THE STORY OF THE SQUARE
Quilt 2, Square 14
Artist: Kirsten Grosz
The one person who stands out in my mind is a person I have never met. When we went to her native country in 1971, the foremost places I wanted to see were where she had spent her life. It became quite an obsession with me. I was reading books about the cruel life she might have had and the suffering she might have to endure. I was trying to imagine the heartaches she might have felt, and how courageous and unselfish she had been.
“Only cruel parents will send their children away from home to a foreign country,” her relatives told her when she obtained a visa for her two boys, aged 14 and 15, for a transport of Jewish children, also known as the “Kindertransport,” to England in 1939.
She is my mother-in-law, Irma Gross (nee Meth, D.O.B. January 1, 1842. Her number in Terezin was 769). From a photo, taken in 1939 with her husband and their two boys, she appears to have been short, on the heavy side, with dark hair and a round serious face. Her husband, a dermatologist, had his practice in the apartment they occupied in Brno, Czechoslovakia. She played the piano and was fond of operas and musicals and she was a good cook. She took her children to the park and bought them balloons which immediately disappeared into the air. She took them to her parents for celebration of Jewish holidays, and for summer holidays in Italy and Jugoslavia. But the hardest trip she took them on must have been to Prague where she was seeing them off to a country she did not know, and where the children did not speak the language.
In England, the boys, who were busy adjusting to a new country, a foreign language and manual labor rather than schooling, did not have much time for letter writing. When England and Germany officially declared war all correspondence between the two boys and their parents stopped. My mother-in-law did correspond with a brother in Sweden, a neutral country. One of her concerns was if the boys were getting an education. Of course, her brother had only sparse news from the boys in England.
Soon after the boys left, her family was ordered to move to a different part of town where they had to share a small apartment with three other families. That did not last long as they were all sent to the Terezin concentration camp. There she worked in the kitchen. A friend of hers, who survived, told us that my mother-in-law, whenever possible, smuggled out an extra potato from the kitchen for her friend.
My mother-in-law lived in a barrack for women. Her husband lived in the men’s housing. I can only think of the relief she must have felt in not having her children go through the hardship she had to face. Her husband died in Terezin.
After a couple of years in Terezin, my mother-in-law was, with 5,000 others, on September 6, 1943, loaded on trains to the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration camp. From there her brother received a post-dated card. She went into the gas chamber on March 8, 1944. When the doors were closed to the chamber, I hope she was consoled knowing she had done the right thing, sending her boys to safety.