My Sur­vival: A Girl on Schindler’s List

Rina Find­er, with Joshua M. Greene

  • Review
By – February 3, 2020

The night­mar­ish world which Rina Find­er describes with unflinch­ing detail in her mem­oir is a dif­fi­cult one for chil­dren to under­stand. The author, a sur­vivor of Auschwitz who found pro­tect­ed sta­tus on Oskar Schindler’s famous list, uses sim­ple and direct lan­guage to nar­rate her expe­ri­ence and raise ques­tions for young read­ers about the best and worst of human nature. My Sur­vival stands out among books in this genre through its acces­si­bil­i­ty as well as its story’s pow­er­ful con­sis­ten­cy. Find­er and Joshua M. Greene bal­ance each ele­ment of tragedy and hero­ism, avoid­ing neat para­bles about hope, but still find­ing it with­in a ter­ri­fy­ing account of Jew­ish suf­fer­ing and bystanders’ col­lu­sion with the per­pe­tra­tors. Their por­trait of Oskar Schindler, an imper­fect human being who finds a moral core with­in him­self, chal­lenges assump­tions about why the world stood by as Europe’s Jews were destroyed.

One of the cen­tral mes­sages of the book is the per­sis­tent anti­semitism of Finder’s Pol­ish neigh­bors in Krakow, which left Jews con­stant­ly vul­ner­a­ble. At var­i­ous points in her mem­oir, Find­er rais­es, but does not attempt to answer, the caus­es of this painful real­i­ty. As she and her fam­i­ly are seized from their homes and sent to the ghet­to, they hear the enthu­si­as­tic cries of their neigh­bors shout­ing, Good rid­dance! Go, Jews! Don’t ever come back.” The poignance of eleven-year-old Finder’s sor­row is unmedi­at­ed by any plau­si­ble expla­na­tion: I couldn’t under­stand why they hat­ed us so much.” Even return­ing as a sur­vivor after the war, noth­ing has changed; Jews are still unwelcome.

Find­er los­es her father, oth­er rel­a­tives and friends, and although her moth­er remains, her role as a pro­tec­tive par­ent is cru­el­ly dis­tort­ed by the Nazis. Ear­ly in the book, Find­er remem­bers a sense of safe­ty, as her moth­er could watch her play­ing in kinder­garten from the bal­cony of their apart­ment build­ing. Lat­er, moth­er and daugh­ter find pro­tec­tion with indus­tri­al­ist Schindler but are briefly interned in Auschwitz before he, again, res­cues them. Schindler becomes the benev­o­lent par­ent after Finder’s real fam­i­ly is reduced to help­less vic­tim­hood. She is care­ful to por­tray him as a man who had ini­tial­ly been inter­est­ed in only pro­mot­ing his finan­cial inter­ests, but ulti­mate­ly found the courage, at great per­son­al risk, to bribe and lie to the Nazis in order to main­tain a safe envi­ron­ment for his Jew­ish labor­ers. Find­er also empha­sizes the equal brav­ery of Schindler’s wife, Emi­lie, who employed all her skills to care for their work­ers and oth­er Jews des­per­ate for shelter.

Find­er and Greene use unadorned lan­guage and care­ful­ly inter­wo­ven back­ground mate­r­i­al to trans­late an expe­ri­ence which, Find­er admits, can only be approx­i­mat­ed in words. The facts alone replace metaphors, as in one grotesque inci­dent when pris­on­ers arriv­ing at Auschwitz, dying of thirst, try to catch snowflakes on their tongues only to learn that they are human ash­es. She offers this moment of hor­ror with­out elab­o­ra­tion because none is need­ed. Ear­ly on in the book, she states that her mem­o­ries are only as accu­rate as any­one else’s can be, but she promis­es that her sto­ry pre­serves essen­tial truths. Lat­er, she sug­gests that read­ers con­sid­er the dif­fer­ent means by which his­to­ry may be record­ed and inter­pret­ed. Through acknowl­edg­ing the lim­its of mem­o­ry and the real­i­ty of Holo­caust denial, Find­er entrusts read­ers to engage with her past and to look for ways in which they can stand up to hatred and seek pos­si­bil­i­ties to con­tin­ue Schindler’s lega­cy of oppo­si­tion to evil.

My Sur­vival: A Girl on Schindler’s List is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed, although some anec­dotes in the text may not be appro­pri­ate for every child. The book includes a sec­tion with pho­tographs found by the author after the war.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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