“You cannot explain how horrible it was. Really unbelievable. You can call it hell. I think it was worse than hell.” – Rose Schindler.
At 89 years old Rose Schindler is a petite woman with an incredibly strong spirit. She has re-lived the awful memories of being a teenage prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau countless times.
“It's not getting harder but it's getting more emotional. I somehow can't stop having tears in my eyes when I talk about the Holocaust," Schindler said.
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She can recall the horrific childhood experiences in the Nazi death camp in incredible detail.
“I can place myself in Auschwitz right now and tell you exactly what it looks like, how many barracks there are and how many dead people. There were people walking around like zombies. They don't know if they're coming or going," she said.
Rose tells her story weekly to school groups, businesses, community organizations and others. The reason she accepts nearly every invitation to share her story is because of a promise she made to her father when they were prisoners in Auschwitz.
“He said whatever you do, stay together because you have a much better chance of surviving. And then he said stay alive so you can tell the world what they're doing to us," Schindler said.
Rose grew up in Czechoslovakian village, one of eight children in a devout Orthodox Jewish family. Her father was a tailor, and their family lived in a modest three-bedroom house on lots of land and grew their own food. She remembers when she and her family began being persecuted for their faith, and when she and other Jewish children in her village were no longer allowed to go to school.
“All of a sudden all of our non-Jewish friends that we went to school with started calling us ‘dirty Jew,’ throwing rocks at us. Things were pretty bad,” she explained.
Rose’s father hid his pocket watch in a can of shoe polish before they were driven away from their home. Rose still wears the pocket watch chain around her neck every day as a reminder of the promise of survival.
“He's with me all the time,” she said. “I think that's how I keep alive.”
There are other reminders of her past that never go away like the tattoo on the inside of her left forearm that reads “A-2-5-8-9-3."
She shares that permanent mark when she speaks. Her words bring groups young and old to tears as she continues to inspire students, teachers and her family with her story of strength and perseverance.
Schindler’s daughter, Roxanne Schindler Katz, called her an inspiration.
"She's making a huge difference in the world and she touches so many hearts and hopefully every heart that she touches, every child that learns her story, every adult that hears her story will take it to their heart. And hopefully we can reduce the hate in this world one person at a time," Katz said.
Schindler remembers the day she and her family were told to pack up and leave their home. She never could have imagined the atrocities ahead. Watch as Schindler described the potentially life-saving advice she was given by a soldier when she arrived at the infamous Nazi extermination camp.
The Schindler family of 10 was packed inside a windowless train car and shipped like cargo to Auschwitz where the family was then separated. Schindler believes her mother and three younger siblings were murdered in the gas chamber almost immediately after they arrived at the concentration camp. She can still recall the screams they heard coming from the incinerators.
“They didn't even give the people enough gas to kill them all the way. They burned them like half of it were still alive,” Schindler said. Watch as Schindler describes the moment her father spotted her inside Auschwitz after the family had been separated.
Schindler and her two older sisters spent months in the notorious death camp before they were finally selected for slave labor at a factory. Schindler was at the factory when she and others were liberated.
“I felt like I was a reborn person,” she said.
Schindler described in detail the feeling that came over her when Russian soldiers emerged from a corn field and drove the Nazis away from the factory.
Schindler met her husband, Max, also a Holocaust survivor, at a rehabilitation camp for minors in England after the war. The couple married and immigrated to America and eventually built a life in San Diego.
“So we have four kids. We have nine grandkids and one great grandchild,” she said.
Schindler’s husband passed away two years ago, but Schindler said she will keep telling their story as long as she's able. And a soon-to-be released book featuring Schindler titled "Two Who Survived" will tell her and her late-husband's story of survival long after she’s gone.
Though it's been more than 70 years since the horrors of the holocaust and the murder of seven of her family members, including Rose's father, his last words to her still drive her to share her family's painful story. Every time there is an attack against faith and humanity, such as a the recent shooting at Chabad of Poway, Schindler’s resolve is strengthened.
“I know I promised my father that I'll stay around to tell the world what is going on. And I just did not give up,” she said. “You have to have hope to survive the conditions we were in. You really have to believe in God and have hope."
Watch as Schindler shares some of the life lessons she’s learned and her thoughts on why not all survivors are able to share the trauma of the Holocaust.