Rena Finder, her family, and the rest of the Jewish families in Krakow, Poland, were forced to walk away from their homes in 1939. As Finder looked back at her apartment one last time, her neighbors hid behind closed windows and lace curtains. They did nothing and said nothing. The people that she had lived next to for all her life watched as Finder’s family was relocated.
On Tuesday, Finder spoke in the Heights Room for the seventh consecutive year at Boston College. While she told her captivating life story, her intention remained to inspire students to stand up for others and spark a deeper understanding of the value of human life within her audience. The event was hosted by the Emerging Leader Program and BC Hillel.
“We need to pass the torch of our memory on to you, to your children, and grandchildren in the future, and the next generation so that the story of the Holocaust will not die, will not be forgotten, because forgetting is dangerous,” Finder said.
After surviving the Holocaust, Finder thought there would never be a war again. But, she said, the world has not learned its lesson. Genocide, war, and humanitarian crises are happening around the globe. Finder put the responsibility of learning from her experiences on the room full of students.
When Finder was only 10 years old, Germany invaded Poland. Overnight, she said, she became an enemy of the state. The first thing that the Germans did was strip all the Jews of their civil rights.
“That was a bad time to be Jewish in Poland,” Finder said.
The Germans expelled all the Jews in Krakow, and they were forced to live in a ghetto, where Finder and her family lived for several years. Finder was confused. She did not understand why her neighbors did nothing and said nothing. Soon, Germans began taking people away from the ghetto to “work at a farm.” They would never be heard from again.
“My father said that it will be over soon, and that somebody would come and help us,” Finder said.
While Finder worked at a printing shop in the ghetto, her family heard about a factory outside of the ghetto owned by Oskar Schindler. He was part of the Nazi Party and was friends with many high-ranking officials. His factory made pots and pans, but also manufactured ammunition.
Amon Goeth, a Viennese Nazi officer, was placed in charge of Krakow. He liquidated the ghetto and shipped all of the residents to work in Plaszow, the nearby concentration camp.
Schindler, who employed many of the Jews who lived in the Krakow ghetto, befriended Goeth in hopes of cutting down the commute his employees had to make every day to get to his factory to work. Schindler’s solution was to build a barrack next to his factory for his Jewish workers. Goeth agreed. Finder and her mother began to work in his factory.
“To me, Oskar Schindler was like an angel sent from heaven,” Finder said. “When I look at him, I expect him to spring wings at any moment. He immediately became like my father.”
Soon, the SS began to close concentration camps, Plaszow included. Plaszow Jews were to be sent to Auschwitz Birkenau. After deciding to build another factory in Brunnlitz, Czechoslovakia, he convinced Goeth to transport a list, now known as “Schindler’s List,” of 1,000 Jews to his new factory—700 men and 300 women. The two box cars of women ended up in Auschwitz anyway, however.
“There was a terrible stench,” Finder said. “And it was snowing, we thought, and we were thirsty, so we tried to catch the snowflakes. Except they were not snowflakes. They were ashes.”
After three and a half weeks, Finder was certain that staying there even three more days would have resulted in death.
Schindler then sent his secretary to Auschwitz demanding his workforce be released from the concentration camp. As a result, the now skinny, malnourished, and sickly women were put on a boxcar destined for Brunnlitz.
“There are no words,” Finder said. “How can you thank someone who saved your life? And I was one of a thousand.”
Finder concluded her talk by urging the audience to stand up to bullies and help the oppressed.
“You don’t know how powerful you are,” she said. “Each and every one of you can become what Oskar Schindler had become—what we call an upstander.”
Featured Image by Keith Carroll / Heights Staff