A Holocaust survivor sits on a bench as an 80-year-old child finds a new family



CNN

When was Alice Grosova a BabyHer parents left her on a seat at the train station, with no idea what would happen to her.

It was June 1942 and this was the last desperate act of Marta and Alexander Knapp to save their daughter as their attempt to escape from what was then Czechoslovakia ended in disaster.

The couple had fled Prague, but when their train reached Pardubice in eastern Bohemia, Nazi soldiers boarded in search of fleeing Jews.

Grusová – her married name – has never seen her parents again. They were caught and They were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where they were later deported to Auschwitz and murdered. Her brother from her father’s previous marriage was also killed there.

Alice's mother, pictured, Marta was murdered in Auschwitz after being held captive by the Nazis while trying to flee Czechoslovakia with her family.

Their infant daughter might have been fate too, had it not been for a high-stakes gamble. This year Grosova celebrated her 81st birthday – as well as the 60th anniversary of their marriage, Miroslav. They live in Prague, have three sons, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

She’s always felt like the sum of her family, but earlier this year a retired pediatric nurse traveled to Israel where she reconnected with her Jewish heritage and met her only surviving cousin — as well as a wider family she didn’t know. I don’t know exist.

“I was really shocked when I found out, when I was 80, that I had a very big family,” she said in an emotional video call with CNN.

“I’m just sad that this never came before,” added Grosova, who has battled cancer, hepatitis and spine surgery.

The reunion happened thanks to the efforts of a curious woman 5,000 miles away in South Africa, during the early stages of the pandemic. The amazing story has now been shared by online genealogy website MyHeritage.

With so much life ahead of it, Michaela Schonwald Moss covered her family history on MyHeritage. She had always known that her family had been decimated in the Holocaust, but nothing prepared her to discover that 120 of her relatives had been murdered at Auschwitz.

However, out of the unimaginable darkness, a tiny and unexpected ray of hope appeared. With the help of professional genealogists in both Slovakia and Israel, I discovered the astonishing story of one of the survivors: Grusová.

Grosova's parents are with her half-brother Rene.  All three were killed at Auschwitz.

After being found on the station bench, the one-year-old girl was initially placed in an orphanage. Grosova, who does not remember her parents, later moved to Theresienstadt. She remembers: “There was a nice woman taking care of us. I only remember glimpses from that time.

Then I remember when I got sick with typhoid and the workers there had to protect me from the Germans.

“I remember they were telling me to shut up or the bad Germans would come and kill us.”

Incredibly, she survived and after the war is reunited with her mother’s younger sister Edith – or Edithka as she calls her – who survived Auschwitz by being taken to a labor camp.

Grosova as a child, with her mother's younger sister Edith, who survived being sent to Auschwitz.

Her voice surges with emotion, and Grosova remembered her aunt, who like many Nazi camp survivors had her ID number tattooed on her arm. She said, “She was very beautiful, she was skinny, she had tattoos. But I didn’t understand that at the time.”

At first, the couple lived together in Czechoslovakia, but in 1947 her aunt emigrated to what was then Palestine. For reasons that remain unclear, Grusová was left and put up for adoption.

“I was six years old when my aunt left Czechoslovakia and came to my new parents,” she said. “When I was a child, I was so sad that my aunt left. I didn’t understand why she didn’t take me with her.

“I was in contact with her for a while. I got married and had a son, whom I last saw in a photo when he was two years old.” But correspondence with Edith faded, and in 1966 “we lost each other,” she said.

Grosova never knew what had happened to her aunt — until her English-speaking son Jan translated a surprising email his parents received from Schönwald Moss in 2021. He and his wife had spent years trying to track down his mother’s cousin, to no avail.

But with the help of professional researchers, Schonwald Moss found out not only the amazing tale of Grosova, but also found out that his cousin – Edith’s son, Yossi Weiss, is now 67 years old and lives in the Israeli city of Haifa.

Weiss and Grusová “met” online last year, along with other members of their newly discovered family tree. Weiss knew nothing of his cousin, and his life was marred by tragedy – having lost both his mother and son to suicide.

Over the summer, Grosova traveled to Israel with her husband and son Jan and his wife Petra to meet Weiss and members of his wider family, including Schonwald Moss, who traveled from South Africa for the occasion.

“They wanted to meet me and come visit me, but my cousin has cancer and can’t travel,” Grosova told CNN.

“I was afraid of the long journey at my age,” she said. “Now I’m so glad I’m gone. I’m just sad that this never came before.”

“If it wasn’t for Covid, I wouldn’t have found out I had such a big family.”

Grosova, who speaks neither Hebrew nor English, reached out to her new relatives through an interpreter. Together they visited her late aunt’s grave, the Theresienstadt Museum and the World Holocaust Remembrance Center at Yad Vashem, where she recorded her personal testimony and was also filmed for an Israeli news channel.

The two cousins, Alice Grosova and Yossi Weiss, were at a passionate reunion in Israel over the summer.

Simi Allen, head of international media at Yad Vashem, was there at the time. He told CNN that it was a “very emotional gathering,” adding: “The idea that the family was uniting and that the different aspects of the family were really discovering their roots and coming to Yad Vashem to solidify that, so that their ancestors would have a place that will be remembered forever.”

Grosova said: “My family has grown a lot. And Michaela continues to find more and more relatives. ”

Weiss told CNN that he didn’t know much about his mother’s previous life and was unable to explain why she left his cousin when she moved to what was then Palestine.

“Since she told me, I know she worked in a factory and came back to town after the war and was lucky to survive,” he said. “I knew that she had been married before and that her husband had been killed on the Russian front but I did not know the chapter on finding Alice.”

He said of their reunion: “I made sure to spend some special time with Alice.

“We opened the issue of my mother coming to Israel and Alice staying behind and we agreed that things were complicated.”

The question would forever remain unanswered, although Weiss tried to understand it. My mother was a Holocaust survivor returning from the camps at the age of 25 and had just lost her husband. Alice was five years old. My mother couldn’t provide her house, school, food, everything.”

He added that she probably thought her niece would be better off with her adoptive parents.

He said, “It hurts me on a personal level because sometimes I fantasize about ‘what ifs’.”

Grosova reciprocated: “Of course I thought about what my life would be like. As a child, I was very sad to leave my aunt. I did not understand why she did not take me with her.

She added, “My cousin tried to explain.” She was young, and miraculously saved her life. I don’t blame her for anything.”

About the reunion with Grosova, Weiss said: “She wanted so badly to see my mother’s grave. It was very important to her and part of the lockdown.”

He said that being at Yad Vashem with Grosova when she recorded her testimony was especially moving. “It was very emotional and it wasn’t easy for anyone.”

(from left to right) Miroslav Gross (Alice's husband), Jan Gross (Alice's son), Michalia Schönwald Moss, Petra Grosova (Jan's wife), Alice Grosova, Yossi Weiss

Schonwald Moss agreed. “It was one of the most extraordinary, intimate, and emotionally healing experiences of my life,” she told CNN.

The family is now in talks with Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation, which plans to video-record Alice’s testimony in the new year.

“To discover that a family member had survived that we never knew about, and that she was still alive and living in Prague, it was as if we had found a living ghost. Discovering her story was especially heartbreaking,” said Schonwald Moss.

“By having her come back into our lives, she taught us what life is like. Every day is a fix for our family. Thanks to Alice and the sparkle in her eyes and the love she gives off, we are family again.”

Roy Mandel, director of research at MyHeritage, welcomed the results achieved by Grosova and her family. “Alice’s story is that of many who survived the war and assumed they were left alone in the world, not knowing that another branch survived,” he said.

“Decades of separation have ended as a result of the Iron Curtain being lifted over Eastern Europe, thanks to technology that makes it possible to connect puzzle pieces that seem never to come together.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Schonwald Moss worked with a Czech genealogist. Genealogist based in Slovakia.

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