Do you feel a little blue? Holocaust survivor raises lockdown spirits through jazz
Simon Gronowski spoke with the United Nations ahead of International Jazz Day, celebrated annually on April 30 as a force for “peace, unity, dialogue and the strengthening of cooperation among peoples”.
Simon Gronowski as a young boy in 1940 with his mother and father walking along Avenue Louise in Brussels, Belgium.
On March 17, 1943, Simon Gronowski, then aged 11, was taken by the secret police of the German Nazi regime, the Gestapo to Brussels, with his mother Chana and his sister Ita. The young Jewish boy was being deported to the notorious Nazi death camp in Auschwitz when, “miraculously, I jumped off the train and escaped,” he says. His mother and sister died in Auschwitz and his father, Leon, devastated by their deaths, also died a few months after the end of the war. Young Gronowski was left alone in the world.
Now, nearly 80 years after his escape, Mr Gronowski, now 89, is a Doctor of Laws, with two children and four grandchildren – and a proud jazz pianist.
“After the war, jazz helped me find stability and integrate into society. Music unites people and brings them joy, ”he told the UN in an interview.
During the COVID-19 pandemic and the first lockout in Belgium, Mr. Gronowski played jazz “to give people courage”. He opened the window of his home in Brussels and started playing the jazz classic “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” from his electric piano for neighbors and passers-by.
“I look up and see a lot of people in front of my house, and people clapping,” says Gronowski, who plays music by ear and is inspired by jazz artists such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.
“I feel good when I play. I feel that I bring happiness to those around me ”.
Peace through justice
It’s not just passers-by who have been treated to his music lately. To mark the 75th anniversary of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the Netherlands, on April 18, 2021, Mr. Gronowski was invited to participate in a virtual musical event which paid tribute to the work of the Court .
The ceremony was a first in line for the piece “Hymn of Nations”, written in 1913 by the Jewish-Dutch composer Charles Grelinger (1873-1942), who died during his transport to Auschwitz. Apart from a unique performance on the bells of The Hague Town Hall, the piece had never been performed before.
As a lawyer and Holocaust survivor, participating in the ceremony was a “great honor” for him, which salutes the important work of the ICJ.
“The International Court of Justice is important not only to me but to all humanity. He fights against barbarism, fascism, racism and anti-Semitism, of which I was a victim. Thanks to the Court, we can hope that conflicts between states will be resolved not by war, but by law. “
Message of hope
For nearly 60 years, Mr. Gronowski hardly ever spoke of his incredible escape. Today he has written books and his story has even inspired composer Howard Moody to make the opera PUSH based on his life.
He now continues to tell his story everywhere, especially in schools, to bring a message of hope and reconciliation to the next generation.
“To defend freedom and democracy today, we must be aware of the evils of yesterday. Life is good, but it’s a constant battle. I say to the young people: “Never forget, long live peace and friendship between men”. “