles of belongings taken from the dead, and some, even typing in the administrative offices. And though the camp was officially liberated on January 27 in 1945, most of the young girls were not there to see it. Those who were, witnessed their loved ones march into the vile gas chambers and nothing can help you recuperate from that kind of heartbreak and trauma.
Now, the Holocaust survivor is seen as a hero. She returns to Slovakia sometimes to teach people about the horrific realities of the genocide. Heather Dune Macadam, an author who has spent over two decades researching the Holocaust with a particular interest in the 997 women who formed the first transport, stated, "Edith is a rock star in Slovakia. Everybody adores her." And the 95-year-old rockstar has only one message for the world: "Don’t hate. Because hate brings criminality and hate brings death. I saw it, I was there."