Speaker delivers powerful message
By John Gregory
While world leaders were gathering in Europe to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the WWII D-Day landings – the operation that began an allied offensive to topple the hold Nazi Germany had on the continent – a small woman spoke about her time in one of the Nazi concentration camps.
Rose Schindler addressed the June 5 meeting of the Rotary Club of Scripps-Poway. Schindler demonstrated through her words why she is a beacon of strength as she shared her experiences. Schindler was invited to address the Rotary Club after delivering an impressive presentation to students earlier this spring at Scripps Ranch High School. Here is her story:
Schindler was taken by the Nazis to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland with her family in 1944 when she was only 14. She explained that she survived her ordeal during WWII essentially by being a feisty girl and because she clung to hope.
“You lose everything if you lose hope,” she said. “Have hope and never give up.”
Schindler was born in Czechoslovakia, one of eight children. She described a simple but happy existence with her family in a village. Her father, Solomon Schwartz, was a tailor.
“Life was beautiful before the war,” she said.
Things were good until 1939, she explained. Attitudes changed once Nazi influence sprang up. In 1944, the Jewish population of her village were put on wagons and taken away to a train station where they waited in the cold. They were eventually packed into freight cars full of about 80 people each and shipped to Auschwitz on a train.
Once off the train, she and two of her sisters were separated from the rest of her family. Her father and one brother were chosen to work as slave laborers. She later learned that, aside from one brother and two sisters, her mother and the rest of her siblings were sent to the gas chambers and killed on the first day.
“I never saw them again. They killed thousands and thousands of people every day at Auschwitz,” she said.
The rest of the women were told to take off their dresses and their heads were shaved. Then they were issued concentration camp clothing. She noticed a big fire behind them where bodies were being burned.
Conditions were appalling. The portions of the camp were separated by electrified wire that would kill a person. A crew with a wheelbarrow would pick up dead bodies each day. Food was so bad that Schindler has no memory of it. People were committing suicide. After two months, they were skin and bones, Schindler said. She actually snuck out of the gas chamber lines several times.
She happened to speak to her father at the camp two days in a row.
“Stay alive so you can tell the world what they are doing to us,” he told her.
Though emotional, Schindler summoned her strength to continue speaking as she described the deaths of her parents and siblings. She displayed a gold necklace that was once part of her father’s pocket watch. She retrieved it from her family home once she was liberated, and she has worn it every day since.
Finally, she and her sisters were chosen to work in a factory in Germany, where they worked for about eight months. One day in 1945, Schindler discovered that the SS guards had disappeared. She snuck out and heard the voices of Russian soldiers. She tied a rag to a stick, waved it aloft and summoned the soldiers to liberate the factory.
The Russian soldiers were kind to the women, she said. One day a soldier took her and her friend to the nearby abandoned German town, where they could take whatever they wanted, including food. Suddenly, with the realization that she was free, she felt reborn, Schindler said.
“All of a sudden, the world was very nice to us,” she said. “Where was the world before?”
Schindler moved to the America in 1951 and she praises the U.S.
“I’m so thankful to this country. … This is the best country,” she said.
As a survivor of Auschwitz, Schindler proudly displays her concentration camp tattoo and continues to share her experiences with anyone, anywhere.
“We have to tell our story so it shouldn’t happen again,” she said.