The Story of Holocaust Survivor, Max Schindler
“In the darkest of times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.” – General Iroh
In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I wanted to take a minute and share the story of Max Schindler, a holocaust survivor who recently passed away. Max’s story was brought to me by way of my boss Waseema Ali, who met Max’s son while at a conference in San Diego. Waseema, having been taught by the children of many Holocaust survivors growing up in Skokie, Illinois, shared this story with me.
There are many inspiring stories of Holocaust survivors, and the story of Max Schindler is one of those many. Max was born on June 18, 1929 in Cottbus, Germany. His parents, Benjamin and Rachela Schindler, were of Polish decent and were legally living in Germany when, at only nine years old, he arrested from school and taken to jail by the Nazi Brown Shirts to await his parents’ arrival. From jail the family was put on trains and extradited to Poland. In Poland, they faced violent anti-Semitism that was but a taste of what was to come. In April of 1942, Max and his family were forced into Commando Flossenburg, a forced labor group, and they built roads and bridges in Poland for the German company, Baumer & Loesch. As if this wasn’t enough, the family was then split apart and Max’s mother and sister were relocated to the Stutthof concentration camp, where they eventually were murdered. Max survived in total six camps including: Mielec (Heinkel Aircraft Factory); Wieliczka (Salt Mines, aircraft fabrication); Plaszow (Nazi concentration camp); Schachwitz (Dresden tank factory) and Theresienstadt (Nazi concentration camp) , where he was moved after the entire city of Dresden was bombed by Allied Forces in February 1945.
Through more than three years, Max focused on surviving with the hope that he would one day be free. His hope and perseverance paid off, and he and his brother were liberated and interned at Theresienstadt in May, 1945, but liberation came at a price. During the march to Thersienstadt, less than 100 of the original 300 people who were liberated actually made it there alive. Also, Max, his father, and Alfred, his brother, suffered from typhus, hence why they were confined at Thersienstadt, and while Max and Alfred survived the few months at Theresienstadt, their father died within days of liberation along with the majority of others who were liberated.
Having just lost their father, Max and Alfred then learned of the murders of their mother and sister, and so they left Continental Europe for rehabilitation in the United Kingdom in August, 1945. They, and 730 other young concentration camp survivors, would have their story documented by Sir Martin Gilbert, the famous Churchill historian, in his book, “The Boys.” Max and Alfred attended hostels and schools in Windemere, Alton and Bedford, England before moving to London in 1948 to move on with their lives and find work.
Things were finally looking up when Max met Rose, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, in 1947. They were married in 1950 at the West London Synagogue. Max and Rose left England for New York in 1951 and settled in San Diego in 1956.
Max never forgot his past, but he did not let his experience poison his view of the world and everyone in it. He continued to hold on to hope in the darkest times and always believed that better days were to come. He believed that the world could heal and learn and become beautiful again.
Max’s story is that of triumph and tribulation. Despite his harsh beginnings, he gave back to the world that didn’t always welcome him. What did Max’s story remind me of? That hate and bigotry fueled the ugly reality of the mass murders that took place in Europe starting in 1942- and that I must remain vigilant and outspoken to keep it from ever happening again. To anyone.
About the Blogger:
A native of Terre Haute, Indiana, Elizabeth McGlone is the Blog Coordinator at the Desmond Tutu Center for Peace, Reconciliation and Global Justice. Elizabeth is a senior at Butler University and is studying Strategic Communications and Psychology. Elizabeth is passionate about social justice and lives by Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”