Rose Schindler, Holocaust survivor, graduates from La Jolla Country Day
by BLAKE BUNCH
Published - 06/15/18 - 03:34 PM | 1746 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
(From left) Alyssa Chen, Danielle Franger, Rose Schindler and Jane Greenip - LJCD graduates.
(From left) Alyssa Chen, Danielle Franger, Rose Schindler and Jane Greenip - LJCD graduates.
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Lately, it is an all-too-common occurrence to read about Jewish, Muslim, or other oppressed groups’ property vandalized with hate speech. Whether tolerance for nationalist rhetoric at major levels of government seems to have a correlation with this unacceptable behavior or not is debatable.

In the face of this omnipresent hatred is a force for righteousness, however, found in Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor Rose Schindler. For years, Schindler has been preaching her message of positivity and endurance in the presence of evil to schools throughout San Diego County. As a result of her ongoing work and guidance to students, Schindler was recently presented with a high school [not honorary] diploma by La Jolla Country Day.

Her story, though dealing with the darkest aspects of humanity, is merely a background to her message of acceptance, positivity and anti-bullying.

Prior to being sent away to the death camp, Schindler had only completed the equivalency of a third-grade education.

Schindler was 14 years old when Schutzstaffel (SS) officers entered her village in Czechoslovakia in 1944. Prior to that time period, their village of Seredne, though lacking plumbing, electricity, or transportation, had been perfectly enjoyable.

“Everything we ate, we grew,” she said to a crowd of Mesa Verde Middle School students on June 11. “My mother made our clothes by hand, washed them in the river and baked all of our bread at home. One-third of my town’s population was Jewish, but we got along very well with our non-Jewish neighbors. Life was very good before the war.”

In 1938, following Germany’s annexation of northern and western Czechoslovakia, Hungarian and Polish forces came to occupy the region. This is the first time Schindler had to deal with hate firsthand. Whereas she and her family were once friendly with their neighbors, those same people, in turn, called her a “dirty Jew” or other anti-Semitic insults.

“They [Hungarians] did all of the dirty work,” said Schindler. “It was during this time that all of the Jewish boys 15 years of age or older were rounded up and sent off to perform slave labor. Then, these people we were friends with began to bully us. Children, remember that once you see bullying to stop it, otherwise it will continue.”

When half a dozen SS soldiers entered Seredne near the last Saturday of Passover, Schindler’s family and neighbors thought nothing of it. Schindler remembers her mother asking her to go to the bakery, which was an odd request. Her small village had no newspaper, and only wealthy people had radios, so their source of information was a man performing the duties of a village crier. On her way to the bakery, she encountered that man.

“We were told that all Jewish people were to report to the school the next day, and that we were going to be taken away,” she said. “They said that everyone was allowed to bring one bag, but we didn’t have any bags, so we had to make them out of burlap sacks.”

“At the school, they took down our names and had told us that if we wanted to bring any valuables, that they would hold them for us until after the war. I believe my father knew this was absolute bullshit, and also that he may not ever make it home, so he wanted my sisters and I to help him hide my mother’s jewelry and his watch. My sisters refused, perhaps out of denial, but I relented.”

“We hid everything in a small shoe polish box, and buried it between a wall and a cross-beam. To this day, nearly every day, I wear his pocket-watch chain around my neck. It’s what keeps me going.”

Schindler and her family were sent to what she describes as an open area, surrounding by men with guns and dogs. For how long she was there, she cannot remember. One day, however, the entire family was loaded into a cattle car, with no bathroom, water, and hardly any ventilation. The Schindlers, like the other 70 to 80 people per car, had no idea where they were headed.

Once the train stopped, a man in a striped uniform, another Jewish prisoner, asked Schindler “How old are you?” to which she replied, “14.”

“Tell them you’re 18,” he said.

“When we stepped off the train, I encountered the SS guards, one of which, I believe, was Josef Mengele,” Schindler said as the crowd gasped. “They asked me my age, and I replied with ‘18.’ ‘No she’s not, she’s 14,’ my sister said, trying to keep me with my mother and younger sisters. Ultimately, I was allowed to stay with my sisters, Helen [21] and Judy [19], while my mother, two younger sisters and brother were sent to the gas chamber immediately.”

Schindler would quickly discover her method for survival – an equal part “guts” and cunning. Whereas they were counted daily, she and her sisters realized that they could easily avoid the “selection” line for work outside the camp, as it was not mandatory. Not soon thereafter, when the Schindler girls decided to go to lineup, Rose was all skin-and-bones.

Her two sisters were selected for work, and she was put in the line destined for the gas chamber. Schindler quickly exited the line, for which she would have been shot, but learned that this is how could last through the war. She knew were to find excess “food” [rotten potatoes, inedible soup or bread] and was able to get extra sustenance that way.

“I knew we had to get out of that godforsaken place,” said Schindler. “Women were killing themselves every day by grabbing onto the electric fences that ran around the perimeter of the camp. The next day, the guards would be out picking them up in wheelbarrows.”

It was during one of these difficult early mornings that Schindler heard someone call her by her Hebrew nickname. “Rosie-osie” someone called as she was outside her barracks.

“I knew I was popular,” she joked, “but who would know me in this godforsaken place?”

It was Schindler’s father, albeit much thinner, and without his trademark beard and spectacles (the Nazis shaved all prisoner’s entire bodies). Schindler initially had no idea who the man was.

“Where’s your mother?” he asked, to which Schindler could not reply. “After this is over, tell the world what they have done to us in this place,” her father added.

She saw him again the next day, and he echoed “Tell the world what they have done to us,” to Schindler and her sisters. That was the last time they ever saw their father again.

When the Russians liberated the camp on Jan. 31, 1945, Schindler describes it as one of the happiest moments of her life – in her interactions with Allied soldiers, she had regained her humanity but had never lost her omnipresent sense of optimism.

Eventually, Schindler’s sister became involved with a Polish soldier, who had an apartment in Prague. Though they ultimately parted ways, Schindler, with the help of (WHO) was part of the "kindertransport" or rehabilitation program for children survivors in London. She eventually met her late husband, Max, a fellow survivor, and moved to New York City, finally settling in San Diego in 1956.

Schindler, now a grandmother, is an example, not of humility, but determination and hope.

“How do you stay so positive?”

“It’s the only way to be,” she responded.
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