Thursday, July 25, 2013

Grossmont College class hears Holocaust survivors

Rose Schindler shows her Auschwitz number to students
Holocaust survivors Max and Rose Schindler related to a group of incoming freshmen at Grossmont College on Monday, July 22, that after enduring such horrors as the death of family members, near starvation, and constant humiliation at the hands of the Nazis, they finally were liberated from separate Nazi concentration camps in 1945, when they were still younger than the students in their audience are today.

Now both in their 80s, the Schindlers were not yet 16 when Russian troops liberated the former Rose Schwartz of Seredne, Czechoslovakia, and Max Schindler of Cottbus, Germany.  Students in the Grossmont College audience, who had read Night by Elie Wiesel as part of their Summer Institute Program and will be traveling this week to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, crowded around the couple to see the numbered tattoo that Rose had received at Auschwitz and the KL  (for Konzentrationslager, or “Concentration Camp.”) that had been tattooed on Max’s arm.

Rose said that when the tattoo was administered to her, two people had to hold her down, because she fought so hard against it. She said it was very painful.
The students asked such questions as whether the Schindlers ever can forgive their German persecutors –“No,” responded Rose—or whether they had ever taken revenge.  Max said after he was sent in a youth transport to England, he one day saw some German prisoners being transported in a lorry by British soldiers.  He said he followed the truck and took satisfaction in yelling at the German prisoners.  But other than that, he said, no revenge.

Another student asked if, as victims of persecution, they had been particularly empathetic to the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950s and 1960s.  Max responded that while they were aware what was going on—and knew that many fellow Jews were aiding African Americans in Freedom Rides and other actions – they themselves were too preoccupied with trying to rebuild their shattered families to personally participate.

The students asking the questions were either first generation Americans or the first in their economically disadvantaged families to attend college.  The Summer Institute Program is designed to orient such students to American college life and to give them a head start in their studies.

Rose had been able to tell in an unemotional voice of the indignities, hardships, and family losses that she had suffered but her voice quavered when she told of returning to Seredne after the Holocaust and finding jewelry her father had hidden away before the family had been taken prisoner by the Nazis.  The gold chain of her murdered father’s pocket watch was converted into a thin necklace, which she said, as she touched it, she has worn in his memory almost every day since.

Max had been forced to work at a factory in Dresden, and was there when the city was firebombed by the Allies.  From there he was herded on a winter “death march” to Theresienstadt In Czechoslovakia, under orders to keep moving or to be shot.

Because they were teenaged orphans, Max and Rose were given the opportunity to resettle in England under a program sponsored by British philanthropist Leonard Montefiore.  They met in England, and were married in 1950 with Montefiore walking Rose down the aisle.  A year later, the Schindlers immigrated to the United States, spending five years in New York City before moving onto San Diego, where he worked on General Dynamics space and defense programs. The couple, now living in the Del Cerro area of San Diego, have four grown children and nine grandchildren.

Noting that many of his contemporaries are dying, and that is only a matter of time before all Holocaust survivors have passed on, Max urged the students to remember their meeting with two Survivors and to recount what they heard and saw if anyone in the future should try to deny that the Holocaust had occurred.

In addition to the  students, some faculty members, staff and administrators of Grossmont College sat in on the talk, which was held in the Griffin Gate meeting room.