In April 1943, Simon Gronowski was just eleven years old when he was pushed off a train bound for the death camps of Nazi Germany by his mother.
On Saturday (January 27), almost 75 years after that remarkable event, Simon was in attendance at Chichester Cathedral to see that remarkable chapter in his life dramatised in the opera PUSH.
Also present at this moving performance was the opera’s composer Howard Moody, and the brother of one of the Nazi guards who loaded Simon and his family onto the train.
More than 650 people packed into the Cathedral to see this special performance, which was staged to commemorate International Holocaust Memorial Day and was performed by a community choir of over 100, including adults from local societies and children from six Sussex schools, as well as musicians from the University of Chichester Chamber Orchestra.
Simon recounted how, as a young boy living in occupied Belgium, he was saved from the gas chambers of Auschwitz by the quick actions of his mother, who pushed him to freedom when their train was briefly attacked by Belgian Resistance fighters.
While Simon was hidden away by the local population and lived to tell his remarkable tale, his mother and sister both died in the gas chambers.
Speaking about the creative process of producing the opera with composer Howard Moody, Simon explained how he felt that Howard had understood his amazing emotional journey, not just the pain of being parted from his mother and sister who were both on the train, but also the relief of forgiveness that he managed to feel in later years.
Nowadays, octogenarian Simon Gronowski travels the world talking about his experiences and working for greater understanding and peace.