Survivor Story

Rena Finder

Rena Finder, a Schindler's list survivor, is committed to sharing her story in the hope of keeping the lessons of the Holocaust alive.
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At a Glance

Survivor Story

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History
  • The Holocaust

Rena Ferber Finder was born in Krakow, Poland in 1929, and is a Schindler’s List survivor. She is a founding survivor of Facing History and Ourselves and has spoken in classrooms all over the country. For over 43 years, Rena has been an inspiration to thousands of young people struggling to make the right choices in their lives. Rena lives in Massachusetts, where she raised, with her late husband Mark, three daughters: Anita, Marilyn and Debbi. Rena is also the proud grandmother of six and has four great grandchildren.

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.

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Hear Rena Finder speak about her life and experiences in the following videos.

My name is Rena Finder, and I was born in Krakow, Poland. And I'm a survivor because I was on Schindler's list. I survived with my mother. And because of Oskar Schindler, I was able to grow up, have a life, get married, have children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren because Oskar Schindler.

Well the first 10 years of my life were wonderful. I am an only child, and my mom was one of seven siblings. My father was one of eight siblings, so I was surrounded by family-- aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins. I learned how to read very early in life because I loved the books. And I remember, especially one evening, my mom went to visit her parents who lived right around the corner from our house.

And I remember sitting. I still see myself sitting at this little round table with the candles on and reading a book, the fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers. Every Sunday morning, either my father would take me places. I remember my father taking me to the zoo. I remember my aunt-- one of my aunts and uncles took me to see a movie. There was a special theater in Krakow that, every Sunday morning, had plays for children.

Krakow was a beautiful and still is a beautiful city, and all my pre-war memories are just full of fun and good things that were happening to me personally. I was not aware of antisemitism at the time, even though I heard people talk about. But basically, my parents spoke Yiddish to each other when they didn't want me to understand.

Rena Finder on Life before the Holocaust

Rena Finder, a Holocaust survivor rescued by Oskar Schindler, recounts her happy childhood living in Krakow, Poland, before the start of World War II and the Holocaust.

When I was 10 years old, when Germany invaded Poland. So, overnight, from being a little girl, I became an enemy of the state, and our crime was that we were Jewish.

I remember of hearing about the German people. My father traveled a lot. Very often, he went to Berlin on business. When he came back, he would always bring me special gifts that you couldn't buy in Poland.

I especially remember the marzipan that were made to look like a fruit. And I saw the German people who were very famous, for the writers, it's composers. And they were normal people, people like us. They were doctors, and lawyers, and bricklayers, and plumbers, fathers, husbands, sons.

I just couldn't imagine. My idea of the war was about two armies fighting against each other, probably on a big football field that I could even watch because my grandparents lived right across the street from one of those big football fields. And when there were games, our families together in their apartment to watch from the window. They wouldn't have to pay for the ticket to go in. And I could not imagine war any other way.

My father and his brother, and my mother's brother, they all fought for the independence of Poland. Because Poland was never independent, it was always divided. And in 1918, after the first war, Poland became independent.

And my mother's older brother, who was a surgeon on the battlefield and he was killed. My grandparents received a special medal. And they were sure that the Germans will respect that. We were very naive because we couldn't imagine-- I mean, just 20 years after the war. And it was impossible to imagine another war that would be any different, that people would be that cruel. And of course, we were very much mistaken.

I remember watching this Germans when they marched into Krakow with the tanks and with the cars they had, and with their uniforms, with their rifles. And they were very scary looking, very scary looking.

And overnight, they started to issue orders to take away freedom from the Jewish people. So that, for example, the first thing was that Jews were not allowed to own any businesses. We were not allowed to go to school anymore, any of the Jewish children. All the professors, anybody that taught in school was actually arrested and sent away and we had no idea.

We were actually told that everybody under 10, under 12, and anybody over 55 would not remain in Krakow, would not get a permit. And that those people would be sent to the farms to help the farmers grow food for the German soldiers.

And naturally, we believed it because how could you imagine not to believe something that-- something that was unthinkable. I remembered also that, for example, we were told that we had to turn in-- and if we had a radios. Anything that was gold, silver, crystal, fares. We were not allowed to own pets. We were just not allowed to walk on the sidewalk.

We, in Krakow, we had to wear white armband with the blue Star of David. And my parents were able to falsify my birth certificate. So to make me two years older. I was lucky, I was tall for my age. And I was able to pass as a 12-year-old.

And the time came that the things that we saw were unthinkable. When we saw the Germans grabbing the religious Jews on the street, and would shave, cut off their beards, and beat them up.

My father was saying, somebody-- The world is going to hear, and they will come and save us. Well, the world did hear, but somebody didn't care. They did not care about what was happening to us.

People from Krakow, a lot of them were being sent away, they did not get permits to remain in Krakow. And finally, when they sent away enough people from their point of view, and we never heard from those people again. So every now and then, somebody would get an urn with ashes-- telling them that their loved ones had died.

There was talk. There were whisper about Belgians, where people were killed while in the cars. And later on, there were rumors about Auschwitz, about the crematorium. But it was so unbelievable that nobody believed it.

You cannot really believe it, that human beings can be able to do such horrible things and get away with it. Everybody was silent. The church, the people, the judges in Germany. There was a time when they could have stopped it.

Rena Finder on Krakow at the Start of World War II

Rena Finder, a Holocaust survivor rescued by Oskar Schindler, recalls how her life changed after the Nazis invaded Poland when she was ten years old.

Oskar Schindler was an upstander. His workers were not what the German called "worse human beings, worse than the rats and cockroaches." To Oskar Schindler, we were people.

While we were sent to a ghetto, there were people that worked for Oskar Schindler, and those people went to work every day and came back at night and told other people what a good man he was. Because in the beginning, it was very hard to accept the fact that there was this tall, handsome Nazi with a diamond swastika on his lapel, that this was somebody that was going to be good. Especially somebody who became very friendly with Amon Göth, who became in charge of Płaszów concentration camp.

My mother heard that Oskar Schindler was hiring more women, especially. I remember we walked to the factory from Płaszów. I remember there he was, waiting for us with a smile, and not only with a smile, but with soup.

See, we were never hungry working for Oskar Schindler and we were not starving. He was using his own money to buy food.

He talked to people. He made sure that we had small barracks and we actually had bunk beds. We actually had like-- I remember we had an egg like maybe once a month. And I remember how we were beating up the egg, and putting in a little sugar in. We even had [INAUDIBLE]. And I remembered it was like, the best, the most wonderful thing.

Or we had bread. That actually sometimes we had margarine. And the soup always had some meat in it and vegetables. It was not like the soup in Płaszów. That was water with potato peels. So in Płaszów, people were starving.

Now, I don't remember being starving. I remember being hungry-- but I didn't because of my father's extended family. One of my aunt worked in a kitchen. And I remember that I was going to the kitchen and she would give me food.

What Oskar Schindler wanted when he opened the factory and his-- was to become rich. That was his ambition. He wanted to have enough money to buy expensive clothes, expensive cars, expensive horses. Before all that, he was selling farm equipment.

So he traveled to Kraków quite a lot. He traveled all over and-- but he wasn't making much money. And he didn't have a very happy marriage. He married somebody very much unlike him. Mrs. Schindler was a very quiet woman, very religious, and she certainly didn't appreciate his kind of life.

But she cared for people, and Oskar Schindler cared for people. When he realized what was happening, then he was changed. He did not want to be part of it.

He knew that his workers were making him rich. He depended on his workers and to him, the more Jewish people he employed, the more money he was making because he only paid like fifty cents for a Jewish worker, but for a Polish worker, he would have to pay a dollar. I mean not a dollar, a złoty.

And, of course, Oskar Schindler had orders for the guards not to come into the camp and not to come into the factory. All they did was picking us up at the edge of the camp and walk behind us as we walked a few steps, practically, to the factory.

And then every morning when he came, he always patted my head, he said wie gehts, you know, little one. And to us, of course, we worshipped him.

In Oskar Schindler's factory, in Oskar Schindler's camp, there were only two people that died, and they died by being taken care of in a hospital bed in the basement of the factory, taken care of by Mrs. Schindler.

And they were being-- the Schindlers arranged that those people, one was an older woman and one was a young girl who had cancer. And they arranged for them to be buried in a casket, what didn't happen to millions of others, in places they were able to come after the war and move them to a Jewish cemetery in Prague.

Oskar Schindler is an example that one person can make a difference. That there is always something you can do. Because everybody said that there was nothing I could do. Yes, there is always something you can do.

Rena Finder’s Reflections on Oscar Schindler

Rena Finder, a Holocaust survivor rescued by Oskar Schindler, recalls how her life changed after the Nazis invaded Poland when she was ten years old.

Why do you want kids to make a bridge?

Well, I try to empower them. I try to tell them that they can change by being kind, that they can make their life easier, by themselves. If they get rid of a hate for somebody who is not the same color or doesn't believe in the same God.

I say those are private things. And just because somebody doesn't believe in the same God or somebody is a different color, it's still the same human being as you are. And if you want to have a better world for yourself or for your children, then it's up to you.

There is a lot of things people can do to make life better, if they only understood that they have the power to make things better.

Rena Finder’s Message to Young People

Rena Finder, a Holocaust survivor rescued by Oskar Schindler, offers a message to young people about their power to make the world a better place.

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Learn more about Rena Finder’s life through this collection of personal photographs. 

Rena Finder Today

Rena Finder is a Schindler's list survivor who is committed to sharing her story in the hope of keeping the lessons of the Holocaust alive. 

Credit:
Facing History and Ourselves

Rena As a Child

Rena Ferber was born in 1929 in Krakow, Poland. She had a privileged childhood, living in a beautiful apartment near the Wawel Castle. Rena was an only child and the only grandchild of her maternal grandparents, whom she saw everyday.

Rena with Her Parents and Aunt on Summer Vacation

Rena's parents, Moses and Rose Ferber, with young Rena and her Aunt Cyla. The Ferbers led a full, rich life before the war. This photograph was taken during a summer vacation in the countryside.

Rena As a Child in the Snow

Rena's life before the war was full of family fun. In this photo, Rena is ready to play in the snow in Krakow.

Rena’s Mother, Rozia Ferber

Rena had a very close relationship with her mother, Rozia Ferber. Rena’s childhood was filled with warm memories of family meals and her mother cooking in their kitchen. Rena’s mother remained in Poland after the war to remarry and came to the United States ten years after Rena.

Rena's Father, Moses Ferber, and Friends

Rena adored her father, Moses Ferber (center). He was a successful and resourceful businessman who was able to use his connections and money to obtain permits for his family to remain in Krakow in 1940, when many others had to leave. Ultimately, Moses was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where he died. 

Moses Ferber and His Business Partner

Moses Ferber was a successful businessman in Krakow, where he owned a medical supply store. This photo reminds Rena of the physical similarity between her father and Oskar Schindler. Moses had to turn the store over in March of 1941, when the family was forced to move to the ghetto.

Rena's Father, Moses Ferber

Moses Ferber was a successful businessman in Krakow, where he owned a medical supply store. Moses was a friend of Marcel Goldberg, who would become a key player in Oskar Schindler's operation. Goldberg had enormous power in Placzow and was responsible for giving out the jobs and compiling Schindler's list. Goldberg is loathed by many survivors for selling spots on the list to the highest bidder.

Rena's Great Grandmother, Ryfka Locher

Rena's paternal great grandmother's identity card from 1915. Ryfka's occupation is listed as "butcher."

Rena's Grandmother, Hana Windisch, Visiting Family in Berlin, 1928

From left to right, Rena’s aunt and uncle, Ben and Helen Ulreicht; Rena's maternal grandmother, Hana Windisch; and Rena's uncle, Moniek. The baby in the carriage is Ben and Helen's daughter, Rita. Rita was very close in age to Rena. Ben, Helen, Rita and Moniek were eventually sent to the Tarnov ghetto and then to Belzec where they were killed in the gas chambers. Rena's maternal grandparents, Hana and Isak Windisch, were taken from the Krakow Ghetto in August l942. According to Rena, they were also probably murdered in Belzec. The Ulreichts had another child, Jenny, born a few years after this photo was taken. Rena’s father was able to smuggle Jenny into the Kracow ghetto in the hopes of saving someone from that family. When the ghetto was liquidated and all children were ordered to remain, Rena’s mother told Rena that she had to bring Jenny to the orphanage with the other children. Rena obeyed, and to this day wishes she had not been given that job. The children left behind were all killed by order of Amon Goeth.

Explore Photographs

Learn more about Rena Finder’s life through this collection of personal photographs. 

Mark Finder's Sister, Stefanie, and Friends, Before the War

Mark Finder's sister, Stefanie, poses with her friends before the war.

Rena after the War

This is the first photo taken of Rena after the war. She was very proud of her hair, which had begun to grow back.

The Displaced Persons (DP) Camp at Bindermichel

Rena spent three years at the Bindermichel Displaced Person (DP) camp in Linz, Austria. Although Rena and Mark had both been at the Placzow concentration camp, they did not meet until Bindermichel. They were married there in 1946.

Rena Finder, 17 years old

Rena at 17 years old, living at Bindermichel Displaced Persons Camp after the war. She lived there with her mother, Rose Ferber, and was reunited with her friend, Sonia Schreiber Weitz, who Rena had met in the ghetto. Rena and Sonia were in Plaszcow together as well but were separated when Rena was fortunate enough to be on Schindler's list.

Rena's Husband, Mark (Marcel) Finder

Rena's husband, Mark Finder, spoke fluent English. When he was at the Bindermichal Displaced Persons (DP) camp, he was paid by the American military to translate German to English. Payment came in the form of food rations, so he was very popular. Early on at the camp, three beautiful teenage girls came to see the cans of fruit, ham, and eggs that Mark had received as payment. One of them was sixteen year old Rena Ferber. They fell in love and married a year later.

Rena and Mark Finder's Wedding

Rena had met Mark after the war at Bindermichel Displaced Persons (DP) Camp. When they were married, Rena wore a wedding band that belonged to a friend who was a dentist. The friend had been saving it to use for fillings but gave it to Rena and Mark. Rena's mother made wine from raisins for the happy occasion. Sonia Weitz, Rena's dear friend at the camp, wrote Rena a poem in honor of the event.

Poem by Sonia Schrieber Weitz

Poet and Holocaust survivor Sonia Weitz has been Rena Finder’s best friend since they met as children in the Kracow ghetto. This poem, written by Sonia in Polish, was given to Rena in honor of her wedding to Mark Finder, when the three of them were living at the Bindermichel Displaced Person’s (DP) camp. 

Translation: “Wishing you simply a place of your own And two loving people together, A home filled with trust and harmony Where you can be happy and free . . . That’s what Reniusia dreams about, She sometimes softly whispers, too, And soon creates a fantasy Where wishes do come true; A peaceful life . . . a little nest . . . So may God grant you all your dreams, Because you deserve the best.”

Rena and Mark Finder at the DP Camp

This photo was taken after Rena and Mark had gotten married. Their marriage was bittersweet, given the events of the war, but according to Rena, the uncertainty of their life did not bother them. They were happy to have survived and found each other.

Cosmetology Class at Bindermichel Displaced Persons (DP)

Rena spent three years at Bindermichel Displaced Persons (DP) camp in Linz, Austria. She took a cosmetology class, but this did not translate into a career for Rena. Her fist job was as a light bulb tester. She then moved on to work in a shoe factory. Rena and Mark wanted a family, so when Rena became pregnant, her work outside of their home ended. 

Telegram to Norbert Borell

Rena and Mark Finder arrived in the United States six months after their friends, Norbert and Blanca Borrell and Sonia Schrieber Weitz. Norbert’s uncle, Harry White, had arranged for all five of them to come to the states by guaranteeing work for the men.

Explore Photographs

Learn more about Rena Finder’s life through this collection of personal photographs. 

Aboard the General Omar Bundy

Rena and Mark's passage to the United States from Austria took eight days aboard the General Omar Bundy. Men and women were separated on this voyage. The ship arrived the day before Thanksgiving, but the immigrants had never heard of the holiday. Mark remembers that he wanted to go to work right away, but the the factory where he had secured a job was closed for Thanksgiving.

Harry White Sponsors Rena and Mark Finder and Friends

Harry White was the sponsor of Mark and Rena Finder, Blanca and Norbert Borell, and Sonia Schreiber Weitz. The friends all settled in Peabody, Massachusetts, where Sonia still lives. Rena and Mark eventually moved a short distance away to Framingham, Massachusetts, as did Blanca and Norbert. Rena and Sonia are best friends to this day. This photo appeared in the local newspaper. Harry White is standing. Seated, from left to right: Mark, Sonia, Rena, Blanca and Norbert. 

Rena and Mark Finder and Friends Arrive in Peabody, Massachusetts

RenNorbert Borell, Rena and Mark Finder, Sonia Weitz, and Blanca Borell posing for a photo soon after their arrival in the United States. The photo appeared in the local newspaper.

Rena and Mark Finder Arrive in Peabody, Massachusetts

Rena and Mark Finder boarded the General Omar Bundy in Bremerhaven bound for the United States on November 8, 1948. The trip took eight days and almost all of the 800 passengers became sick. Rena and Mark's final destination was Peabody, Massachusetts. Their photo was in the local newspaper.

Rena's Grandfather, Aryeh Ferber

Rena's family was successful and well connected in Krakow. Her grandparents Aryeh and Sara Ferber had eight sons and a daughter. Aryeh worked for Oskar Schindler in the factory at Brinnlitz. He survived along with his granddaughter Rena and daughter-in-law Rose Ferber, and another grandson, Roman. After the war, Aryeh went to America, where he passed away in 1956. This photograph, taken in the United States in 1956, shows Aryeh with some family members. From left to right: Aunt Cyla (Aryeh’s daughter) holding great-granddaughter Debbie Finder, Aryeh Ferber, and Anita and Marilyn Finder behind him. This is the last photo Rena has of her grandfather. He died one month later, in August 1956.

Rena's Naturalization Certificate

Rena's Naturalization Certificate, 1955

The Finder Family

Standing: Sol Sandperl, married to Rena's daughter Marilyn; Marilyn; Marilyn's son Zack Bowers; Rena's daughter Debbi and her sons David and Jason Katz; Arnold Katz, married to Rena's daughter Debbi; Adam Bowers; Terri and Bert Rappaport. Bert was previously married to Rena's daughter Anita, who died of cancer in 1990 at the age of 39. Bert and Anita's daughter, Amy, is seated next to her grandfather and grandmother, Mark and Rena. Her youngest grandchild, Joe Sandperl, is seated next to Rena.

The Finder Girls

Debbi, Anita, and Marilyn Finder. Anita died of cancer in 1990.

Anita Finder Rappaport

Anita Finder Rappaport, holding her daughter Amy. Anita died of cancer in 1990 at the age of 39. Her daughter Amy was six when she died. Rena and Mark felt that in spite of living through the Holocaust, Anita's death was the greatest tragedy of their lives.

A 1994 Interview with Rena from Worcester Magazine

After the movie Schindler's List was released, Worcester Magazine did an extensive interview with Rena.

Explore Photographs

Learn more about Rena Finder’s life through this collection of personal photographs. 

Boston Globe Photo Shoot

When the movie Schindler's List was released, Rena became a local celebrity, but watching the movie was painful for her. It made her feel as though she were transported back to that dark time in her life. According to Rena, the movie was remarkably accurate, except that the character of Amon Goeth did not go far enough: "no one could portray the evil of this man." In this photo, Rena holds the collage she made of the past that she lost, the family members who perished, combined with the life that she and Mark have built together. Her three daughters and their children are testimony to the will of the human spirit to survive and thrive.

Rena Outside Her Childhood Apartment in Krakow, Poland

In 1994 Rena went back to Poland. In this photo, she is shown in front of her childhood apartment, Smocza 8 Apartment 12, Krakow.

At the Grave of Oskar Schindler

Rena and Mark with grandchildren Jason and Amy in 1997, at the grave of Oskar Schindler. Rena felt that Oskar Shindler was like her "father protector." He treated all of them with such humanity.

Rena Finder, Blanca Borell, and Sonia Weitz, 2008

The three girlhood friends from Krakow, Rena, Blanca, and Sonia, celebrated Sonia's 80th birthday in 2008.

Rena and Mark Finder

The Finders are dedicated to their family and Rena is dedicated to telling her story and educating young people on the history of the Holocaust. She is commited to helping students make connections from this history to their own lives and the world today. Rena began speaking in 1981 for Facing History and Ourselves. She is a valued and respected member of Facing History's board of advisors. We are honored to have Rena as a colleague and a friend.

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.  
— Rena Finder

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The resources I’m getting from my colleagues through Facing History have been just invaluable.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif