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A life of miracles beautifully told as opera returns to city

VISITORS to St Paul’s Church in Chichester were treated to a very moving performance on Wednesday evening.


The opera, called PUSH was performed for the second time this year after a sell-out show in the Chichester Cathedral in January.


The opera tells the story of Simon Gronowski, a tragic tale which illustrates the horrors of the Holocaust.


Simon lived in Brussels, where he was taken at the age of 11, along with his mother and sister. Simon and his family were deported on the 20th transport to leave Mechelen. Three Belgian resistance members stopped the train and fought the German train guards. Simon’s mother helped him down to the footstep and pushed him off the train.


Cllr Clare Apel, chair of Chichester Marks Holocaust Memorial Day Committee said after the performance: “All the performers standing here have made this performance of PUSH so special. I’d just like to add that when some of these people and young children started rehearsals, many of them had never sung or acted before, and they have learnt the whole score off by heart, which to me is a complete miracle and they are amazing.”


Simon wasn’t originally sure about the plans to turn his story in to a show. He said: “An English journalist, Sarah Ehrlich based in Brussels interviewed me for the BBC and told my story to composer, Howard Moody and introduced me to him.


“Howard said to me: “Your story is extraordinary and for my next opera, I will compose it on your story.” I said thank you but I was a little sceptical – an opera about my story, is it possible, but it is a reality.


“I have seen it at Chichester and for me it is very moving, and it is especially useful for young people, for a better world. The Holocaust must be remembered so that it never happens again.


“The first performance in Chichester was great with the staging, movements, soloists, children’s choirs and lights. Everything was fantastic! It is wonderful that there was a second performance in Chichester.


“When I found my father after my escape on April 19, 1943 and after the liberation of Brussels September 3, 1944, the relationship between us changed because he was sick and unhappy.”


“For 60 years I have not spoken much of the drama of my childhood and remained alone. I turned my back on the past but I have never forgotten.


When I published my first book in 2002, Jean Aerts, the man who took me in, was dead (he died in 1987), but I am now in touch with his family.


“What is unique in my case, of the whole war, is firstly that an 11-year-old child was able to escape quite alone convoy of death and secondly that my Nazi jailer came to repent and ask my forgiveness, and I forgave him.”

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