Ernie Gross was 15 when he was deported from his native Romania to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi extermination camp in Poland where over 1.1 million people were murdered. On February 3, he will share his story with local teachers and students at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle.
In line for selection, where Jews were either chosen for slave labor or sent directly to the gas chambers, a Polish inmate saved his life. “He asked me how old I was and I said 15. He said by the time I got to the end of the line I’d better be 17 if I wanted to live.” When he got there, Ernie lied about his age and was spared from death.
Ernie endured a year in the camps, marching barefoot in the snow, carrying heavy bags of cement, surviving on starvation rations. As the Allies closed in on Auschwitz, Ernie and more than 56,000 prisoners were marched west, away from the advancing Soviets. They marched without adequate food or clothing in sub-zero temperatures. Somewhere between 9,000 and 15,000 prisoners died or were shot for falling behind on the way.
Ernie persevered and reached Dachau in Bavaria, Germany. There, he survived additional months of starvation and brutality. He had reached the end of his endurance when he was rescued by the arrival of the U.S. Army on April 29, 1945.
In the years that followed, Ernie regained his hope through acts of generosity.
The event is sponsored by the Army Heritage Center Foundation with the support of the Stabler Foundation. “The Soldiers who liberated the camps are important witnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust,” says Foundation Education Director Jeff Hawks. “This program is part of our efforts to share the stories of survivors and liberators with a broad audience of students, teachers, and the general public.”
For more information, contact the Army Heritage Center Foundation at 717-258-1102 or firstname.lastname@example.org.