Benjamin Middle School students heard the sobering testimony of Holocaust Survivor Rena Finder, one of the youngest members of Schindler’s List. Finder spoke to the student body virtually the morning of March 11 as part of Student Awareness Day.
The annual event provides middle school students a morning of reflection and workshops. Middle School social studies teacher Anne Franzen, who organized the morning’s activities, said the impact of primary sources, including survivor testimony, has a powerful effect on students about the importance of words and messages while increasing their empathy and compassion for others.
Finder, who was born in Krakow, Poland, has devoted her life to sharing her testimony in the hope of keeping the lessons of the Holocaust alive.
Finder and her mother worked for Oskar Schindler at his factory for six months. When Finder was just 13, Schindler was instructed to shut down the factory and send all the women working there to Auschwitz. Aware that this would mean imminent death for his workers, Schindler negotiated with the SS and was instead allowed to relocate his factory to Czechoslovakia.
Finder and her mother’s name appeared on Schindler’s List - a list of the names of workers who should be sent to the new factory instead of on the trains to Auschwitz.
“Oskar Schindler is the reason that I am alive and talking to you today,” Finder told the middle school students. “Sometimes I wonder if Schindler will be remembered forever. He should be. He had the courage to take care of 1,200 Jewish people,” she said.
Finder shared her testimony with the students, and encouraged them to treat each other with kindness and respect. She urged them to find the courage to be upstanders instead of bystanders in the face of bullying or hate of any kind.
“How could the world standby and do nothing,” she asked of those who did not intervene during the Holocaust. “It’s not true that people didn’t know. Yes, you did know.”
Finder said she would like young children to realize that the future belongs to them.
“It’s a very important time in the life of this world,” she said. “You can create a much better world. There should be no hate. Hate kills everyone.”
Student Awareness Day is one element of a broader middle school curriculum that teaches the importance of kindness, respect, and empathy and rejects hatred and bullying of any kind. The program includes The Anti-Defamation League’s “No Place For Hate” training, Kindness Week, and weekly advisory groups that focus on character education.