Elias (Elya) Grosmann
Born: March 29, 1921
Elias was born in a small town in the hill country of northeastern Slovakia. His family was Jewish, and he grew up in a religious home in which both Yiddish and Hungarian were spoken. His father was a peddler and his mother ran a small general store. Besides attending public schools, Elias received a formal Jewish education and attended Medzilaborce's rabbinical academy.
1933-39: The townspeople were mostly Jewish and worried about Nazi Germany. The German annexation of Austria in March 1938 alarmed them. Some left for Palestine, but their town's Jewish leadership opposed creating a Jewish state in Palestine. Elias was one of the few Zionists in town. When an independent Slovakia was created in March 1939, it became an ally of Nazi Germany and adopted anti-Jewish laws. Elias prayed to God to save them.
1940-44: The Slovakian government "Aryanized" Elias' family business and they lost their livelihood. After his twentieth birthday, he was drafted into a Slovak labor battalion; his was known as the "kosher battalion." He got the same pay as any other soldier, but instead of a gun, he had a shovel. Elias' job was road construction. It was hard work but he was safe until October 1944 when the SS surrounded and captured them. Four days later Elias arrived at Auschwitz, where he was selected for slave labor rather than for the gas chamber.