Simon Gronowski has kept playing music from his window during Belgium’s second lockdown, just as his piano jazz music lifted his neighbours spirit during the peak of the coronavirus crisis in April.
At the age of 89, Gronwski wanted to connect with his neighbours by music. “Music is a means of communication, of connection,” he says.
As a child he jumped from a train leaving a Nazi transit camp in former military barracks in Mechelen. The 20th convoy on 19 April 1943 was bound to Auschwitz and the only one of 26 train transports that was sabotaged by the Belgian resistance. 25,250 Jews and 352 Roma were deported from Belgium to their death in Auschwitz.
He is a former president of the Union of Jewish Deportees in Belgium. After the war he studied law at ULB in Brussels and taught himself to play the piano in memory of his sister who was a pianist and perished in Auschwitz with their mother.
In September this year, at the opening of the academic year of the university in Brussels, he received a honorary doctorate in Humanism.
In a newspaper column, quoted by The New York Times this week, he wrote about the difference between today’s lockdown and the confinement during WWII.
“Currently reduced to forced idleness, conducive to reflection, my thinking wanders and rejoins the confinements that I suffered 75 years ago, from 1942 to 1944, when I was 10-12 years old,” he wrote.
“Today, we can stay with our family or be helped by it, keep in touch, we can do our shopping, stock up on provisions, read the newspapers, watch television, but then we lived in terror, we lacked everything, we were cold, hungry and our families were separated, dislocated.”