My First Day / July 1, 2020
Rose Schindler is a holocaust survivor, who managed to make it out of the notorious nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War II.
About the show:
My First Day is a KPBS Explore series that explores these important days through people who came to San Diego from elsewhere, and now call it home.
About the producer:
Andrew Bracken is a documentary mediamaker working with audio, video, and interactive media. He is the creator, producer, and host of the KPBS podcast My First Day.
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Rose Schindler (00:03):
This chain I have on my neck was from my father's pocket. Watch I wear this every day. The first thing I get up out of bed, this goes on my neck. This way, I feel he is with me.
Andrew Bracken (00:15):
Welcome to my first day telling stories of those. Who've come to San Diego from elsewhere and now call it home. My name is Andrew Bracken.
Rose Schindler (00:24):
My first day was 1956, middle of April. That's when I came to San Diego
Andrew Bracken (00:33):
Schindler's first day in San Diego was not as extraordinary or unique is others, but her journey to it certainly was Rose is a Holocaust survivor who managed to make it out of the infamous Nazi death camp, Auchwitz Berkineau during world war II. So episode contains subject matter. That may be upsetting to some listeners. We'll be right back with Rose Schindler's incredible journey.
Andrew Bracken (01:00):
Rose Schindler came to San Diego after getting a phone call from her husband, max. They were settled by this time in New York city, but a trip West to California brought new opportunity.
Rose Schindler (01:22):
So he came for 1955 Christmas for three days or four days or whatever. He never went back to New York. He calls me two days later and he says, Rose, we're moving to California to San Diego flowing. And max met me at the airport. And so of course he already had a room where that room was, but he rented a room. Okay. But within a couple of days found a, rented a house in North park on Ohio street. It was exciting guys. So because a lot of our survivors, we all start out in New York. Most of us, I should say. And little by little, we were all spreading out all over the country. It was great, great stuff that was happening everyday to us. When we first came here.
Andrew Bracken (02:19):
Rose Schindler grew up in a large family in a small village in Eastern Europe. After the second world war broke out, what was Czechoslovakia became hungry, an ally of Nazi Germany. She is also Jewish.
Rose Schindler (02:33):
It was an amazing life over there before the war. Really. It was an amazing life under the Czech government. The Jewish people had the same rights like everybody else. Okay. And most of the Jewish people were business people. And a lot of the non Jewish people were farmers. And a lot of them worked for the Jewish people and made a living the world doesn't realize that. Okay. And we were friends. We went to together. We played together till everything went to hell. If he needed to know any news, you know how they used to announce it. There was a man with a drum. He would come in the middle of the town, middle of a really, I should say, use a drum and make announcements. Then use those dumps. We could all hear it. They were so strong. And so they were telling us the news. And actually the only time I ever remember hearing that is when they announced that all the Jewish people are going to need to pack up. We are going to be sent away. Everybody's entitled to bring them on bag. And they also said, if anybody has any valuables to bring with them with us and they're going to keep it for us. And when we come back, they're going to give it back to us. You know what BS means? Right?
Rose Schindler (03:50):
We needed a bread. So my mother said, go to the bakery and buy a bread. So this was a Sunday morning, but all this broke out. Of course the SS soldiers were there a couple of weeks already. So maybe my parents knew what was going on. But me as a child, I didn't know. I went home. I brought home the bread, my mother, my mother's telling me what's going on. And she said to all of us kids, uh, we may be shipped away today or tomorrow. We didn't know exactly which hour we have to report to the school, because that was the only two story building we had. So my father put a few pieces of jewelry together in a little shoe punish box. My two sisters and me, I had two older sisters and an older brother. I had three younger sisters and a younger brother.
Rose Schindler (04:37):
So my father came to me and my two older sisters, when he got us together, he said, I want you to tell, I want to tell you something. He says, come with me. I put a few pieces of jewelry together, and this little shoe punished box, we're going to hide it between the ceiling and the wall. And I want you to know where it is. So when you come back after the war, you're not too far to find it. So we were taken from my village to the next city, which is 20 kilometers away. It took about 10 hours to get there. Let me tell you, I could have walked at faster oxen driven. They were squeezing probably, I don't know, 30, 40 in each oxygen driven thing, complete families from infants to grandparents. Okay. Then use freight trains to ship us. They squeezed in 70, 80 people in every freight train.
Rose Schindler (05:23):
You couldn't move around. You know, I should also tell you when we came into Auschwitz, okay. When became entitled, attain stopped, the man came on the law, on the tank to help out the luggage. Right? Okay. And he came to me and he asked me how old I was. I told him I was 14. He says, tell him you're 18. And I had no idea what he was talking about. So, and then he's looking around in the train as we are getting up there and looking around to see if he could see a lot of younger kids that could lie about their age, because they brought us here for one purpose, either the gas chamber or slave. Anyway. So they, three SS soldiers has began on the train, uh, is separating people, the men to one line, the women and children to another line and the women to another line. So it comes to me. He says to me, how old are you? I said, I'm 18. And my older sister, Helen. Okay. She was the oldest. She said, she didn't know that I was told to lie about my age. Cause I never told her. She says, Oh no, she's only 14. I said, Oh no, I am 18. So the SS, let me go with my two older sisters. Otherwise I would have gone with my mother and three sisters and brothers straight into the gas chamber. I never saw them again.
Rose Schindler (07:03):
My two sisters and I were selected to stay. And my father and my brother who was like seven, 17 or 18. So here we are standing in line waiting for further orders. Finally, they marched us into the bathroom. Okay. Big room, like probably like from here to the kitchen wide open. And they told us to take our clothes off and put it in a big pile. Then they shaved all our hair had everywhere else too. And then they told us to pick up a dress from another pile, which was nothing but rags, just a dress and clogs, no underwear, no socks, no shoes, no nothing. And the SS in the corner of the building was taking pictures of us. And after awhile, we, they sent us outside to stay five, always five in a row. So we were standing in line and then there was a man with a dog and a hook and a man had a gun and a dog with him.
Rose Schindler (07:57):
And there's a huge fire behind the building. One that we just walked out of. And my sister Judy said to this guy, what said fire and noise behind the building because you can hear children crying, children, calling names and stuff like that. Weird noises. So he said they were burning hair. So my sister said, well, burning hair. Wouldn't make this kind of nice. Then he said, there are burning cripples. She did not ask any more questions. The next day, by me ended up finding it. After we got into the living quarters, into the barracks, we found out what they did. They didn't even give the people in our guests to kill them all the way they burned them half alive. And you believe that. So we knew what happened to my mother and sister and him. But on this, you had spent me found out a lot of things. What was going on over there? Nobody can imagine what we been through and the world was silent. Nobody tried to help us certain things like that. You never forget. You can ask me what I had for dinner yesterday. I will know, but this is in my head. Like it's a permanent thing in there.
Rose Schindler (09:28):
So we were in Auschwitz Birkenau for months. And of course I was 14 years old. And after we were in this camp there in Auschwitz camp, see, I wasn't better. 26. They had a thousand women in every barracks, three rows of bunks. We ended up on the top cup, her bunk bed, no blankets, nothing, no mattresses, just wood, but we had 10, 12 women and every thing on it. So we kept each other's womb. And you know, we had 12 foot electric fences separating us 12 foot electric fences. You go out of the barracks and you see all kinds of dead bodies around the fences. The way people committed suicide on the electric fences. If they knew it was electric because they couldn't handle it anymore. And a lot of them didn't know it was electric. And I would say, maybe start talking to somebody and the other camp and automatically you just touch it.
Rose Schindler (10:23):
You know? And electric offense. It was every day. Those big, huge wheelbarrows would come to our camp, picking up the dead bodies. We get up in the morning and they give us black coffee for breakfast and apart, maybe a six core part. You take a up, we had no canteens, nothing, no spoons, no forks, nothing. Uh, the coffee tasted like blitz black suit. I took one sip and I thought I was going to throw up. So I'm going outside. I told my sisters, I want to go outside. I want to know where we are. Okay. So I'm going outside. And I see all these people walking like zombies. They don't know if they're coming or going that people on the walking areas that prep people on the, some even holding on, on the electric. Because once you grab it, sometime it keeps you there. You know what I mean?
Rose Schindler (11:15):
It's almost unexplainable how horrible that place looked and I'm walking and somebody's calling my name. It was my father. My father had a beard, always wore a suit, a hat. Well-dressed this man is in a striped uniform. Shaven, no glasses, no beer, no nothing calling my name. He said noisy, noisy. That was my Jewish name. Don't you recognize me? I'm your father. We hugged. And we kissed the first thing he said, where's your mother. I said, I really don't know. Cause I really didn't know that morning. I found out later the day, what was going on. I said, I'm here with my two sisters, Helen and Judy. And my father said, he's got my brother with him. They were already selected to go to a factory to work. And they were there temporarily. Okay. Because this was an old woman scam. And so, and he says to me, whatever you do stay together because you have a much better chance of surviving. And then you said, stay alive. So you can tell the world what they're doing to us. And I had no idea what he was talking about really. And so, and then we made up to meet the next morning again. And my father brought my brother with him and I brought my two sisters and we had the same discussion all over again. We said goodbye. And we made up to meet again the next day. But they left, never saw my father and brother again.
Rose Schindler (12:43):
He was the most wonderful man every day. You know, he had the sharper middle of the town, the tailor shop. Every time when he would come home at night, he would always have chocolate bars in his pocket. Put us kids we'll be right back. Like two, three weeks later when they came to take 3000 women too frightened to go to factory. I said to my sisters, we need to get out of this place. We were hoping the world would end, but it wasn't ending. So I told my sisters, you go out front and get selected and keep a place in line for me. And I was still myself into that place. Okay. We had a front door in the front and built in the back of the batter, cocaine in the front. They were as selecting women. The back, somebody was guarding the door. One of the leaders in the battery.
Rose Schindler (14:05):
So then after standing, maybe three, four minutes, I see one of the leaders going out to the back and I said, my God, how am I going to get out with this leader? She doesn't know me, but I have to do something. So I ran quickly to the back. And so she says to me, what are you going? You're supposed to go through the front to get selected, to go to work. I said, my mother just walked out. I want to go with her. She let me out. She wasn't my mother. She let me out. My sisters held a place in line for me. This is how I got out of Auschwitz, Birkenau. Okay. By stealing myself into the transport, of course they shaved us and gave us some clothes. And then when we were done our dress, all our dresses had numbers. Okay. Identification numbers.
Rose Schindler (14:50):
You see, I haven't here. So, but they didn't have to us in our shoe, the tattoo doesn't he came to the campaign and I'm frightened pal. Okay. Once you get a number that means you're pretty secure our building. We had a two story building and we were selling, we were surrounded by electric fences. When you believe that not that anybody would run away coming from our shoes. We were blessed to be in a garden, a nice place like this, a good place where they give you three meals a day, take a shower once a week. You know, it's unbelievable. The family. Yes. And the fact that he was in walking distance. Okay. So, and the SS would come and walk cause at every morning. So, so we were working, we all had different jobs. My two sisters and I, I was working on gas masks. I had to sit in a high chair and pick up a gas mask, look inside it and put it down for 12 hours every day. And after doing that for 10 days or so, I said to the woman that was giving out the lunch, I said, you know, this is hard work. I should get an extra meal a day. She says, sure, you could have an extra meal. This is how I survived by finding extra food. And Auschwitz do finding a piece of bread on the ground.
Rose Schindler (16:19):
When we came back, I don't think they were more than 18 or 20 kids that came back after the war to my hometown and be there 600 Jewish people in our town. Okay. I would say 80% of our Jewish people from our town were killed
Andrew Bracken (16:37):
Once the war ended. And the enormous scale of their family's loss became evident Rose and her two surviving sisters spread out one to Prague. Another back to their hometown, a program for Holocaust survivor children brought her to the United Kingdom where she would meet another young survivor named Max.
Rose Schindler (16:55):
And they were maybe 30, 35 boys, hardly any girls. Okay. But we were 12 of us left that were sent over there. Okay. And the next day they introduced us. Okay. And I saw this good looking young man. And I said, that's for me,
Andrew Bracken (17:16):
Max and Rose Schindler, married and first settled in New York city before starting their life in San Diego in the 1950s.
Rose Schindler (17:25):
But this is like a different world, California, San Diego, none of this was around. Okay. And on test mission Valley was a dairy. We used to go walk around there and see all the cows and stuff. Even in allied guy. When we lived in LA guns, we used to pick up our milk and the dairy, which was on, on friars road and be joined the Jewish community center. That was our family. Join the Jewish community center on 54th street and university Avenue. That's what it was years ago. I fell in love with San Diego. Okay. Cause you know, living in New York and Brooklyn Bensonhurst, you know, he had, it was all wide open and all these trees and everything, you know, in the parks, it's a big change compared to a big city. And he actually fell in love with the city and we thought there's no other city like San Diego. And everybody was so welcoming us. I mean, I would go out on the street to walk with my daughter. I had my daughter, she was a year and a half old. We would, all, everybody would stop us and start talking very friendly. You didn't have that in New York. It's like the middle of a big family here. You know what I mean? Strangers complete strangers on the street walk, Hey, hi. Oh, you have a beautiful child. You know, and stuff like that.
Andrew Bracken (18:48):
Eventually, Max, Rose, and their 4 children, settled into a then new neighborhood in San Diego called Del Cerro.
Rose Schindler (19:00):
Every house had three, four kids in this neighborhood and this street, it was really nice, safe for the children to play out here. They would play ball in the street every day. Okay. So unfortunately out of nine homes, only three of us are left in this homes. All seniors like me, the other side moved away. So, so we've lived here for many years, over 50 years.
Andrew Bracken (19:26):
So it's been more than 75 years ago. Now there's another day that stands out to Rose the day of her liberation.
Rose Schindler (19:34):
So finally there must've been May sixth or seventh. So I'm really not sure what day it was. Okay. 1945. We are waiting to be picked up and nobody's coming to pick us up. So, and we're not supposed to leave the building. Okay. That's another thing nobody's coming to pick us up. And I said to my mom, my sisters and the women, I said, I'm going outside. I'm probably the youngest over there. I want to see what's going on. They said, you can't go out. You're not supposed to go out. I said, I'm going out. Okay. I go out and the gate is wide open. All the assets ran away. So of course here I am. You know, my head was, I had a little hair already. Okay. So, but I was not wearing a uniform. Me, they're just regular clothes. And uh, I'm I go outside the fence, I see planes going over us and I hear shooting guns coming.
Rose Schindler (20:24):
We had big fields of corn. They were growing behind the building. I hear the guns coming from that area. And I hear the Russian language, seeing the planes and everything, hearing the planes going over. I knew this is the end of the war. We are finally liberated. So I, so I figured if I go in front of the S the Russians, because I had regular clothes. Okay. And already here in my head, they might think I'm a German. They would probably shoot me. So what I did, I found a, um, a stick. I told a piece of my dress up and I, and I found a stick and I put that dress on that steak. I don't know how I got it on there. It must've made a little hole or something and went like this in front of the Russians, into the fields where they were coming in. There actually has been very good to us. If we didn't have anything, they would take us to town and get whatever we need. Because all the German people in that town frightened, they genuine because they knew if the Russians are coming, there's going to be a lot of shooting
Andrew Bracken (21:24):
One particular. Soviet soldier stands out in Rose's memory from that day.
Rose Schindler (21:28):
So the Russian comes and he says, do you want to go to town? I said, we could use an extra outfit. Cause all we have is one outfit. Okay. So he took, he came in, he took me to town and, but you know, my sister says, you better take some other girl. I don't think you should go along my two sisters down there. I said, okay. So I found one of my friends who was there. So he comes through and picks us up and we're going to town. And I tell you, he was holding my hand. And he was a guy like six feet, tall, well dressing, nice uniform. And my, myself and my friend,
Rose Schindler (22:07):
I was reborn that day. Something that went through my body. I don't know what it was, but it was just amazing to be free after what we've done.
Andrew Bracken (22:26):
Rose and her late husband max wrote a book about their story called two who survived, staying true to her. Father's last words to her. She's tirelessly visited schools to share experiences of the Holocaust so that the world may not forget. My first day is produced by me, Andrew Brack and along with help from Felicity is you can find firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Email was my first day stories or Instagram has had my first day stories music by Sean Francis, Conway, theme music by Chris Curtis KPBS, Emily Jen Kowalski's technical director can see Moreland's podcast coordinator. Lisa Jane Morissette is operations manager and John Decker is director of programming. This programming is made possible in part by the KPBS content fund. Thanks so much for listening. See you soon.
My First Day
First days can be exhilarating, terrifying — or a mix of both. They mark the beginning of life’s chapters and define who we ultimately become. My First Day is a KPBS Explore series that explores these important days through people who came to San Diego from elsewhere, and now call it home. Produced and hosted by Andrew Bracken.