12 year old in the Sonderkommando
Herman Grossman was born in Kladno, CSR in 1931. Herman then moved to Aknaszlatina which is in the modern day Ukraine. Aknaszlatina was one of the poorest towns in Europe. The move saved his family until April of 1944 when Herman was arrested for the sole crime of being Jewish. He was held with his family in the Sighet Ghetto for a few weeks until he was deported.
12-year-old Herman was taken by train car to Auschwitz and arrived on May 26, 1944. We have a picture of a shoeless Herman on the selection line with the adult men. He likely received a tip from one of the inmates that he should not go to the line of women and children with his mother where his age group was, but that he should go with the adult men and tell the Germans that he is older than he was. Herman told the Germans that he was 13, which saved his life. His many siblings and parents were likely gassed right upon arrival. Herman Grossman on the Auschwitz platform.
During his time at Auschwitz Herman was forced to work as a sonderkommando, a unit who were forced to cremate the dead bodies. Too many sonderkommandos, including Herman, were forced to cremate their own family members after they were gassed by the Germans. Who can imagine being a 12-year-old and sticking one’s parents into an oven? But that’s what the sadistic Germans forced him to do.
As the allies approached Herman was sent on a death march to Buchenwald, located in Germany. Even in the final months of the war, the Germans meticulously documented their prisoners, what block they were in, where they were from, which camps they were sent to, what jobs they held, and why they were imprisoned. In the hours before the Americans liberated the camps in Germany, the Nazis shot thousands of prisoners. Herman escaped death again and again through his incredible strength, resilience, and faith. Though he was not the tallest, he was broad and very strong. He survived selection after selection. He survived infectious disease and hospitalization in the archaic Auschwitz infirmary. Nothing could tear his grip away from life.
Herman shortened his name when he arrived in Ellis Island to Grossman. He was born Hermann Grossmann. After the war, Herman continued to love life and to cherish the people around him. He lived a life of generosity and selflessness. Even if he did not have enough money for himself, Herman would always spare a dollar for those who had less than he. Herman was a friendly person who accepted everyone for who they were. We remember Herman’s story to show us that we can overcome any adversity and rise up to be stronger, faithful, and kind amidst any hardship thrown our way.
A big thank you to Herman's granddaughter Hannah Grossman