Rena Finder: Schindler's List Survivor and Facing History and Ourselves Resource Speaker
“Schindler was like a God to me. He was tall, blond, and handsome. I saw him as he came through the factory and stood next to my machine, and I always felt safe under him.”
–Rena Finder, Schindler’s List Survivor
Rena Ferber Finder was born in Kracow, Poland in 1929 and grew up in a middle class neighborhood. Although antisemitism pervaded Kracow, Rena had a comfortable childhood surrounded by loving family and friends.
Rena’s entire life changed with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. Jews were forced to move into the ghetto, which was isolated from the rest of Kracow. Rather bitterly, Rena recalls how non-Jews who were able to see all that was happening to Jews did nothing to help their Jewish neighbors.
In the ghetto, the Gestapo took Rena’s father away and he never returned to his family. In time, the SS made plans for the evacuation of the ghetto, ordering all the residents to move up the hill to the Plaszow work camp, located on the site of an old Jewish cemetery, and run by the sadistic commandant, Amon Goeth.
From Rena’s perspective, the most hopeful ray of light was Emalia, an enamel kitchenware and ammunition factory owned by the German Christian industrialist Oskar Schindler. Unlike other industrialists such as the managers of Krupp and I.G. Farben, who took advantage of slave labor in the SS camps and mistreated their workers, Schindler did everything in his power to provide his Jews with sufficient food and accommodations. Rena and her mother had an influential relative on the Jewish Council, who had them enumerated on Schindler’s list. Thus for six months they had the good fortune of being Schindlerfrauen, women working at Emalia under far more humane conditions than those in other workshops at Plaszow.
In 1944 Schindler was forced to dismantle Emalia. The women were initially sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Rena was 13 years old. Schindler was able to relocate his factory to Brunnlitz, Czechoslovakia and negotiated with the SS to send his former workers to the Brunnlitz plant.
After the Russians liberated Brunnlitz in May 1945, Rena and her mother joined the thousands of other survivors in displaced persons camps located in Germany and Austria. For three long years, they waited for a visa to come to the United States to be with a family friend who had settled in Peabody, Massachusetts before the war. In the fall of 1948 Rena moved to the United States with her husband Mark, whom she had married in 1946. There she was reunited with her friends, Sonia Weitz and Norbert and Blanca Borell, who had arrived six months earlier.
In 1994, a year after the release of the film "Schindler's List," Facing History and Ourselves' executive director, Margot Stern Strom, interviewed Schindler's List survivor Rena Finder. In this powerful interview, Finder discusses her life in Krakow before the war, how she came to be included on the list, the infamous Nazi commandant Amon Goeth, and the remarkable man who is credited with saving almost 1,200 Jews, Oskar Schindler.
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- Ms. Finder is featured in a Facing History and Ourselves audio podcast, Bringing Holocaust Survivors into the Classroom. In this podcast, Ms. Finder and Facing History executive director Margot Stern Strom talk about the impact of bringing the stories of Holocaust survivors into classrooms, and how those stories will be told in years to come.
- Facing History and Ourselves created the study guide for teachers and students that accompanies the movie Schindler's List. The guide is helpful in bringing the movie into your classroom and is available for free download from Facing History’s website. Ms. Finder is referenced and quoted in some of the readings (see especially "Choices in a Time of Narrowing Choices," p. 54).
- Ms. Finder's testimony is included in Facing History and Ourselves' resource book and accompanying video, Elements of Time. Elements of Time is a collection of Holocaust testimonies. The companion manual describes the context for and content of video testimonies dealing with a wide range of themes pertinent to the study of the Holocaust and human behavior.
- Explore the website on the movie itself, www.schindlerslist.com. *View a videoclip of Ms. Finder talking about Schindler by clicking on: About the DVD: DVD: “Schindler Loved Life.”
- Present Memories. Rena Finder is one of six survivors of the Holocaust profiled in this 55-minute film. A transcript of Rena's clip is also available.
- Watch an eight minute video clip on YouTube of Rena posted by the The Holocaust Center: Boston North Inc. The center located in Peabody, Massachusetts, and directed by Harriet Wacks and Rena's best friend, Sonia Weitz. The Center strives to document and to preserve history; to reduce hatred, prejudice, ignorance and indifference through education; and to prevent future tragedies through the study of the universal lessons of this period.