By Joey Bergida
The following article is the summary of a book
read by a student who would like to recommend
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During a time when many were starving to death and only praying they would live to see liberation, Solomon Gross was actively fighting for his life. He learned to utilize all his skills both to advance his standing among the Nazis and to survive. Born in Poland in 1922, Gross lived the life of a religious Jew until the Nazis invaded his home town of Chrznow in 1939. "Long caravans of Polish Cavalry were passing beneath my windows...pulled by sad and tired horses." This was the first time Gross had been so close to the impending terror of Hitler, and a year later the horror became even more of a reality.
The Nazis returned to Gross's town November, 1940, to gather 300 volunteers to work in Sakrau, or Zwangarsbeitslager, a labor camp. Gross volunteered and at age seventeen left his home forever, with only a casual good-bye to his parents. His experiences in various camps, and his travels after liberation are detailed in his book, Silent Sun; this short book of about 100 pages, is easily read by a person of any age. Additionally, Gross manages to bring humor to an otherwise humorless situation.
Gross's first experience under Nazi control is at the labor camp Sakrau, a place he describes as "tough but not horrible." The inhabitants of Sakrau were not initially stripped of their individuality, which was the practice at many camps; they were allowed to wear their own clothes and even receive a package from home on occasion. Gross takes the reader through his various assignments and some of the interesting things that happened, and he includes some of the methods he had to use in order to survive.
Approximately one-third of the book examines Gross's life in Sakrau and the type of person one has to be to survive such an ordeal. During the winter and spring of 1941, Gross worked on an Autobahn for the Reich, did some office work, labored as a blacksmith and held many other jobs.
In addition, Gross learned from a fellow prisoner the art of making "menashka," an item that helped him throughout his time in the camps. The menashka is a metal container that carries liquids without allowing them to spill. Gross could make this contraption out of any type of metal, a talent that proved advantageous during many desperate situations.
Once it was determined that he would no longer stay at Sakrau, Gross was transported to Graditz and Faulbruck, two villages four kilometers away from each other. For two and a half years, Gross was shuttled back and forth between the two places, again performing a variety of tasks. Sakrau, turned out to be a luxury when compared with Graditz. More than 100 people were living on rations meant for forty, and all of the inmates were stripped of their identity by any means the Nazis could conceive. The traditional stripped uniforms were distributed, and everyone had his hair cut. The conditions were so horrid that even the daily rations of food were no where near satisfactory. At Sakrau, Gross was often privileged, due to the kindness of some local people, to receive loaves of bread, and, on one occasion, some goat. At Graditz, the same good fortune was not bestowed on them, and therefore the inmates were forced to steal in order to survive. In Silent Sun, Gross details how he stole some potatoes and other items, and, thanks to luck, is alive to tell about it.
At Graditz, Gross again used his skills as a blacksmith to make himself useful and stand out in the eyes of the Nazis. On one occasion, he was called to assist a German known as Der Wind. This crazy man, who "foamed at the mouth" and beat the inmates mercilessly, had forgotten the keys to his office, and Gross was called upon to help. The door was locked with a padlock, so, realizing time was of the essence, due to the uncertain behavior of Der Wind, Gross grabbed a towel, knotted it at the end, dipped it in hot water for added weight, and swung the towel at the lock like a baseball bat. The lock popped open, much to the surprise of everyone, and Gross was rewarded with a moldy loaf of bread and respect from Der Wind.
As the years progressed, Gross eventually found his mother in a concentration camp and met his future wife as well. (Both of them survived the Holocaust and came to the United States with Gross.) After liberation, Gross and his family spent time in Russia, where Gross ended up unwittingly working for the Polish KGB for a while. In 1946, he married Dorka, now Doris, and in 1950 he moved to the states and had two daughters. In 1990, Shlamek Solomon Gross died while writing an art history for nonprofessionals.
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