“In this world of bullying and hate crimes, it’s important to teach children not to stand by – you have to go and get help. Don’t stand by and do nothing.”
“You can do so much with what you’ve got. You’ve got an education, a brain, and your heart. You have the power to make changes.”
- Rena Finder, Schindler’s List Survivor
Rena Ferber Finder was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1929 and grew up in a middle class neighborhood. Although antisemitism pervaded Krakow, Finder, who speaks regularly with Facing History and Ourselves students and teachers, had a comfortable childhood surrounded by loving family and friends.
When the Germans invaded Poland in September, 1939, life as Finder knew it was upended. Nazi troops forced Jews like Finder and her family to move into the ghetto, isolated from the rest of the city. As prejudice, fear, and intolerance began to seep into daily life, it was not uncommon for former neighbors to turn a blind eye to what was happening to their Jewish community members and friends. After Finder’s family relocated, the Gestapo came for her father, taking him away – he never returned. Eventually, the SS evacuated the ghetto, ordering all of its residents to move up the hill to the Plaszow work camp.
For Finder, hope came in the form of Emalia, an enamel kitchenware and ammunition factory owned by the German industrialist Oskar Schindler. Unlike other businessmen, such as the managers of Krupp and I.G. Farben, Schindler did not take advantage of slave labor in the SS camps or mistreat his workers. Instead Schindler, a non-Jew, did everything in his power to provide the Jews that labored in his factory with sufficient food and accommodations. With the help of a relative, Finder and her mother went to work at the factory and for six months 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, when Finder was 13, the SS ordered Schindler to shut down Emalia and ordered that the women working there be sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Aware of what would happen if his laborers moved to Auschwitz, Schindler negotiated with the SS and was able to relocate his factory to Brunnlitz, Czechoslovakia. He wrote out a list, which became known as Schindler’s List, with the names of former workers who should be kept off the trains headed to Auschwitz. Finder’s name was on the list and, along with her mother and thousands of other Jews, she traveled to Brunnlitz to work at Schindler’s new plant.
After the Russians liberated Brunnlitz in May, 1945, Finder and her mother went to live in a displaced persons camp. The following year, Finder married, and in 1948 she and her husband, Mark, received visas to move to the United States.
- Download Facing History’s educational guide to accompany the award-winning film Schindler's List.
- Share Finder's testimony in your classroom. Her story is included in Facing History’s resource book Elements of Time.
- Find out how you can bring the testimonies and voices of Holocaust survivors into your classroom with our Survivor Testimony resource.
- For more historical context, explore our Holocaust Resource Collection.