20.12.2022 | Redaktor

Schindler family

This article is mainly based on the book “Two who survived. Rose and Max Schindler’s story” by M.Lee Connolly, which is dedicated to the story of Holocaust survivors Max Schindler and his wife Rose Schwartz. Since Max’s parents, Benjamin Schindler and Rachel Schweid, came from Brzesko and Wytrzyszczka (a village in Brzesko county), I would like to share this story.

“Two who survived. Rose and Max Schindler story, written by M. Lee Connolly”, MRS publishing, 2020

Simon Leib Schindler (1851-1942), “teacher of the 10 commandments” as his profession was described in his children’s birth certificates, and Curtel Rachel Seelengut (1855-1923) got married in Brzesko in 1874. Over the next 25 years, 15 children were born to them, 11 of whom lived to adulthood. In the mid-1920s their youngest son Benjamin (born in 1899) married Rachela Schweid, who came from Wytrzyszczka. I couldn’t find the marriage certificate of this couple, but there have survived their wedding photo made in Brzesko. You can see young and beautiful couple, full of hope for the future.

Wedding photo of Benjamin Schindler and Rachel Schweid. Photo from the videotestimony of Max Schindler recorded by USC Shoah Foundation.

The groom’s mother had died several years prior to their wedding, and his father-melamed (a cheder teacher) didn’t earn much and lived in the old house that you can see in the photo. Rachel Schweid’s parents owned a large farm in Wytryszczka and were the parents of six children; they also ran an inn.

The young couple decided to emigrate to Germany, settling in the city of Cottbus, where Benjamin ran a wine store. Three children were born to them: Alfred (1928), Max (1929) and Cecilia (1930). They led a prosperous life, the children spoke German and Yiddish, and every summer the whole family came to Poland, to Brzesko and Wytrzyszczka, for a few weeks.

This is how Max Schindler describes those vacations in Poland: “I love my grandfather. He lives alone now, because my grandmother died. His long gray beard tickles me, he knows this and rubs it extra on my neck just to make me laugh. Grandpa is very religious and tells amazing stories to help us understand our Jewish faith. Sometimes we can get him to tell us a funny story about Dad when he was little…

Simon Leib Schindler, photo from Yad Vashem database. He was shot next to his house in September 1942, when Germans were liquidating Brzesko ghetto. Simon Leib was 91 then.

Because Grandpa’s old house in sinking, the windows are low enough that they are near the ground. We enjoy climbing into the house through one window and running through the house to climb outside again through another window. Grandpa doesn’t mind us running through his house.

The house of melamed Simon Leib Schindler, Brzesko, 1929. Simon Leib is standing in front of the house. That’s where Max Schindler came every summer together with his parents and siblings.
The Schindler family in Brzesko, 1920ies. Simon Leib Schindler is sitting in the center. Photo from “Two who survived. Rose and Max Schindler story, written by M. Lee Connolly”, MRS publishing, 2020, p, 159

Our cousins often come and we play together. Grandpa’s house is too small for us, but we don’t mind. We love spending time there. We usually stay at grandpa’s house for a week or so, and then travel on to grandma Amalia Schweid’s farm. Grandpa Joseph Schweid passed away, so grandma Amalia has a big farm to rum all by herself. She works hard every day and seems happy, because she hums little songs while she is working.

Her farm is in the mountains and has a river that runs through it. We like to swim and fish in the river. It is cold and clean and has plenty of fish. There are endless trees to climb and play on. We have a lot of freedom in Poland at our grandparents’ houses…”

However, in 1938 the Schindlers were deported from Germany. In November they reach Brzesko, but after 2 weeks they decide to go to Wytryszczka hoping that it will be easier to survive in the small village, especially since Amalia Schweid has a large house, animals and some land.

Benjamin Schindler, 1920ies; photo from the videotestimony of Max Schindler recorded by USC Shoah Foundation
Rachel Schweid, 1920ies; photo from the videotestimony of Max Schindler recorded by USC Shoah Foundation

The children start school, but since they do not speak Polish, it is a difficult experience for them. After some time, the families of all Amalia’s children gather at her house. In March 1942, Max celebrates his Bar Mitzvah, and less than three weeks later all Jews are ordered to move to the Zakliczyn ghetto. Amalia Schweid and the families of her four children are deported to the ghetto; Benjamin Schindler and his wife and children manage instead to get to the Benchashinner labour camp. Father and sons work in road construction, Rachel and Cecilia help in the kitchen. In February 1943, the Germans move the family to the labour camp in Mielec, and here Benjamin and his sons are separated from Rachel and Cecilia. They will not see each other again. After a year, the men are transferred to Wieliczka and the women to the Plaszow concentration camp. Benjamin, Fred and Max live to see liberation in the Theresienstadt camp, but Benjamin is so ill that after several days he dies.

Rachel and Cecylia Schindler most likely perished in the Stutthof camp. Cecilia was only 15. Simon Leib Schindler, 91, was shot next to his home during the liquidation of the Brzesko ghetto. Amalia Schweid, her children and grandchildren, who ended up in the Zakliczyn ghetto, were also murdered…

In the city of Cottbus, Germany, next to the house where the Schindler family used to live, you can see on the pavement Stolpersteine – 3 stones commemorating Benjamin, Rachel and Cecilia Schindler. “Lived here… Deported to Poland…Perished…”

Stoplersteine commemorating Benjamin, Rachel and Cecilia Schindler in Cottbus, Germany.

But the sons of Benjamin and Rachel survived. After the war, they got to England, where Max met his future wife and emigrated with her to the USA. Fred joined them later. Four children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Max Schindler (1929-2017) live in the USA. Max’s widow, Rose Schindler (born in 1929) lives in San Diego and still spends lots of time meeting young people, sharing with them about the Shoah.

Maks and Rose Schindler, San Diego, 2017

And the only witness of the centuries-long presence of the Schindlers in Brzesko is the tombstone of the father of Simon Leib Schindler at the Jewish cemetery.

Matzeva of Alter Yechiel Schindler, son of Efroim and Tauba (1834-1910)

May the memory of all Holocaust victims be an eternal blessing. And may the very few remaining survivors live many more years.

© Anna Brzyska, 2022