Del Mar resident and Holocaust survivor Rose Schindler speaks out on her experiences
By Donald H. Harrison
August 15, 2019 (San Diego) - There is a romantic notion in popular Judaism that everyone has a bashert – a special person intended to become a lifelong spouse. Sometimes, he or she may live just down the street; other times, you may meet unexpectedly at some place far from home. But, according to this romantic notion, God brings you two together.
As pleasant as this idea may sound, it would have been terrifying, if true, in the case of Rose Schwartz of Seredne, Czechoslovakia, and Max Schindler of Cottbus, Germany, who were both born in 1929. It was terrifying because if their meeting was part of God’s plan, then so was the Holocaust – for if the Nazis’ campaign of slaughter against the Jews had not occurred, it is very unlikely the two would have met.
Rose and Max encountered each other as orphaned teenagers who had survived separate series of Nazi concentration camps. Following the war, charitable organizations in the United Kingdom reached out to orphans 16 years old and younger and transferred these Nazi victims from the European continent to safe havens in Scotland and England, where they could recover their health, learn English, and be taught trades.
Rose was brought to Scotland, and Max to England, and only when the charitable facility in Scotland was shuttered was Rose transferred to another facility in England, where she met Max. Both were approximately 16 at the time, and their love just grew.
Although they had not known each other before or during World War II, Rose and Max had so much in common. Their parents were murdered during the Holocaust, as were other members of their respective families. However, Rose and Max each had siblings with whom they survived the Holocaust, and from whom their new lives in England—and later in the United States—meant separation. Both had been tattooed on their arms, Rose with the number A24893 at Auschwitz II-Birkenau; Max with the letters KL (a German abbreviation for concentration camp) at a Nazi slave labor camp in Mielec, Poland. As determined as both were to survive the concentration camps, so too did they become of one mind that together they must build a new life, raise a family, and look forward, ever forward.
It would be many years before Rose and Max would talk about their experiences in the Holocaust, Rose being prompted to do so in 1972 when Steve, one of her four children, played the part of Peter in his school’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank. To help the young actors understand the times in which Anne Frank lived and died, Steve’s teacher asked Rose if she would talk about her experiences. One of the children asked what could be done to prevent another Holocaust. Another asked why did Rose think she survived while others didn’t.
To the first question, Rose answered that people must remain aware that the Holocaust happened and understand that if we don’t learn from the horror, it can happen again. To the second question, she responded that her survival was a miracle, and also because “I wouldn’t give up. I just continued and never gave up hope.”
Thereafter, Rose Schindler became a well-known lecturer on the Holocaust in San Diego and its neighboring cities, accepting invitation after invitation from every age group. Max was more reticent, but he too shared his experiences.
In this book, writer M. Lee Connolly, weaved together Rose’s and Max’s first-person voices, alternating from one to the other. We learn of Rose’s life growing up in Seredne, and of Max’s life in Cottbus before he and the rest of the Jews of that city were summarily deported to Poland.
In alternating chapters, Rose tells us of her concentration camp experiences and liberation, and then Max relates what happened to him. Connolly has a brisk writing style that permitted her to present their stories quickly and effectively. As in Rose’s many presentations, there were some moments to which you would pay close, fascinated attention, and other moments which could bring you to the verge of tears.
Their stories did not stop with their move to the United States in 1951. They told of moving first to New York, and later to San Diego, where Max worked with computers in the defense industry, and where Rose opened her own store, Roxy’s Fabrics, named for her first child, Roxanne (Schindler) Katz. Besides Roxanne and Steve, the Schindlers raised two other sons, Jeffrey and Benjamin.
Max died in 2017, and author Connolly noted in an epilogue, “Rose was crushed. Now in her late 80’s, Rose continues speaking on her own, to honor both her family and his.”
Many of my fellow San Diegans know and admire Rose Schindler and will want to own a copy of her and Max’s book, which is available via www.twowhosurvived.com. I think people who live anywhere else in the world similarly will find this book an inspiring story of the human spirit. Were Max and Rose really bashert? I can’t say, but they definitely were perfect for each other.