"On Schindler's List"
Rena Finder, born Cracow, Poland, 1929

Interviewed: January 26, 1996 by Renee Garrelick

Eyewitness to History

We had promised that we would tell our story again and again and again so that it will never be forgotten, so that it will never happen again. Of course, the survivors are getting older and so it is our duty to again tell our story and to hand it to the younger generation so that our story will never die, so that people will never forget and so that it will never happen again. As a survivor of the Holocaust, I am an eyewitness to the most horrible, the most atrocious crimes committed by so called intelligent people against innocent men, women and children while the world stood by and did nothing. As a survivor of the Holocaust on Schindler's List, I am an eyewitness to the courage, the goodness and the determination of people who did not want to stand by and do nothing. There were a few Righteous Gentiles who stood up against the whole world at great risk to their lives and tried to help as many people as they could. It always amazes me to this day that if there were more people like Oskar Schindler, how many more people would have survived.

Now I know that most of you must have seen the movie Schindler's List, and I want to tell you that the movie is very factual. When I went to see the movie, I was transported into the other time -- the time of the darkness, the time of the horror. I didn't know where I was all the time I was in the movie because I really was right there inside the movie living the horror again and again.

I was born in Cracow, Poland, and as a child growing up, I had a wonderful life. I was an only child. My parents were, I suppose, middle class. We lived in a wonderful building in a wonderful apartment right next to the castle and right across the street from the river, and I was brought up just the way all of you were brought up and just the way you children are being brought up. I went to camp during the summer. I went to school right around the corner from my house. As a matter of fact, my mother could see me at recess playing while she was at the kitchen window. I had a lot of relatives, aunts, uncles, loving grandparents, and I had a lot of friends.

But growing up in Poland as a Jew was definitely not being a first-class citizen. As long as I can remember, I always heard stories about crimes done to the Jewish people, and of course, I was always exposed to anti-Semitism. Unfortunately in Poland, anti-Semitism was encouraged both by the church and by the government. I know when I went to school and I played with other children during recess, afterwards I really did not socialize with the non-Jewish children because they didn't want to have anything to do with us. But again growing up as a child, your life is very narrow. The world you live in is very narrow. It is your friends, your relatives and your school that is important.

I remember listening to my parents talking at night when they thought I was asleep. They were talking about Hitler and they were talking about Hitler's rise to power and what was happening to the Jews in Germany. I remember I was eight years old in 1937 when some Jewish people from Germany were sent to Poland at an hour's notice. They were Polish people who had moved to Germany and probably lived there for 25 to 50 years and were told to leave Germany without being able to take anything with them. I remember the Jewish community in Cracow was raising money and clothing and trying to find shelter for these people that had to leave their homes behind.

But again, I remember hearing my parents and my grandparents talking about the first war. They survived the first war. Things were very difficult, there was never enough food, but yet nobody but the soldiers were in danger of their lives. So I couldn't really imagine how terrible a war would be.

Then, of course, all this changed. In 1939, September 1, Germany invaded Poland. I remember the first week we spent in the cellar because of the air raids and because of hearing the not too far distant shooting. Then all of a sudden the Germans were marching into Cracow. I remember standing on the street and watching the German army march into Cracow. They were very well equipped and they were very well dressed. I remember the Polish soldiers with their antiquated guns and with their horses and carriages and wagons. Here came the German army with the tanks, with all this heavy equipment and dressed very well -- very scary. I remember how scared I was. I knew my life as I knew it had ended, and I did not know what was going to happen.

But I think in our wildest nightmares we could never imagine what actually would happen. As soon as the Germans settled in a government, they started to deal with the so called "Jewish question." Immediately we lost all our rights. We lost our rights to pray. Our temples were converted to stables and some of them were burned. Some of them were converted to warehouses. Our parents could not work anymore. Our stores and our businesses were confiscated. Our bank accounts were confiscated. We could not go to
school any more. We could not walk on the street any more. We had a curfew. We had to have a permit to remain in Cracow. We had to wear an armband. We had a wide armband with a blue Star of David. We were not allowed to use public transportation. We were not allowed to walk on the sidewalk. We were actually not going to be allowed to live.

Of course, within weeks we had to start building the ghetto. I don't know how many of you realize what a ghetto really is. It is really a part of town and not a very big part of town. If you can just imagine around this school, somebody would come and build a brick wall all the way around this school, and those of you that are Jewish would have to live in the school and not be able to go out ever. That is what happened to us. We did not have a school, but we were given an area of about three streets wide and two avenues long and all about that area we had to build a brick wall. Then the windows that were overlooking the brick wall were covered with plywood. We were not allowed to go near the window. If anybody was caught peering through the window, the guards outside would shoot them.

For those of you who saw the movie Schindler's List, the scene where we had to pack everything up and go into the ghetto was just the way I remember it, because we were not allowed to take many things with us. We were allowed to take a very small suitcase with our personal belongings, and whoever could arrange for a pushcart could put some bedding and some pots and pans in it. We had to leave our homes - my home where I was born. I never knew another place. We had to leave, just walk out and leaving everything behind, all our family belongings, all my favorite books, all of my precious Shirley Temple doll collection. We marched through the streets of Cracow into the ghetto, and just the way you saw it in the movie, the Polish people were standing there cheering, happy to see us go. And then we walked into the ghetto.

Now we had left a fairly beautiful apartment, to me it was like a castle, it was a wonderful apartment where I had my own room. We went into the ghetto where we were very, very crowded. We did get an apartment. Families had to share rooms. If you can imagine a small bedroom, maybe 10 by 10, where two or three families had to share. We used to hang up ropes on which we hung up sheets or blankets so each
family would have a tiny little corner of privacy. The ghetto was so overcrowded. Of course, we didn't have enough food and we never had enough water. The water was always shut down during the day, and we would only be allowed water for a couple of hours in the evening. We also did not have electricity all day but only for a couple of hours in the evening.

People had to work. There was the Judenrat (Jewish council) which was a group of men appointed by the Gestapo, and they were the link between the Jewish population and the Gestapo. They decided that everybody in the ghetto would work because as long as we would be working, we would have a good chance of surviving. We could not imagine that anything else could happen to us. We thought going into the ghetto was absolutely one of the worst things that could happen to us. We had to get a permit before we went to the ghetto, and of course, we stood in line in front of the Gestapo and we were surrounded by hundreds of guards. All the guards were very heavily armed, and they also always had very big dogs. To this day I am petrified of dogs because the dogs were trained to attack people.

So we saw the cruelty of the Germans. We saw how they were beating people standing in line, and we saw how they were taking older people out of the line and putting them on trucks. We saw them taking children away from their parents, and we saw the parents being taken away from their children. No matter how much the parents cried and begged for mercy to be able to go together with their children, the Germans did not listen. There was no mercy coming from the Germans.

When we went into the ghetto, we thought we would all be working. The people who knew how to be tailors and dressmakers, shoemakers, all those people arranged to establish workshops, and every one would have a job and everybody would be working 12 hours a shift. We, of course, were not being paid for our labor. The Germans were making a lot of money. There were people who were making hats and caps for the Germans, there were people making fur coats for the Germans, and I was working in a printing shop. I was just 11 years old. I was working on a huge printing machine where they were bringing huge bales of paper, and we had to put this into the machine and the machine would make lines. At the end of the day, we would cut up the paper and make notebooks. It was very hard work and yet I was lucky to have a job. Those people who didn't have a job would again be taken out of the ghetto by the Germans and sent away. We never knew where those people were going. We were told by the Germans that those who would not have a permit to remain in Cracow would be working on farms helping the farmer grow food for the German army.

Outside of the ghetto there were factories that belonged to the Jewish people before the war and those factories were taken away and given to Germans to run. They were called Truehanders. They would be put in charge of the factories to which the Jewish people had no right any more. Of course, one of the most famous factories was the factory that was given to Oskar Schindler called Emalia. It was a pots and pans factory. Oskar Schindler came into the ghetto because he wanted to become rich. Oskar Schindler joined the SS party, he became a member of the Nazi party because he wanted to become rich. He wanted to have a lot of money, he wanted to have a beautiful apartment, he wanted to be able to buy beautiful cars, he wanted to be able to dress beautiful, and all this he did and was able to do when he came to Cracow and took over the factory. But Oskar Schindler was smart. He knew that he knew nothing about the business and he knew he needed the people who worked in the factory to have a successful business.

When Oskar Schindler first came to the factory, people were very suspicious because Oskar Schindler was just the way you saw him in the movie. Liam Neeson was Oskar Schindler. First of all, Oskar Schindler was very handsome. He had a wonderful personality, was very outgoing, was always smiling and was also very kind. He talked to everybody constantly. Whenever he walked by, he talked to people. Oskar Schindler did not have the heart of a Nazi. He did not have the German heart. All he wanted to do was to make money. He had no idea of what would happen to the Jewish people. I think in the beginning when he was wheeling and dealing with the Germans, with the government, he loved the idea that he was able to get anything he wanted by bribing the high Nazi officials, he was able to get more workers and he was able to get a lot of permits and material for his factory. He converted part of the factory to making ammunition, which was a very smart move because immediately he was needed not only by the private sector, but of course, by war. Everybody loved Oskar Schindler. He was forever bribing the Nazi officials by buying them beautiful presents and buying them expensive whiskey and cigars. He was able to buy things on the black market that nobody knew still existed.

In the beginning when Oskar Schindler was looking for more people to come and work for him, people were afraid to go and work for him. People were afraid to leave the ghetto and go away for a whole day because they were afraid that when they would come back at night, their families would be gone. What was happening in the ghetto was that even though everybody was working, the Nazis still came every morning and every night through all the apartments, into the workshops and again they were pulling people out of there and out of hiding.

Just the way you saw it in the movie people tried to hide. People tried to hide in all kinds of places. They were trying to build false walls and false doors. People tried to escape, but we were surrounded by the walls and we were surrounded by the guards. In order to escape you had to get somebody outside of the walls to help you. Well, we did not have anyone to help us. There were a few righteous Gentiles who tried hard to help save a Jewish family, to save a Jewish child. Those Righteous Gentiles were in terrible danger of their lives. Not only because of the Gestapo guards but because of their neighbors. The tragedy of the Holocaust is that neighbor turned against neighbor. The Jewish people in Poland were therefore censored. We worked and lived side by side with the Polish people, and yet they turned away from us, and they became our worst enemies. Where we were in fear of the Germans, we were more in fear of our Polish neighbor. If somebody would try to escape through the sewer, and by some miracle find themselves on the other side of the wall, they were in danger of being recognized by a neighbor, by somebody they went to school with, by somebody they slightly knew who would recognize them and immediately call a Gestapo guard. It was very, very difficult -- it was almost impossible to escape.

In the ghetto every day there were less people. When the war started, there were about 45,000 Jewish people living in Cracow. Within the first six months there were about 28,000 living in the ghetto. It is impossible for me to tell you how hard it was to keep warm, how hard it was not to starve to death, how hard it was to keep alive. Every day the trucks came into the big marketplace in the ghetto and the Germans would come and look for people even those who had permits, and they would take them and put them in the marketplace, and then when the marketplace was full, the people were taken away. There were people always crying in the ghetto. There was always shooting in the ghetto. The dogs were always barking in the ghetto. Again I want you to try and imagine that we were in the middle of a very busy community. All around us outside the wall the Polish people, occupied but not enslaved, went about their own business. They went to school, they went to businesses, and through the middle of the ghetto ran a streetcar. The streetcar would stop on one side of the ghetto wall, go through the ghetto, and on the other side of the wall, the streetcar would stop and people would get off. Those people who lived all around us and went on the streetcar two or three times a day, they could see what was happening. They could hear
what was happening. They were not blind, they were not deaf, and yet nobody cared. Nobody ever asked when hundreds of desks in schools were empty, nobody asked what's happening to those children, where are the children going? Hundreds of apartments were empty. Nobody asked what happened to those people. Where are those people going? When the businesses were closed, nobody asked where are those people going?

This past summer I went to Cracow and I went to the building where I lived. I found in that building in the office, a ledger of the people who lived there from the time the building was built in 1930. In the book for the year 1930, my father's name was third on the list. It said in the ledger that we moved into the building in June of 1930 and it said my father was a traveling salesman, it said how much we paid in rent, and then in the end for November 1941, it said "moved away." It did not say where we moved away. There was nothing said in the ledger that my family and hundreds of others from this building were taken away by the Nazis into the ghetto. It just said we moved away.

I remember one day my mother came and told me that the Germans were coming in, and they were going to look for older people like my grandparents. Even though my grandparents had a permit, my mother decided that I should hide with my grandparents. We lived in the ghetto in a very old building. The building had a very old courtyard. There were very huge overgrown bushes and trees, and we crawled under some of the bushes and we lay very quietly all day long. We were laying still maybe 12 hours. We didn't move. We could see the Germans coming in and looking around. One time they came within an inch of me poking through the bushes. We could hear crying, we could hear screaming, we knew that people were being torn away from their families, from their places of work, from the workshops, and taken into the trucks. Finally it got quiet and it was getting dark, and my mother and her sister came and looked for us and whispered to us, "You can come out now, it's okay." We crawled out from under the bushes and we stood up, and then we came face to face with the last patrol of the day. Two young soldiers deciding at the last minute to take a look in the courtyard. They found my grandparents, and they took my grandparents away. To this day I don't understand that they didn't take me away or my mother and my aunt. I was very close to my grandparents, and I believed that when they took my grandparents they would take themsomeplace on a farm that they would have to work very hard, and I worried about how hard they would have to work and would they be able to do that. I couldn't imagine anything else.

There were rumors. We heard about people being murdered. We saw people being murdered every day, a few here and a few there every day, but we could not believe that truckloads and trainloads of people were being taken and being murdered by Germany. Germany, we always knew, was one of the most cultured states in the world, its people from the best universities, well known for its composers and its movie directors and movie stars, and of course its writers and poets, but how could we imagine that all those people, those ordinary people - educated ordinary people, would join the Nazi party. Those ordinary people were fathers, were sons, were brothers, how we could imagine that they would become cold-blooded murderers, and murder and kill without absolutely any feelings at all. There is no remorse from any of the Nazis to this day. It still is the same excuse - we did it because we were ordered to.

We were in the ghetto not very long when one night just after probably nine or ten months, the horrible night of December 31, 1942, the dreaded knock came on our door and the Gestapo came in and arrested my father. I remember going downstairs and it was midnight. All the bells of the churches were ringing, and I remember standing there and looking up and it was snowing, I remember thinking how is it possible that outside those walls, the church bells were ringing and people were going to mass, people were going to pray, and here we are in this hell, totally, totally forgotten by the whole world, where we are being murdered every day and nobody cares. I remember I looked up and I wondered where was God. What happened to God?

I always felt that my father was the most handsome man in the world, the smartest man, who always took care of me, who could always arrange everything, and my father was taken away. My mother and I were left alone without anybody that would watch out for us. Within weeks after my father was taken away, Amon Goeth came into the Cracow ghetto to liquidate the ghetto. I know that those of you who saw the movie will remember Amon Goeth. Amon Goeth in the movie was actually a much nicer person than the man I knew in the ghetto and in the Plasz6w concentration camp. Amon Goeth was really a vicious, sadistic murderer. You know another interesting thing about Amon Goeth is that he was born in Vienna. His parents owned a dry goods store, he was very devoted to his father, his father was a devout Catholic, and there was Amon Goeth, a very, very vicious killer. I remember that morning with the trucks full of Germans and with the loud speaker they were announcing that the ghetto was being liquidated.

We knew that the camp was being built because a lot of us had to go and build the camp. The camp was built outside of Cracow just about 7 kilometers and it was built on a Jewish cemetery. The women went every morning to break up the tombstones. We used the tombstones to build the road. The men were building the barracks. Just the way you saw it in the movie, Amon Goeth stood on the balcony playing with his long-range rifle and he would shoot the people because he felt like it. One of the first victims of Amon Goeth was one of my father's youngest brothers who stood quite a long way from Goeth's villa, and was in charge of painting a barracks. Amon Goeth did not like the color though he saw it the day before and agreed that it was okay and agreed to the color, but when he stood on the balcony, he decided the color was wrong and he shot my uncle.

When the barracks and the roads were almost ready, it was then that we were going to have to get out of the ghetto. The ghetto was being liquidated just the way you saw in the movie. We were told that we had to leave within hours. We were told that we were not allowed to take anything again except a very tiny small suitcase with our immediate belongings, but we were told most of all that children under 12 would not be able to come into Plasz6w. Children under 12 would have to remain with the older people in the ghetto in an orphans home. We had a lot of orphans in the ghetto. Not just from the Cracow ghetto but from all the neighboring ghettos and the smaller villages where parents were taken away.

My mother and I were taking care of my little cousin Jennie. She was 5 years old, and she was actually saved by my father before he was taken away when her parents were being taken away. I didn't want to leave her. I knew she was scared and we were scared, and I tried to take her out through the gate, but of course, I wasn't allowed to and I was beaten. Finally I went back to the orphans home where there were a few of my mother's friends who stayed with the younger children, and they told me not to worry, to go ahead, hurry up and go to the gate, it was getting near six o'clock and nobody was allowed to remain in the ghetto after six o'clock. So I left little Jennie with my mother's friends and I ran to the corner where I met the group from the printing workshop that I worked with. As we were running through the gate -- we were always running, the Germans were always yelling and screaming and beating us, the dogs were always barking, they were always creating such confusion so we wouldn't know what was happening, they were yelling hurry up and run in German -- I realized that some of the people with me were actually smuggling their little children in a backpack on their backs. I remember wondering why they didn't remain in the ghetto. Then as we were running outside the ghetto wall, we heard screaming and we heard shooting, and we realized that the Germans lied to us again. The children and the elderly were not going to be saved in the ghetto. There were about 1500 children and adults in the ghetto that day on March 13, 1942, and some of them were killed there and some of them were taken to Auschwitz.

We arrived at the camp that night and again I cannot tell you the horror. The camp was large. There were barracks for women on one side, there were barracks for men on the other side. It was the first time that families would be separated. Up on a hill, of course, were the workshops again, and at the beginning of the camp was Amon Goeth's villa. Every time you left the camp you had to walk by it. Every time you went to work you had to walk by it. You know, I never looked at Amon Goeth. When the war ended and somebody showed me a picture of Amon Goeth just before he was executed, I didn't recognize him. I didn't know it was him because whenever he stood in front of me or whenever I walked by I never looked at his face. I always looked straight ahead, trying very hard not to make eye contact because I always felt that if he doesn't see me, he won't harm me. So I never looked at him.

Coming into the barracks at night, they were huge about three times as big as this auditorium and it was built out of just plain wood. It had one window and one door. It had some sort of an oven in the middle. It was never enough to keep us warm in the winter, and it was always too hot in the summer. We were so crowded. We had three tier bunks all along the walls and in the middle. We each shared a bunk. I shared the bunk with my mother. We never had enough food. Every morning when we had to get up, some of us had to go to the kitchen and we would bring in coffee, that didn't smell, didn't look, didn't taste like any coffee you know. We would get a slice of bread every morning that I think was made from soda. At noon while we were working, we would have some soup. Again one of us would have to go to the kitchen and bring the soup in a big barrel, like a trash barrel, and the soup usually had boiled potato peels and boiled turnips and cabbage, very little meat. At night again we would have this coffee so to speak and sometimes with a slice of bread but most of the time not. We were starving in the camp. We were in danger of our lives every single second.

Every morning and every night before we went to work and after we came back from work, we had to stand on the Appellplatz. The Appellplatz was a big meadow in the middle of the camp where we would stand to be counted for hours and hours in all kinds of weather. It was then that we were exposed to Amon Goeth's constant threats, and we were exposed to public hangings and public shootings and people being beaten. Life was impossible.

Oskar Schindler, whose workers were going to the factory every single morning and coming back every single night, became a very good friend of Amon Goeth. He became a good friend of Amon Goeth because he played cards and always lost, because he bought him fabulous gifts, and so Oskar Schindler was able to convince Amon Goeth that he had to build barracks next to his factory so that people we were envious of would come and work for him and wouldn't waste so much time walking back and forth. Amon Goeth agreed. They were so lucky. Happiness was leaving Plasz6w and not having to be exposed to Amon Goeth
all the time.

But my mother and I were still working in a printing shop and I remember that the children that were brought into the camp, those little children that were drugged. Some of them were smuggled again by the people who went outside of the camp, some of the people who worked for Oskar Schindler and some other factories, and they were given to those wonderful Righteous Gentiles for safe keeping. There were 300 children in the camp that had no place for them to go. Those little children had to be hiding day and night, some of them two, three, four years old, and they had to be hiding on top of the bunk beds. They were hungry, they were thirsty. They couldn't run, they couldn't play, but they were so smart. Can you imagine? You all must have younger siblings or younger children, and you know how hard it is to keep children quiet. Our children knew that their lives depended on their being quiet. Our children were quiet no matter what happened.

One day we were told that there were a lot of high officials from Berlin coming to inspect the camp. You see Amon Goeth was running such a wonderful camp for the Germans because he didn't spend any money. The people were producing a lot of the goods for the Germans and their army. Besides that, Amon Goeth, even though he was given some food for us, the little food that he was given to give us, he was selling on the black market and he was becoming very rich. We were given nothing. We knew that we had to hide the children on the day that the Germans came because we would all be gone most of the day. Somebody had this wonderful idea of taking one of the barracks, covering it with paper and writing on it disinfection. You see we shared the barracks with bedbugs and all kinds of flies, mice and rats. Every now and then we had to move out of the barracks, and they would be sprayed with DDT and then after 24 hours we'd be able to come in again. So we took the children into one barracks, covered it and wrote down that it was being disinfected. Of course, the Germans wouldn't go near it the whole day. When they finally left, we were so happy that the children were safe. But this did not last very long. Again if you remember seeing the movie Schindler's List, one day while we were all standing on the Appellplatz,
all of a sudden the loud speaker announced that children are being rounded up, that children were going to be taken away to an orphanage and that if anybody would move, the children would be shot. There stood about 16,000 people on the Appellplatz, the mothers and the fathers, the sisters, the brothers, grandparents of the children, and we could see the children being taken out of the barracks and put on a truck. The children were crying for their mothers and fathers, and then the loud speaker started to play lullabies. People started to whisper -- children are being taken to orphan homes where they will be taken care of by nuns. Because how could we imagine anything else happening to the beautiful children. Our children were beautiful and our children were all colors. Some of the children were blond, some had brown hair, some had red hair, some had black hair, and the color of their eyes were blue, green, brown and black, just like the rest of the world. I mean Hitler wanted to have an Aryan race. He wanted everybody to be blond and blue-eyed. But Hitler was not blond and he was not blue-eyed. You probably have seen pictures of Hitler and you know what he looked like. Most of the Germans were a variety of colors. How could we imagine anything else happening to our children but going to an orphanage where they would be safe and taken care of by the kind nuns.

After the children were taken away, Oskar Schindler requested 300 women to come and work for him and especially he specified those younger girls that had skinny fingers because he wanted us to polish the insides for the bullet shells. My mother and I were put on a list by Marcel Goldberg. Again for those of you who saw the movie would remember him as the one Jewish policeman with the glasses who was taking bribes. Marcel Goldberg was a friend of my father and he shared our apartment in the ghetto with his wife and his sister. As a matter of fact, Marcel Goldberg and my father were arrested on the same night, but my father was sent to Auschwitz and Marcel Goldberg was released. It was something I could never figure out and he never had anybody he could ask what happened. But my mother and I got on the list and we went to work for Oskar Schindler. Going to work for him was going to heaven. The barracks were smaller, and we even had a blanket and a pillow. We had food. Oskar Schindler saw to it that we were better fed. I remember I was there for two days and I got a sweater and a pair of shoes. He was kind to his workers. He walked through the factory. He would light a cigarette at the first machine and would leave it by the second machine. He would light another one by the machine and leave it so the men could have cigarettes because of course we had none.

I loved working for Oskar Schindler. He was our hero. He was our savior. He was just wonderful. He always made me think about a movie star. Just before the war started I remember seeing the movie Gone with the Wind, and even though Oskar Schindler was blond and Clark Gable was dark, I always thought of him as being a lot like Clark Gable. There was no fear in that man and he was just full of excitement.

I had an incident while I was working in the factory. I was working on a small machine making the shells for the bullets when one of the foremen decided to put me on a big press. Now that press was in the movie because it was just one huge press, and it was forever breaking and it was very hard to work on it. I was put on it and I worked on this for maybe four hours when the machine broke. Right away the foreman started to yell at me that I sabotaged the production. Of course, the sentence for sabotage was death. Somebody went to get Oskar Schindler. Just the way you saw it in the movie, he had the office between the two factories and he could see us from the window at all times so somebody told him what was happening, and he came down. I remember he always had a cigarette in his mouth and he walked around and he looked at me and he looked at the machine, then he looked at the foreman and he said, "How can you blame this little girl for sabotaging? It is impossible to break this machine." He asked me where I was working before and I showed him and he asked me how I was doing and I told him I was doing well, I liked it. So he gave strict orders never to put anybody that young on the machine and to leave me on this small machine where I was working. After that whenever he came into the factory, he would always talk to me. He would pat my head. I was one of the youngest at Schindler's factory. At the time I went to work for him, I was about 12 years old. There were just two other girls my age. He always had a very soft spot for the youngest, so he was very good to us. Unfortunately, again we did not stay very long because the camps were being liquidated. Germany was losing the war so we were sent back to Plasz6w. Before we went to Plasz6w, Oskar Schindler told us that he was going to move his factory to Czechoslovakia, and he was going to send for us. Before we went to Plasz6w, we were all tattooed with KL which stands for concentration logger. We were tattooed by the Jewish doctor so that after a few years when the war ended, we were forever scratching those tattoos, and trying to suck out the ink. A few years after the war it disappeared, which is not what would ever happen to all those who were tattooed in Auschwitz with a number, and they will go to their grave with the number on their arm. We were lucky. Working for Oskar Schindler, we were always lucky.

In Plasz6w we liquidated the camp. In Plasz6w the Germans brought gold, silver, paintings, furs and clothing from all over. We had to pack it and send it to Germany. When we did that, the trains came to take us away. The men were sent away first. The men were put on a train just the way you saw it in the movie on a terribly hot August day. They were standing sealed in the train waiting for the engine to come for a whole day. Oskar Schindler came in and talked the guards into pouring hoses on the train so that the men could get some relief from the water. Finally after 12 hours sealed in a train, the men left. The next day the train came for the women. The women of Oskar Schindler were put in a separate wagon from the rest of the people. Of course, we thought we were going to go to Brinnlitz, Czechoslovakia to Oskar Schindler's factory.

I know you must have seen a lot of the trains in the movies and read about it, but whatever you saw and whatever you read, you can't imagine how crowded we were. We were pushed into the trains so that we all stood like this, nobody could move. If anybody fainted, they still had to stand up. The Germans were very kind to their animals. When they transported the animals, they gave them water, air and food. But when they were transporting the Jews to their death, they sealed the wagons. We had no water, we had no food, we had no air, we had no bathroom facilities. On top of every wagon, there was an SS with a machine gun. The train went through a busy city, busy villages, busy towns, actually from Cracow to Auschwitz is not very far. As a matter of fact, when I was in Poland in a car, it took barely an hour. By train during the war it was probably more than three hours. But it took us a day to get there. The train would stop at different railroad crossings to give priority to the troop trains that went to the Russian front. Again because we went through crowded, crowded places, there is no way that anybody could say "I didn't know. I didn't see. I didn't hear." Impossible not to see us. When the train stopped, the men were crying, begging for water, begging for air, begging to be let out to go to the bathroom. Nobody heard us. Nobody
cared. When the train finally stopped after this long day and the doors open, again the Germans stood there yelling and screaming "raus, raus, macht schnel." We jumped down and it was hard and we were so totally exhausted. I remember I looked and there was a wall and miles and miles of barbed wire. It seemed like miles and miles of guards -- not only the Nazi guards with the dogs barking and making so much noise, but also men, prisoners who wore these uniforms with numbers painted on them. I looked to see where we were and I saw the sign Auschwitz-Birkenau.

By then we knew. The time for denial was gone. We were in Birkenau. We were in Auschwitz. Birkenau was part of Auschwitz. Auschwitz was a huge camp because in the beginning it was just for the political prisoners and then they were bringing in the prisoners of war. They were bringing in the gypsies, they were bringing the physically and the mentally retarded, they were bringing all kinds of disabled people into the camp. But they were bringing the Jews just to kill them, just to murder them, because we were Jews and for no other crime.

I remember standing and looking around, and the first thing that I became aware of was a terrible stench. There was such stench in Auschwitz. There were ashes in Auschwitz. Ashes were falling like drops of rain. Mrs. Hoss, the wife of the commander of Auschwitz complained to the visitors from Berlin, she couldn't let her children play outside because of the stench, and she couldn't hang her laundry out because of the ashes.

I remember how we had to run. We ran into the direction of what I saw was a huge, huge chimney. It was dark and yet you could see the smoke. You could feel the smoke. I remember our eyes were burning and our throats were hurting. We came in front of a huge barracks, and there were a couple of very well dressed and well fed Nazi guards, and with a flip of the wrist one of the them was telling women to go to the right and to the left. My mother and I pinched our cheeks, we wanted to squeeze some blood into them to look healthy. My mother in 1943 and 1944 was just 40 years old, and already at the age of 40 she was afraid she was too old, and I, at the age of 14, was afraid I was too young. But we were lucky and we were allowed to go to the right. There it said it was a bath house. We went into the bath house and we had to strip from top to bottom and we were shaved from top to bottom. Some of the prisoners who were shaving us told us that the transport of children who came from Plasz6w in May went to the gas chamber. They showed us the other side just a few hundred feet away where the gas chamber and the crematoriums were operating 24 hours a day. We could see some more trains coming in and we could see the Hungarian Jews who were living in their homes until that summer of 1944, they were brought into Auschwitz, had no idea of what was happening, had no idea where they were going. They were dressed, they brought suitcases, they were told to drop everything and they all perished or most of them perished. Nobody warned them, nobody told them, they had no idea what was happening.

You know when we were in Auschwitz we prayed that the railroads to Auschwitz would be bombed. Because if they bombed the railroad to Auschwitz so many hundreds of thousands of people would have been saved. There were people who escaped from Auschwitz and smuggled themselves by some miracle into Switzerland where the United Nations were meeting and begged them to come and bomb the railroad to Auschwitz. Our American and British war departments said they could not do anything that did not have a
direct impact on the war. Planes were bombing Pornun which was a factory town 38 kilometers away from Auschwitz. The planes returning brought pictures of Auschwitz. Again there is no way that people didn't know. They knew, they just didn't care.

It has been said that one cannot describe Auschwitz because there are no words to describe the terror and the horror and if you described it, you couldn't imagine. You can't imagine how it was when we were pushed into the bath house. We were naked, we were shaved and it was dark, just the way you saw it in the movie. We didn't know what was going to happen. Finally when the water came down and the lights came on and I looked around, I looked at my mother, my friends, my aunts and people I knew from the day I was
born, I didn't recognize them. I did not recognize them because with our shaved hair we were so totally traumatized and so totally dehumanized that I felt like I really was not alive any more. I was in some place in some kind of a hell and this couldn't be real. Then we were pushed out of the barracks outside, cold, naked, wet. There were women guards, and the women guards were more vicious than you can imagine. There was a pile of clothing on one side and a pile of wooden shoes on the other side, and we were again beaten and told to hurry up and get dressed. Each one of us took something. I took a chiffon dress and of course, it was way too big on me, and the wooden shoes I got were too small for me. Nothing fit at all. Then we were again pushed into the rest of the barracks. Again it was like I did not live any more, this place did not exist.

The roads in Birkenau were full of mud. The people in the barracks with their shaven heads starving to death with their sunken eyes. They didn't look like human people any more. The women on Schindler's List were put in a barracks with Hungarian women. There were two Hungarian women in charge of the barracks, and they didn't speak Polish and we didn't speak Hungarian so there was always yelling and screaming when they tried to tell us what to do. Every morning two of us had to go to the kitchen to bring some of the so called food to the barracks. We never had a utensil. It seemed to me that we had to walk 10 miles to the kitchen, but of course, it wasn't that far, it just seemed like that because walking and carrying the two heavy barrels and then coming back, it was so difficult. We slept on the stone floor and we were cold. It was October. We were sick and every morning and every night we had to stand in front of the barracks being counted.

It was there that I met Mengele that I knew who he was. One day Mengele took me and another girl from the line to another part of the camp and we didn't know what was going to happen to us. I know he told my mother not to worry that I would be back. We walked for a long time and we went into a clinic where there was a nurse in a white uniform and beds covered with sheets, something I did not see for four years. The nurse told us to lay down and she took blood from us. Imagine the irony, taking blood from Jewish girls, the Jewish slaves who were there to be murdered, to be killed because we were not worth living, and they took blood from us to make plasma to send to the Russian front to save the life of a German soldier. When we were finished, the nurse gave each one of us a slice of bread and a slice of liverwurst. I remember I ate half of it right away and tried to save the other half for my mother. To this day I remember how wonderful it tasted. It was absolutely the best thing I ever ate in my whole life. I was so scared that I would not find the barracks and my mother. Whenever they took me away someplace, I was always petrified that I won't find my mother again. But I did find her.

You know people from Birkenau were there just to wait their turn for the gas chamber, but people from Auschwitz went to work every day in the factories. Factories like I.G. Farber, Braun, Krug, all the factories that were working for the destruction of the Jewish people. Hundreds of people went to work every morning through the busy town of Auschwitz. There was always a wagon and a horse behind to pick up those who could not walk any more. Nobody paid attention to us. It was like we didn't exist. There was nobody there who could say what was happening to those people. Nobody in the factory that would say what was happening to those people.

The women in Auschwitz were there for three weeks. We were so close to dying that I think if we had stayed there two more days we would not have survived; when the orders came for us to leave. Just like in the movie when we arrived in Brinnlitz, Oskas Schindler was standing there on the platform with this Tyrolian green hat with a feather on his head and he stood there and he said, "Well, you are finally here and now you have nothing to worry about, I'll take care of you." And take care of us he did. It was then that we found out that he sent somebody to Auschwitz to bribe the commander of Auschwitz to let his women go. In Brinnlitz, actually Oskar Schindler had to use his own resources, his own money to feed us, to clothe us, to keep us alive. Oskar Schindler was arrested twice but each time because of his friendships in the high ranking Gestapo and SS, he was let go.

He then asked Mrs. Schindler to come to Brinnlitz and help him, and she came and helped take of us. I remember seeing Mrs. Schindler for the first time in Brinnlitz, and there we were all gray. The whole life in concentration camps in the ghetto, everything was gray. There was never any color. The sun was never shining, the trees were never green, grass was never growing. There were no flowers. I don't ever remember birds singing, but I remember seeing Mrs. Schindler when she first came in and talked to us, it was like spring had come. She was very kind to all of us, and she tried very hard to feed us. She was always going out and begging to the farmers outside to bring some more food for us. Because of Oskar and Emilie Schindler who risked their lives to save us and did all kinds of tricks to save us just the way you saw it in the movie, we survived.

The time came when the war was ending and we all came into the factory floor and listened to the Winston Churchill speech about the end of the war. Very few of us could speak English but we knew every word Winston Churchill was saying. Then Oskar Schindler had to leave. He had to give himself up to the Americans because we were going to be liberated by the Russians. When he left, I felt like my father was leaving all over again. Who will take of us? It was very frightening.

Again just the way you saw it in the movie, we were liberated by one Russian soldier who had come from Cracow, who told us when we go back to Cracow, we probably won't find anybody alive. He also told us that people would not be happy to see us and he said you better not go back to Cracow. Most of us were from Cracow and we wanted to go back and see if any of our families survived. So we went back and of course, going back was horrible as we had no place to go. The Jewish organizations arranged for an old dorm for us to live there and we registered in the office of the Jewish organization, papers were hanging saying "My name is so and so. Do you know my father, my mother or my sister?" My mother and I were the only survivors of my mother's family. Her parents, her four brothers, four sisters, their wives and husbands, and all my little cousins did not survive. My father was one of eight brothers. All the brothers except one who escaped to Russia when the war started were murdered together with their wives and their children.
The building where I lived before the war that had a hundred Jewish families, my mother and I were the only ones left. The class I went to had about six Jewish children, two of us survived. So Poland was a huge graveyard, and we did not want to stay there. So we went to Austria. Some people went to Germany. We lived in displaced persons camps and were taken care of by different Jewish organizations and other religious organizations and waited until we could emigrate and start a new life. There was no way that we
could start a life in Poland. It was just too much blood and too many ashes for us.

Response to questions:
How did I start life? When we came out of the concentration camps, we were so broken in body and spirit and most of us were orphans. I was lucky I had my mother. There was nothing else for us to do but start life, so we just took one step at a time. I went to school. When the war started, I was about to go into 5th grade. I did not go to a regular school, but four of us had tutors come to the house and we studied from morning to night. We really worked hard so that by the time I was able to emigrate in 1948, 1 had finished
junior college. It was very hard because we had nothing.

Our answer to the denials that it happened is I was there, where were you? I also ask those who say it isn't true, I ask if somebody would stand in front of them now and tell them that Vietnam did not happen and Korea did not happen, would you also believe it? Because if you can believe the Holocaust didn't happen, then anybody can sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.

How did I know the war was coming to the end? The women had no outside contact at all, but the men had outside contact and some of them listened to the radio. Also for us on Schindler's List in Schindler's factory, Schindler was telling the men and the men were telling us. Of course, when Schindler left, we were still in danger of the retreating Nazis, so with the help of the Czech underground Schindler armed some of our men, so that we would be safe. We were told not to leave the camp until we were liberated. As a matter of fact, a truck with retreating soldiers stopped at the camp and wanted to know what was there and our guards told them that people there were dying of typhoid. So they were afraid to come in, and we were saved.

Just to tell you one thing that I did not know anything about because I was still a young girl with my mother was only after the war ended did I learn that the United States was at war with Japan.

My mother did not come with me to the United States because she had remarried after the war in 1946. She married an old friend of hers who also lost his wife, but he had a son who survived but was ill, so my mother remained until the child got better. I had gotten married myself in 1946 and I came with my husband.

How did I keep my Jewish beliefs? Actually I didn't. I lost my faith in God the day they took the children away from Plasz6w. I didn't want to have anything to do with my religion and I didn't want to have anything to do with God after the war. The first high Jewish holidays, the first Rosh Hashana and the first Yom Kippur after the war, about four of us went to the movies. We did not want to have anything to do with anything Jewish, but we felt so guilty and so miserable that we never did that again. We needed ties, we needed tradition, we needed our religion, it was our link to our past and our grandparents.

I have three children and six grandchildren. We never really talked about my experiences very much. My children were surrounded with it because a lot of my friends were survivors, and our children always thought our friends were our family. I was also lucky that some of my family survived. One day my middle daughter came home from school and said that her friend had told her that we were in concentration camps. Of course, she knew nothing about it and she came home and started to look through my night table where we kept some papers, and then she started to ask questions. We tried to tell them whatever they wanted to know but not to tell them more than they could handle. I told them how my father was killed and my mother's family. They didn't, thank God, grow up with any kind of terrible hang-ups about it. They are well adjusted in this respect.

There was resistance and there were people who tried very hard to resist, but again with no help from outside. The Jewish resistance was in danger not only of the Gestapo and the SS but of the Polish resistance. As a matter of fact, I had a friend who escaped from the ghetto and got involved with part of the Polish resistance and he was very bright, so he became like a right hand to the captain of it. One day they told him that he had to go to another part of the forest because they just found a member of the other resistance group or a Jew and they had to kill him. So my friend actually smuggled himself back to the ghetto. He felt safer with the Germans than with the resistance. But there were young people in the ghetto who had lost their parents who tried very hard to do something, and one day they were able to get some ammunition and they made up Molotov cocktails, smuggled them out of the ghetto, threw them into a nightclub on New Year's Eve and injured a few soldiers. All of them were killed. Then of course, the Germans came into the ghetto and took 2000 people away.

We had no other choice but to build a life, step by step, piece by piece, day by day.

I didn't have much contact with Oskar Schindler after the war, but a lot of my friends did. He used to travel a lot. He had a very hard time after the war and that is very sad for us. He lived in Germany for about four years and he was working for the Americans. They tried very hard to get him a visa to emigrate but because he was an SS, he had a hard time even though he had all those witnesses and affidavits that he saved us. Some of the Nazis had escaped with no problem, some of the really horrible Nazis like Mengele and others, they had no problem, but for Oskar Schindler it was hard. Finally he got a visa for wherever he wanted to go and he wanted to go to Argentina. Jewish services paid for his trip to Argentina, gave him $10,000 and in those days that was a lot of money, and he bought a sable farm. But he was very unhappy because Oskar was not a 9 to 5 man. He liked excitement and he did not like living on a farm, so he came back. He left Mrs. Schindler in Argentina and he came back to Germany. He got more money and started another business, a cement business, and that went bankrupt. Then he just traveled. He went to Israel a lot of times. He was one of the first Righteous Gentiles and they treated him like a king. He would come to New York a lot, and people had parties for him. I had young children and it was hard, but we all contributed some money for him, as much as we could. He lived in Frankfurt in a tiny apartment, he drank a lot unfortunately, and that is what killed him. So it is really a sorrow. I grieve for the fact that he did not live long enough to get the honors from the whole world. But Mrs. Schindler is alive and well. She just turned 88. I've seen her about four times in the last couple of years, and she's wonderful. At a concert that she came to, she was surrounded of course by hundreds of media and everybody was asking her if she
considered herself a heroine. She said, "No, we did what we had to do." That's Mrs. Schindler.

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Text mounted 14 March 2015.-- rcwh.