It’s impossible to know how much of Rose Schindler’s energy and drive comes from her commitment to tell her story. Thin, fit and full of pep and vigor, barely five feet tall and just shy of 90 years old, she remains a force of nature. You may know her as a Holocaust survivor. But she also identifies as a wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. Her beloved husband of 66 years, Max Schindler (z”l), also a Holocaust survivor, passed away in January 2017. A word that accurately describes Rose is “devoted.”
If you haven’t met Rose, it’s hard to conjure an image of her strength. As her middle son and child number three in the pecking order of four, I have had a ringside view of her power and vitality. She was an expert at spinning plates early on, raising a family of four in a busy, oftentimes chaotic household while concurrently running a fabric store. Like other people driven by higher purpose, she moves so quickly that she rarely slows for introspection or pause.
Rose has a story to tell and an experience to share. Responsibility was thrust upon her as an innocent and wide-eyed 14-year old. It was on day two after arriving to the chaos and horror of Auschwitz Birkenau that she heard a voice calling her name. Amidst a confusing landscape of smoke, stench, human anguish and death, somehow miraculously he found her.
In a ragged uniform and cleanly shaven, Rose barely recognized her father Solomon, an orthodox Jew and accomplished tailor who always sported a beard, hat, jacket and tie. They embraced and cried, acknowledging the tragedy that befell her mother and four younger siblings the day before. She told him that she was there with Helen and Judy, her two older sisters. He told her that he and her older brother, Philip were selected to be taken to a slave labor camp. Right then and there, he implored Rose to “stay together, survive and tell the world what they’re doing to us.” She and her two sisters survived; Rose never saw her father or Philip again. Her father’s words have made an indelible mark on how she shows up in the world.
After the war Rose left Czechoslovakia for rehabilitation in the United Kingdom and two years later met her future husband Max in a hostel of orphaned survivors. After experiencing unimaginable pain and loss in their youth, my parents were a happy and active couple in adulthood, living in the present and always focused on the future. For years before I was born and after my childhood they would join their New Life Club (Holocaust Survivor) friends at life-affirming exuberant parties. They all shared an unmistakable zest for living.
The passing of my father and most of their friends is a visible sadness that lies behind my mother’s eyes. And yet she remains strong and quick with a smile, warm and approachable and enjoys entertaining neighbors, friends and family. But like many seniors and widowers, her once busy life is often too quiet for comfort.
Rose exercises daily, regularly meets friends for Mahjong or to play cards, participates on Holocaust-related committees with San Diego Jewish agencies, attends synagogue and has roughly 50 school and community speaking engagements annually.
The memoir of Rose and Max Schindler, Two Who Survived – Keeping Hope Alive While Surviving the Holocaust, was published earlier this year. A dream of Rose’s for years, she rests a little easier knowing that her story will be shared long after she’s gone. But instead of taking a break, Rose knows that as a child-survivor, she will be among the few capable of providing a first-hand account of the horror of the Holocaust as the years pass. She remains steadfast and determined to offer schoolchildren and others the incomparable opportunity to meet a survivor. This is her purpose in life and I for one think we’re all the better for it.
For information and to order the memoir of Rose and Max Schindler, visit TwoWhoSurvived.com.
Steven Schindler is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of generationE, an empathy education nonprofit that uses lessons of the Holocaust to promote tolerance and moral values in today’s generation of schoolchildren. He can be reached at Steven@generationE.org.