“Auschwitz and forgiveness” – a letter by Simon Gronowski (lawyer) was published in French originally as “Auschwitz et le pardon” in Le Monde (France) on Sept. 20, 2013.
Below the English translation of Simon Gronowski’s letter by Michel van der Burg
Auschwitz and forgiveness
I lost my mother and sister in the gas chambers of Auschwitz – Birkenau and my father died in despair, in July 1945.
I myself was 11 years old when, on 17 March 1943, the Nazis took me, threw me into a dungeon, the basement of the Gestapo on the Avenue Louise in Brussels, then in a big prison, the Dossin barracks in Mechelen, the ‘Belgian Drancy‘. A month later, April 19, 1943, they put me in a cattle car of the 20th Convoy to Auschwitz. Miraculously, I jumped off the train and escaped death. And all this for what? Because my parents were born Jews.
It took me 60 years to tell the drama of my childhood (L’enfant du 20e convoi [tr. The child of the 20th convoy], ed. Luc Pire, 2002, reprinted Renaissance du Livre, 2013). It took sixty years for Koenraad Tinel to tell his own history of a son of a Flemish Nazi. He did this courageously by extraordinary drawings in a book titled Scheisseimer (Lannau, 2009); he is an artist, a sculptor, and he draws.
His father adored Hitler. He had his two elder sons in the Waffen SS, the oldest one to the eastern front, the other, at sixteen and a half years old too young to fight, in the Flämisch Wachzug (Flemish Guard), a subsidiary of the Gestapo, camp guards of Breendonk and Mechelen. Fortunately, Koenraad was only 6 years old when Hitler came into Belgium, otherwise he would have imitated his brothers. He has rejected completely the ideology of his father.
We met by chance in February 2012. A 16 year old boy I did not know but who knew our two stories, brought us together. Koen said at that time: “When I read your story, I cried.” I replied: “Children of the Nazis are not responsible.” A great friendship is born between us. We were two children crushed by a war we did not understand at all, one on each side of the fence, I at the side of the victims, he the side of the executioners.
For sixty years, he has carried the burden of his father’s fault. Our grief is not comparable but I understand his. He has freed himself of it first by his book Scheisseimer, then by our friendship.
We made a book on this: Neither victim, nor guilty, FINALLY LIBERATED (Ni victime, ni coupable, ENFIN LIBÉRÉS; Renaissance du Livre, 2013): I wrote, Koenraad drew with ink. In January, Koenraad told me: “My brother knows your history, he wants to see you“, this brother, guardian at the Dossin barracks (Kazerne Dossin) when I was detained there, took me at gunpoint into the wagon of death.
So he regretted what he had done and asked me to forgive.
When I saw him, we hugged each other without saying a word, in tears. I forgave him only on my own behalf, not on behalf of other victims and I forgave him alone, not all Nazis. I did it especially for me, feeling I transcended it.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. On the contrary, it gives the memory greater prominence, a larger dimension. Our memory is essential: we must know the barbarism of the past to defend democracy today. Democracy is a struggle every day.
Amnesty is unacceptable : it is a blind collective measure that absolves all culprits without requiring them to repent.
Forgiveness is a religious virtue. For Buddhists, it is an act of liberating wisdom.
The bigger the crime, the greater forgiveness.
Some say they would not be able to forgive: – this statement does not make sense because they have never been asked as I have been and it is unlikely they will ever be, but if it happened to them, what would they do ? – 70 years later, they still suffer from their wounds and their resentment when they should love life and believe in happiness, out of respect for the deceased relatives.
When the culprit repents and asks for forgiveness, the victim not only can but must forgive, for refusing means maintaining hatred from both sides. Some criticize my friendship for Koenraad and my forgiveness for his brother.
They want to keep the children and descendants of victims and perpetrators separated forever into two enemy camps.
They are often victims of Nazism. This is normal, they have suffered terrible trauma in their body and in their soul. But they freeze in their victim posture, locked in their bitterness.
Aren’t they thinking too much of their own pain, and not enough of that of the other? Some, born after the war and who have not suffered the Holocaust, are not less hateful.
Such an attitude opens the way to new animosities, new wars, new suffering for our children.
It is not because children of victims and children of offenders for long, for generations, unconsciously, carry the stigma of absolute evil, that they must stay pitted against each other.
Men should not be divided but brought closer together, one must go toward the other to progress and grow together for a better world of peace and mutual respect. This is a message of hope and happiness.
I who lost my family by criminal hate, I do not hate. Despite the tragic events of yesterday and today, because even today in the world there are peoples who suffer, men who suffer, I keep my faith in the future because I believe in human goodness.
Long live peace and friendship between men !
Simon Gronowski (Lawyer)
Simon Gronowski – escaped from the 20th convoy – received the 2006 Grand Prix Condorcet-Aron for democracy – is a former president of the Union of Jews deported from Belgium (Union des Déportés Juifs de Belgique).
Notes – by Michel van der Burg
– English translation (with help from Richard Bloom) by Michel van der Burg
– I inserted some extra links
– “Auschwitz and forgiveness” – a letter by Simon Gronowski (lawyer) was published in French originally as “Auschwitz et le pardon” in Le Monde (France) on Sept. 20, 2013. (I left out the photo published with the Le Monde letter)
– The image in this post is a frame from video I captured during the visit of Simon Gronowski and Koenraad Tinel in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Oświęcim, Poland on May 24, 2012. (image BUM10010V01 – michelvanderburg.com)
Update – Full letter – Sept. 27. Now the translation of the (final) 2nd part of the letter was added (after it became publicly available for all on the website of Le Monde today). This second part starts with: Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. On the contrary,…….
Also the last sentence of the first part was altered.
In any war, children are the most tragic victims. The recent images reaching us every day from Syria and other places in the world prove this once more. World War II was not different.
War children Simon Gronowski and Koenraad Tinel
Both the lawyer Simon Gronowski and the artist Koenraad Tinel have spent their childhood during the Second World War. The first born in a Jewish family in Belgium, and the second born in a Belgian (Flemish) family of ‘flamingant’ nazi collaborators.
The two men met early past year at the initiative of Sacha Rangoni, a 16 year old boy and member (monitor) of the UPJB, the Union of Progressive Jews of Belgium at a meeting of the UPJB early last year.
They have recently become close friends, and together made a special book – a genuine plea for humanity.
The story and budding friendship of these two ‘children’ who survived the horrors of this dark chapter in our history was first told in the last year’s documentary “Oorlogskinderen” (War children) from Marianne Soetewey.
Simon Gronowski and Koenraad Tinel are nine and six years, respectively, as the Second World War broke out, and experienced because of their different origins the war completely different.
Simon Gronowski grew up in Brussels (Belgium) in a Jewish family and ends up together with his mother and sister in 1943 in the Dossin barracks in Mechelen (Belgium). From there starts the transport to Auschwitz. Simon at the age of eleven years can narrowly escape from this 20th convoy by jumping from the train. His mother and sister did not return from Auschwitz. His father died shortly after the war sick and broken by sorrow.
The sixteen years old Sacha Rangoni first learns the story of the artist Koenraad Tinel while watching his theatre show “Scheisseimer” (‘shit-bucket’) where Koenraad Tinel told with the help of his ink drawings his fate as a son and brother of Nazi collaborators.
Koenraad Tinel grew up in a family of hard-core nazi-minded Flamingants (Flemish nationalists) . His father encouraged his older brothers to join the Waffen-SS and work as a camp guard in the Dossin barracks. At the end of the war he fled with his family to Germany, for fear of the possible consequences of the Nazi sympathies of his father Tinel.
Sacha then organised a meeting between Koenraad Tinel and Simon Gronowski…
These children of war, Simon and Koen, have long felt the burden of the past. Until after nearly 70 years this special event in their lives, brought them together. This unlikely encounter has born a steadfast friendship – and is testified also now in the soon to be released book they made, called “Enfin libérés” (Finally liberated).
Neither victim nor guilty, finally liberated – “Ni victime, ni coupable, enfin libérés”
“Neither victim nor guilty, finally liberated” is the translation of the full title of the French edition of this book “Ni victime, ni coupable, enfin libérés” – a testimony of this healing friendship depicted by Koenraad Tinel’s drawings, put into words by Simon Gronowski and Filip Rogiers, and put into perspective in an essay by historian and writer David Van Reybrouck. The book’s release is expected April 18th, 2013 by the publisher “La Renaissance du Livre“.
Reportage “Quai des Belges : Enfin libérés”
On the occasion of this upcoming book release – is shown today on Belgian TV (ARTE Belgique) both a rerun of the 2012 documentary ‘War children’ (Oorlogskinderen), and also a brand new reportage, called “Quai des Belges : Enfin libérés” (filmed by A. Bourgeois and P. Navez) of the interview of Sacha Rangoni and Simon Gronowski that took place early this month in Kazerne Dossin (Kazerne Dossin – Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights in Mechelen, Belgium) together with Herman Van Goethem, historian and conservator of the museum, and the historian and writer David van Reybrouck.
Broadcast and online video excerpt
Broadcasting on Belgian TV is both today (13/03) via ARTE Belgique in the Quai des Belges Magazine, and later again on 23/04 via the Belgian VRT ‘Canvas’ channel and on 25/04 via the RTBF ‘la deux’ channel.
Online video “Quai des Belges : Enfin libérés”
Online is a 3 min excerpt (Video: A. Bourgeois and P. Navez) of this new interview of Sacha Rangoni and Simon Gronowski that took place early this month in Kazerne Dossin (Kazerne Dossin – Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights in Mechelen, Belgium).
Sources used for this post:
Personal communication (unpublished reports) – Simon Gronowski and Koenraad Tinel
First published March 13, 2013
First update March 15
– changed introductory lines
– removed redundant text, and made other minor corrections
Update May 9
– section below on ‘Books available now..’
– section below ‘Report book presentation’
Books available now (update May, 2013):
Dutch version of the book
Eindelijk bevrijd. Geen schuld, geen slachtoffer.
Simon Gronowski / Koenraad Tinel / David Van Reybrouck
Hannibal publisher (www.uitgeverijkannibaal.be)
French version of the book
Ni victime, ni coupable. Enfin libérés.
Simon Gronowski / Koenraad Tinel / David Van Reybrouck
Publisher “La Renaissance du Livre” (www.renaissancedulivre.be)
Book presentation 30 April 2013 in the Filigranes library Brussels
New on this site a photo report of the book presentation on 30 April 2013 in the Filigranes library in Brussels by Herman Van Goethem (Conservator Kazerne Dossin) and the authors Simon Gronowski and Koenraad Tinel.