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 27th January 2018, and almost seventy-five years after that remarkable event, Simon was in attendance at Chichester Cathedral to see this significant 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.
Over 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 one hundred, including adults from local societies and children from six Sussex schools, as well as muscians from the Univeristy of Chichester Chamber Orchestra.
Reporters from BBC South Today and ITV's Meridian News were also present to film the opera's rehearsals and interview Simon about his incredible story. 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 the train was briefly attacked by Belgian Resistance fighters. Whilst 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.
The Cast of 'PUSH' at Chichester Cathedral
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. Forgiveness that was very much in evidence when, many years later, one of the Nazi guards from that momentous day, on his death bed, asked Simon for forgiveness for his actions. Simon is now friends with the brother of that guard, a gentleman who was also present at Saturday's performance.
Nowadays, octogenarian Simon Gronowski travels the world talking about his experiences and working for greater understanding and peace.