The Museum community mourns the loss of Elly Gross, a longtime member of the Museum’s Speakers Bureau. Elly died on October 24, 2022.
Elly Gross (née Ella Berkovits) was born on February 14, 1929 in Simleul-Silvaniei, Romania, where she was raised in an orthodox Jewish family. Her father, Eugene, was drafted into forced labor and was murdered in 1943. Elly, her mother Irina, and her five-year old brother Adalbert were forcibly moved in 1944 to the Cehei ghetto. Six weeks later, Elly and her family were deported on an arduous week-long journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She was separated from her mother and Adalbert during selection and didn’t learn until after the war that they had been murdered. She was just 15 years old. Elly was sent to perform slave labor for Volkswagen at the Fallersleben concentration camp and transferred to Salzwedel, where she liberated by American soldiers in April 1945.
Elly immigrated to the United States in March 1966 and settled in New York City with her husband Ernest Gross, z”l, also a Holocaust survivor. She returned in April 1998 to the memorial at Auschwitz, where she found a picture of her mother and brother waiting during selection. This emotional experience shaped Elly’s steadfast advocacy for Holocaust education and justice. In 1998 Elly was the lead plaintiff in a watershed class-action lawsuit seeking restitution from Volkswagen for Holocaust survivors who were been forced into slave labor. She donated part of the small settlement she received to charities.
In 2000 Elly joined the Museum’s Speakers Bureau, where she spoke to thousands of students about her experiences for over twenty years. She wrote in a note to the Museum that year that, “We survivors aging have an obligation in memory of our martyrs to share our experience during the Holocaust, especially to the younger generation.” She participated for many years in the March of the Living and was a prolific writer and artist, engaging students with her story through different mediums, including novels, poetry, and art. Some of Elly’s best-known works are Elly: My True Story of the Holocaust, Storm Against the Innocents: Holocaust Memoirs and Other Stories, Vanished World: A Memoir of Ernest, The Poems of Elly Gross, and many more. After hearing Elly speak, one student noted, “This experience was really important to me because soon I’m going to be the one sharing stories to people that haven’t heard yours.”
Elly is survived by her two children, Agneta and Tiberiu; and five grandchildren: Gabriel, Irina Jonathan, Rachel, and Rebecca; and three great-grandchildren. May Elly’s memory be for a blessing.