Schindler's List Survivor Asks Students To Act Against Injustice
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
It’s one thing to watch horrific scenes in Holocaust films, but it’s another thing entirely to listen to someone who was actually a victim of it tell her story. On Tuesday evening, Rena Ferber Finder, a Schindler’s List Holocaust survivor, recounted her powerful and tragic childhood to those listening attentively in the Murray Function Room.
The event, organized for the third year by the Emerging Leader Program, the Mentoring Leadership Program, the Shaw Leadership Program, and Boston College Hillel, saw a high turnout as students filled the seats and lined the walls to have the rare opportunity to hear a Schindler’s List survivor speak to them in person.
Finder’s story began in Krakow, Poland, where she was born in 1929. “It was wonderful in Krakow before the war,” Finder said, “but all this changed in a matter of 10 days when the Germans came to Poland.”
Finder recalled the Nazi occupation of her home country. “I remember how I looked at the Germans and thought, ‘Oh, they look human—they look just like us. So how bad could it be?’”
Finder noted that she was naive for believing this optimism in the beginning days of the war. She found she was already losing hope, however, as overnight she “went from being a little girl, [to] an enemy of the state.”
“I don’t know if you can imagine what it feels like to be told you have to leave your own house, to leave your home,” Finder said. “In three to four days, over 20,000 people were resettled, were expelled—we never heard from them again.”
Finder also noted how her father was always optimistic: “Don’t worry,” he would tell his family, “[the war] won’t last. They’ll hear about it in the world, and they will come and get us.” Not too long later, her father was falsely accused of being part of the resistance, arrested, and taken away. Finder never saw her father again.
Only a few weeks before her father’s captivity, Finder, as a little girl, also watched her grandparents being walked away from her by two Nazi soldiers while living in a ghetto. “One of the biggest tragedies of the war is that we had no time to mourn,” she said. “There would be someone new to mourn for right away.”
Finder also found that the film Schindler’s List accurately portrayed life in the Jewish ghetto. “Every morning we were exposed to public shootings and public violence,” she said. Most of the children, Finder told the audience, were taken away to Auschwitz.
She and her mother, however, had begun to hear word about a German industrialist, Oskar Schindler, who had a factory in Poland for a kitchenware company called “Emalia.” Schindler, an ambitious businessman, was looking for ways to save money in his business. Knowing that a Jewish worker would cost less than a Polish one, he began hiring Jews as his work force. Finder described Schindler as a very ambitious, very powerful, and very well-connected man who often befriended his workers.
Schindler began to use his company as an opportunity to provide a sanctuary for Jews. “The dream for everyone was to work for Oskar Schindler,” Finder said.
“He was a wonderful man to work for,” Finder said. “To me, he was like a father.” The film, based on Schindler’s real life story, portrays Schindler “just the way I remember him,” Finder said.
“To us, he was a miracle,” she said. “But miracles do not last forever.” Indeed, Finder’s statement that “everything in the movie is the truth” proved correct as she described how cinematics for viewers was real life for her.
Believing that they were on their way to Oskar Schindler’s factory to work, Jewish women and children (Finder was about 13 by this time) “were packed in [trains] like sardines.” When Finder and her mother walked off the train, they found themselves surrounded by German soldiers at the most notorious Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz.
“We felt so dehumanized that I felt like I was already dead,” Finder said. Fortunately, Schindler bribed high officials with bags of diamonds for the return of his workers to their proper destination. Finder and her mother took “the only transport that ever left Auschwitz” back to the factory and worked there until the war had officially ended.
“There is no way to express our gratitude, or how to thank him,” Finder said of her hero, Schindler, who had to go into hiding as soon as the war ended. “If it was not for Oskar Schindler, I would not be here.” The risks that Schindler took to protect and save over a thousand innocent human lives has taught future generations that, as Finder explains, “there is always something somebody can do, and so you should not stand by and watch injustice happen.”
“Each and everyone of us has a mind and a heart,” Finder said. “When you know what’s wrong, you do not walk away.”