Louisville, KY – Holocaust survivor Fred Gross, 75, a Louisville, Kentucky resident and author, had conducted extensive research about his family’s two-year ordeal and escape from the Nazis during World War II. In fact, Gross had already accumulated enough information to publish a book about his family’s wartime experiences when he made a startling discovery.
Earlier this year, Gross, who regularly speaks to elementary school students about the Holocaust, decided to search the internet for additional photos to accompany his speeches.
The Courier-Journal reports (http://cjky.it/MZ0240) that a search for images of Belgian refugees who entered France in May 1940 yielded an online photo featuring Gross’ family – his parents, Max and Nacha; himself; and his two older brothers; Leo and Sam, in the back of a truck in France, surrounded by other refugees.
According to Gross, his parents, along with throngs of refugees wishing to avoid Nazi persecution, fled from their native Antwerp, Belgium with their family into northern France after the Germans invaded and occupied Belgium in under three weeks. Traveling by car and on foot, the Grosses eventually sought passage on a truck heading to northern France. When the truck reached Normandy, a Keystone news photographer snapped the image of the Gross family on the truck. The photo is now part of the Getty Images archive.
From Normandy, the family traveled by train to Paris, and then to the city of Bordeaux, as France succumbed to the Germans. The Grosses hid in a farmer’s barn until June 1940 when they were sent to an internment camp near Gurs, a southern French village. Miraculously, Sam Gross escaped from Gurs, and was able to convince the mayor of a neighboring town to furnish papers to his family which released them from the camp just two weeks after their arrival. Other detainees of Gurs were later sent to Auschwitz.
The Grosses then traveled to Nice, where they remained for two years until the Germans started rounding up young men for slave labor camps in the spring of 1942. Sam escaped to Portugal, while the rest of the family fled to Switzerland. The Swiss only permitted refugees who had relatives in Switzerland to enter. Other frantic Jews were turned away at the border. Fortunately, Nacha’s mother lived in Switzerland.
At the end of the war, the family returned to Belgium, and eventually made their way to the United States in 1946. Today, Gross, a retired news reporter, spends his time educating and imparting lessons about the Holocaust to young people. In 2009, Gross published a book entitled, “One Step Ahead of Hitler: A Jewish Child’s Journey through France.” Of his family, only his brother Sam, 88, is still alive.
Of his wartime experience, Gross said, “It was like a puzzle. If one piece was missing, that would have been it for all of us. It was a miracle. Lucky to be alive. Lucky to tell you this story.”