A HOLOCAUST survivor has spoken of the moment he jumped from a train transporting Jewish prisoners to Auschwitz Birkenau.

Simon Gronowski was in Salisbury on Saturday to give a talk to coincide with performances of Push, an opera inspired by his miraculous escape.

On April 19, 1943, an 11-year-old Simon and his mother were loaded onto a cattle cart bound for concentration camp Auschwitz Birkenau in Poland.

Prior to this he had been imprisoned with his sister and mother at the Caserne Dossin in Mechelen in March.

Recalling the day he escaped from the train, the 86-year-old father and grandfather says: “It is unforgettable for me, 11-years-old, I was a child, I remember everything. It was a miracle.

“I didn’t realise I was condemned to death.”

He says his mother held him near the edge of the sliding door of the carriage and pushed him to jump, but at first he did not want to because the train was moving so fast. When it slowed he chose his moment and jumped, and waited for his mother to join him.

“My mother continued her journey until her death in the gas chamber at Auschwitz,” says Simon. “I never saw her again and my sister also.”

Simon found himself about 55 miles from Brussels.

He “ran all night” through the woods before reaching a village in the evening, and found a little house.

“I rang the bell and a lady came and said, ‘What are you doing?’

“I was a little boy covered in mud and in torn clothes,” explains Simon.

Speaking in French, he told the woman he had been playing and was lost and needed to go back to Brussels to his father, who had managed to avoid arrest by the Nazis.

Simon was taken into the town where he met a policeman who had heard what happened. Simon recalls the policeman telling him not to be afraid and saying “I’m good, I won’t tell on you. I will protect you”.

“I fell in his arms crying, speaking about my mother,” says Simon. “This man is a hero. If the Nazis had known he protected a Jewish child who escaped he would have been shot.”

He was hidden by Christian families for 17 months until the liberation of Brussels on September 3, 1944.

After the war, Simon says he waited for months hoping he would see his mother and sister again, but accepted their deaths after years passed with no contact. He later learned they had both died in Auschwitz.

He lived with a host family for two years until moving back to his parents house in Brussels. He had three tenants and used the rent to pay for his law studies, qualifying as a lawyer at the age of 23 and later becoming a barrister.

Simon did see his father again, but they were hidden separately during the war. They contacted each other after the liberation, but his father died in July 1945.

In 2014, he was contacted by his former Nazi guard who wanted Simon's forgiveness. Simon says: “I forgave him. I took him in my arms and forgave him and everybody cried. For him it was very good but it was better for me. Forgiveness is good, forgiveness takes away hate. I have never hated but I confess that I was very unhappy and have cried a lot.”

Simon continues to share his story with others, adding: “I fight the deniers [of the Holocaust],” says Simon. “It is my duty to speak, to be witness.”

La Folia in association with Wiltshire Creative presented two performances of Push as part of Lift Off!