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MINNEAPOLIS, SAINT PAUL,
USA, Sunday, August 21, 2005
Gross: A Survivor in every sense of the
By Brad Woodard
OCCASIONALLY in life, if you're
lucky enough, you encounter that rare individual
who alters your very perception of the world. Spend
any amount of time with 86-year-old Harry Gross of
Saint Paul and you'll likely agree, he's one such
In every sense of the word, Harry is a survivor.
And while his memory isn't what it used to be,
there are some things Harry couldn't forget even if
he wanted to, which is readily apparent when we sit
down to talk over lunch.
WELL, here's yet
another item for our overflowing
ASSHOL file.* This
imaginative and evidently likeable old
fellow claims to have been interned at
for a whopping 6.5 years -- when that
so-called "death camp" was only in
operation from late 1941 to Jan 1945.
Perhaps he queued
up early to get a good spot? Stayed behind
to help tidy up? Who knows.
"We learned how to eat
grass, and you can survive on it!" Did not
of the forest come to provide him with
food, as another such
He watched in horror, he
says, as a Nazi grabbed a friend's baby by
its ankles and dashed its head against a
railroad car. Amazingly, he was also the
guy who stood out front of the gas chamber
and told the suckers going in that it was
just a shower.
young reporter gobbles it all
Harry Gross's prisoner number - quoted as
104,936- was issued on March 3, 1943
(Source: Danuta Czech, Auschwitz
Kalendarium). He was therefore in
Auschwitz for less than two
* ASSHOL: Association
of Spurious Survivors of the Holocaust and
SUGGESTION: go to our website
and enter "wolves"
"The Germans didn't have enough food for their
soldiers," says Harry. "We learned how to eat
grass, and you can survive on it!"
As a young man, Harry spent six and a half years
"You can forgive, but you can't forget," says
Harry. "There's no way."
When we first met Harry, in 1992, his
granddaughter Michelle was about to embark on a
journey that would alter her life, retracing her
grandfather's steps on a trip to Auschwitz.
While on that trip, a young Michelle pondered
the determination it must have taken to
"I dont' know how my grandfather was able to
make it through," she observed. "He had to have had
some strength to make it."
Looking back, Michelle -- now the mother of a
young boy -- reflects on her grandfather's
"When I went on this trip, all of a sudden new
stories started coming out that he'd never shared
before," says Michelle.
Stories like the following.
"When we got off the train, they (the Nazi's)
said, 'All men to the right. All women and children
to the left,'" recalls Harry. "I had a friend of
mine. He was there with his wife, and they had a
baby. He says to the SS officer, 'My wife has the
baby. I got to help a little bit.' The guard says,
'Oh, that's all that's bothering you? We can cure
that.' So he went over and grabbed the baby like
you grab a chicken by the legs. He went over to the
railroad car and knocked its head against the car
and he says, 'Now you don't have any more problems,
do you?' That was your initiation to
As time in the camp progressed, so did the
"You see people falling down on the ground. You
step over them like they're a piece of cord wood.
You see people lying outside the barracks. It don't
bother you any more. You say, 'Well, maybe tomorrow
I'm laying [sic] there too.'
There's an end to everything," says Harry.
But there's no end to the memories.
"I've thought about his first wife and what she
must have been like," says Michelle.
"We were married two weeks, and I never saw her
again. She went to a camp and got gassed," says
Both of Harry's parents died in Nazi death
camps, as did his brother, who was killed right in
front of him.
"My brother was too sick to walk any more,"
recalls Harry. "He went down on his knees. The
guard came and shot him in the head and kicked him
in the ditch. And I couldn't say peep. Otherwise I
wouldn't be here today."
Harry has a permanent reminder of his ordeal. It
comes in the form of a tattoo on his arm.
"It's funny how he's got these numbers on his
arm, and to them, he was just a number," says
Former prisoner 104936 will always be haunted by
one particular task assigned to him by his German
"The toughest job I had
to do in my life," says Harry. "They gave me the
job to stay out in front of the gas chamber and
try to make people believe they were going to
take a shower."
Harry weighed a mere 78 pounds when he was
finally liberated. But now, more than half a
century later, he's once again fighting for his
"He has prostate cancer," says Michelle. "And
he's choosing to let it run its course."
"Basically, Harry had said he's been to hell and
back in his life, and the thought of being locked
up in a nursing home was...he said he just couldn't
do it. He wanted to die in his own bed," says Cindy
Persson, a hospice nurse.
Still, ask Harry if he has cancer and he'll tell
Either he really doesn't remember, or he's
choosing to try to forget," says Michelle. "It's
kind of the story of his life. He's got to be able
to move on."
When asked if he ever thinks about dying, Harry
responds, "No, never about dying."
Harry's a survivor.
"Yep," he says. "You do what you do. Yep."
Hospice providers give Harry anywhere from a few
weeks to a few months, but after all is said and
done, this survivor will have left behind a legacy
"If he hadn't survived the Holocaust," says
Michelle, "There'd be a whole other generation not
here. He brought a son into the world, three
grandchildren into the world and five great
grandchildren. And if it wasn't for him, none of us
would have existed."
After a life full of pain, Harry Gross is
finally existing on his own terms.
"I can understand that he just feels it's time
to start letting go," says Michelle. "And as hard
as it is to let go, I know maybe it's time for him
to be with all of the family members he's
Brad Woodard ,
KARE 11 News(Copyright 2005 by
KARE. All Rights Reserved.)