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Holocaust Survivors Meet Face-to-Face 76 Years After Escaping Nazis

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As a work of literature, “The Diary of Anne Frank” has entranced students and the general public alike for decades, drawing them in with its descriptions of World War II-era life and universal themes.

But no matter how much one may love the book, its tragic ending always pulls at readers’ heartstrings.

However, a similar story out of Brussels has finally reached its conclusion this year, and unlike Anne’s tale, it has a happy conclusion. This story began in October, 1941, with 13-year-old Alice Gerstel.

For 10 days, Gerstel and her family had hidden above the leather-goods store of one Gronowski family, waiting to be smuggled out of Belgium. Nazi boots were on the streets, and her father, a diamond dealer, had liquidated his stock in order to get his loved ones to Cuba.

Gerstel struck up a friendship with then-10-year-old Simon Gronowski, who was (in her words) “the most adorable boy ever.” Though bound for the Pearl of the Antilles, she always believed she’d see her friend again.

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The Gronowskis, though, had no intention of leaving Belgium — and it cost many of them their lives. Eighteen months after the Nazis occupied the city, they put Gronowski, his mother, and his sister on the train to Auschwitz.

What happened next could’ve come out of a war thriller: On the trip, Belgian guerrilla fighters brought the train to a standstill, and Gronowski’s mother shoved him toward an open door.

The boy jumped, the beginning of roughly two years of hiding from authorities amongst sympathetic Catholic families. Although his mother and sister perished, he survived and published a memoir about his experiences in 2002.

That was how Gerstel found him. A nephew discovered his book during a routine internet search, and the pair of old friends finally met in Los Angeles on April 10.



“They weren’t talking,” Gronowski’s grandson Romain De Mys told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “They were speaking with their eyes.”

“I thought the entire family was murdered,” Gerstel said. “I had no idea.”

“You didn’t know that I jumped off the train?” Gronowski replied, and thank heavens that he did.

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Over the years, Gronowski became a Brussels lawyer and accomplished jazz pianist who once played with Woody Allen. For her part, Gerstel eventually moved to Los Angeles, worked in real estate, married, and raised two sons.

It’s hard to say that anything related to the Holocaust can have a happy ending, but this pair of lives is about as close as one can come.

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
Education
Wheaton College
Location
Florida
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Entertainment, Faith, Travel




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