Schindler’s List survivor shares her story
A Holocaust survivor who escaped death in Nazi Germany told a packed audience Wednesday that the man who saved her – Oskar Schindler – was like an angel who delivered her from hell.
Rena Finder, one of the last Holocaust survivors employed by Schindler during World War II, shared her first-hand account of the atrocities she suffered as a child under the Nazis.
Stories like Finder’s were immortalized in the Academy Award-winning film “Schindler’s List,” parts of which were played to a hushed crowd of 200 Wednesday night at the Levin Jewish Community Center on Cornwallis Road.
Finder told of her life as a child in Poland, the Krakow ghetto, life in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz and her survival as a child in Schindler’s factory.
“When I was 10 years old, my wonderful childhood ended and I instantly became the enemy of the state because I was Jewish,” she said.
As an only child, Finder remained with her mother and father for months in Krakow, a ghetto where Jews were tortured while concentration camps were built.
“My father was taken away from us after nine months and we never heard from him again,” she said.
Finder said her family, like many other Polish-Jews, believed they were being relocated from their homes to work on farms for the Nazis. But she and others soon realized they were wrong.
The lives of Finder and her mother were spared because of Schindler, a wealthy German industrialist who used his influence to save the lives of 1,300 Jewish men, women and children.
In an interview before her talk, Finder said she thinks of Schindler every day.
“I know that if it wasn’t for Oskar Schindler, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.
“Schindler was one of the first people to show the world that you don’t have to stand by and do nothing when injustice is being done,” she said. “There is always something you can do. You may not save the whole world, but it can start with one step.”
Finder said it’s hard to believe that such atrocities happened in the 20th century.
“How could human beings be allowed to do such horrible things to another human being?” she asked. “It was impossible to believe. It’s still impossible.”
Finder, 84, said that when she speaks to students, she tells them they have the power to change the world.
“I always try to tell my students the truth,” she said. “They are beautiful, and they are smart. They have the power to make decisions. When they see someone being bullied, don’t stand by and do nothing – get help. A bully is a coward who attacks somebody who is smaller.”
Finder said when people stand up to a bully, they “achieve a great victory that will make them feel better. Don’t be a bystander, be an upstander.”
Indifference, she said, is wicked.
“Not paying attention to the fact that the person next to you is suffering – you say ‘well, it’s not me’ – that’s the biggest crime,” she said. “What scares me is that it’s happening again and again.”
Rabbi Zalman Bluming, who helped organize Wednesday’s talk, said of Holocaust victims: “We need to turn the memory of those who died into a living legacy that celebrates the lives that they led.”
Bluming said people should be optimistic that the world has changed, but be “ever-vigilant against the waves of anti-semitism.”