Mother and newborn baby were about to be sent to Auschwitz. There was surely no hope, no escape.
Once they arrived at the Polish death camp, tiny Agnes Grunwald would have been torn from her mother Leona's arms and thrown into the fires.
But the terrified young woman and her daughter were not herded onto trains waiting to transport yet more Hungarian Jews to their deaths. That day, the guard ordered all mothers accompanied by children back to their Budapest homes.
Why they survived the Holocaust when six million others didn't, Agnes, now 66 and a Sheffield JP, will never know. What motivated that soldier to leniency she can only guess.
"I have no means of knowing who he was, what his motives were, or his fate. It may have been an act of kindness; he may simply have been obeying an order from on high, set for an entirely logical, rather than sentimental, reason.
"But it is chilling to think that for his actions, I would have been murdered before I was aware of life," says Agnes.
A mother of three sons and a grandmother thanks to the actions of that unknown guard, she is now the author of a new book charting other amazing stories of survival against the odds.
The Other Schindlers: Why some People Chose To Save Jews In The Holocaust is not a harrowing account of the atrocities, however.
Conversely, it is an uplifting collection of memories from rescuers and rescued, which lift the soul and send a chill of emotion the length of your spine.
It tells of 30 brave and courageous non-Jews from around the globe who risked their own lives to save those of others from Nazi persecution during World War Two.
"The actions of the Holocaust rescuers are truly one of the lights in that great darkness," says Agnes, a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.
But a book wasn't her initial aim; it began as a personal quest for knowledge to pass down the family line which had so nearly been extinguished in the autumn of 1944.
"Most survivors of the Holocaust don't talk about it. People had horrible experiences; things they want to forget. But this leaves a gap of knowledge with the next generation. It had in mine," she says.
"When my mother and I were so nearly sent to Auschwitz, my father was in forced labour camps; I never knew why.
"I remember my mother as very bitter, a woman with little joie de vivre. But as I found out more about the times she and I had lived through, my admiration for her grew. She must have had such strength to get herself and a tiny baby through the grinding poverty, biting cold and severe food shortages in the ghetto."
The Grunwalds were reunited at the end of the war and emigrated to the UK. They settled in Surrey but the mental scars were too much for her father; he committed suicide when Agnes was 10.
Her mother spent the remainder of her life blanking out the horrors of the past and Agnes, who came to Sheffield in 1991 with her then husband, followed suit. "We didn't talk about the war and if anything ever came on the TV, I would switch it off," she admits. "But as I got into my 50s I changed my view.
"My sons Dan, Ben and Simon to all intents and purposes were ordinary English boys. Only they weren't.
"I suddenly realised I wanted to be more informed so I could tell them about their backgrounds; that we can't allow what happened - good and bad - to ever be forgotten."
Agnes embarked on an MA in Holocaust studies at Sheffield University and became fascinated by wartime heroes like Varian Fry, the American journalist who helped save thousands of endangered refugees, many of them talented artists and musicians, to escape from Nazi terror.
"He was not the stuff of which heroes are traditionally made and I realised I wanted to research further to find out what motivated rescuers to take enormous risks - and to find more people like him."
Thanks to Thomas Keneally's book Schindler's Ark, and the film based on it, Schindler's List, the world now knows the name of the man whose surname has become a generic term for non-Jewish Holocaust rescuers – Oskar Schindler.
The Czech industrialist who used his Krakow ammunition factory as a cover to protect the lives of 1,200 Jewish workers, was honoured as "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem,, the Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, in 1993.
Israel's highest honor, it has been granted to some 23,000 rescuers, including Fry – dubbed The American Schindler. "But while six million were killed, almost a third of European Jews survived. Clearly there were many more incredibly brave people who risked their lives to help others who were never identified," says Agnes. "I was determined to write about the ones whose experiences were not in the public domain."
The biggest problem, though, was finding them. Many had gone to their graves having never spoken of what they believed to be nothing heroic, simply an act of common human decency.
She played detective for over ten years, hunting down the stories of Jewish refugees who had been hidden in attics, cellars, wardrobes and bookcases. She found stories of Jewish children raised and loved as members of Catholic and non-religious families; of farmers, actresses, rich and poor people, even a nun who put their lives on the line to save Jewish people.
"Some acted out of loyalty and ties of friendship, others were reacting to the horrors of the Holocaust. Some were religious people, others weren't. Many simply did what they felt was the only right thing to do."
Agnes Grunwald-Spier will be signing copies of her book at Waterstones in Orchard Square on Saturday, July 31, from 12-2pm. Today she can be heard on Radio Sheffield. The Other Schindlers is published by the History Press, priced 14.99.
'Indifference to the fate of Jews helped Nazis to succeed'
In 1996, Agnes believed her task was finished and put her papers in the attic of her home in Dore.
But this year, two special events made her climb the loft ladders to retrieve them from the dust and transform them into a book: the 65th anniversary of the end of the war and the closure of the camps - and the birth of her first grandchild on New Year's Day.
Suddenly, she felt the desire to tell the stories she had been entrusted with. "I started writing the book for my grandson, but it became for all the other children still to come into my family and everyone else's," she explains.
"Anne Frank, Auschwitz and Oskar Schindler are all many young people know of the Holocaust," she says. "Memories of what happened are fading and I felt an obligation to do something to stop that.
She painstakingly pieced together and corroborated recollections and this time around, Agnes had an invaluable assistant; the internet. It took only hours to find information that had previously taken her weeks to obtain by letter.
During her research, often Agnes found she was telling amazed sons, daughters and grandchildren of the acts of courage performed by their relatives for the first time and actually reunite the families of the rescued with those of their rescuers. The experiences were often intensely moving. And to her joy, she has seen a number of the rescuers she discovered honoured by Yad Vashem and two of the rescuers honoured by Gordon Brown as British Heroes of the Holocaust.
Agnes is often asked with stories affected her the most; she finds it impossible to pick. They are all equally moving, equally important, she says.Her greatest wish is that each of them might prove to be a timely lesson in humanity.
"We live in such a me, me, me society where too many are unprepared to step in and help," she says, then recounts another, much more recent story: "On July 29 2005, just after the London bombings, 28 year old Richard Whelan was stabbed on a London bus. Only one woman came forward to help him. When she asked other passengers for help, they refused and disappeared off the bus.
Agnes asks: "She did what was right, but why did the others fade away? There were no Nazis threatening them.
"The Nazis were able to succeed with the Holocaust because people were indifferent to the fate of the Jews. In the same way, most of the people on the bus were indifferent to Richard Whelan's plight. We have to fight the negativity of indifference."
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