By Jeff Schindler
On the evening of Jan. 14, Max Schindler of San Diego passed away peacefully with family at his side at his home in San Diego, California. Max is survived by his wife of 66 years, Rose Schindler, his four children and their spouses, and his nine grandchildren.
Schindler was born on June 18, 1929 in Cottbus, Germany. His life is a story of pain, loss, resilience and renewal.
Exiled when he was nine years old from Germany to Poland in 1938 by the Nazis, his family and four related families relocated to his grandmother’s farm in the Galicia region of Poland. There they withstood violent anti-Semitism and tried to rebuild their stolen lives until April, 1942, when Germany compulsorily conscripted the Schindler family into Commando Flossenburg, a forced labor group.
They initially built roads and bridges in Poland for the German company, Baumer & Loesch. This was the first of six forced labor and concentration camps where Commando Flossenburg was stationed, with Max, his father and his brother Alfred, and several hundred other prisoners. His mother and sister were relocated to Stutthof concentration camp, where they eventually were murdered.
Max survived in a total of six camps, including: Mielec (Heinkel Aircraft Factory); Wieliczka (Salt Mines, aircraft fabrication); Plaszow (Nazi concentration camp); and Schachwitz (Dresden tank factory) where after being firebombed by the Allied forces in February 1945, Commando Flossenburg was forced into a death march to Theresienstadt (Nazi concentration camp).
Max was liberated from Theresienstadt in May, 1945, along with his brother. Suffering from typhus with the rest of the inmates, Max and Alfred were confined in Theresienstadt until the typhus epidemic was over and the camp quarantine was lifted on July 13, 1945. It was reported but is unconfirmed that less than 100 Theresienstadt inmates survived the quarantine. Max’s father died of typhus within days of liberation.
Max and Alfred learned of the murders of their mother and sister after liberation, and instead of returning to Cottbus, Germany, left Europe for rehabilitation in the United Kingdom in August, 1945, along with 730 other young concentration camp survivors. The story of this group of orphaned survivors was 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.
Max met Ruska (Rose) Schwartz in 1947 in the hostel they shared in Bedford, England. Rose, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, along with 79 other orphaned young female Holocaust survivors, was also brought to the United Kingdom for rehabilitation. Immediately smitten by Max, a romance followed and they were married in 1950 at the West London Synagogue.
Max and Rose were the first of “The Boys” to marry, and Rose was honored by being escorted down the aisle by Leonard Montefiore (philanthropist and son of Sir Moses Montefiore), who was largely responsible for the founding and funding of the Committee for the Care of Children in Camps, the organization that rehabilitated the 732 young concentration camp survivors.
Max and Rose left England for New York in 1951 and moved to San Diego in 1956. Even though he had less than five years of formal education, Max was very intelligent and a fast learner. His beginnings in IBM machine tabulating lead to a nearly 30-year career in software development and design for Convair Division of General Dynamics.
Max was known for his humility and concern for others. Concurrently, from 1967 to 1977, Max and Rose operated a successful retail fabric store called Roxy’s Fabrics in the Allied Gardens area of San Diego.
Their modest home of 49 years in Del Cerro became what his children referred to as the “Schindler Country Club,” where three generations gathered on weekends and holidays to play and celebrate living.
Max returned to his childhood home of Cottbus, Germany in 2015, along with Rose, three of his four children and one grandchild, after attending the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Krakow, Poland.
He arrived in Cottbus to a hero’s welcome and visited the Bewegte Grundschule (the primary school his brother Alfred attended and where he is memorialized), the New Synagogue (a church-turned-synagogue that opened only days before where a special ceremony was held for Max’s return), and finally Stadthalle Cottbus (City Hall).
At Stadthalle Cottbus, Max was welcomed by the city manager and other city officials who officiated a special ceremony reserved for visiting dignitaries: the signing of Das Goldene Buch der Stadt Cottbus: The Golden Book of Cottbus.
Together with his wife Rose, Max was honored in San Diego with the Local Heroes Award by KPBS during Jewish Heritage Month in May 2016. Max’s oral history about saving his father’s pocketwatch chain through the camps, was read into the California State Record on May 1, 2000 during the California Senate’s Yom HaShoah Observation as Resolution 153.
Max often spoke to schools, military and fraternal groups about the loss of his family, his experience in forced labor and Nazi concentration camps, as well as his renewal and the rebuilding of his life in both England and the United States. His living testimony is available for viewing at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, bit.ly/2l22y2V.
Max never forgot about his past, but this didn’t cloud his view of the positive potential of people and his belief that the world can heal from its past wounds. He was a survivor through and through, from exile and the horrific loss of family as a child during the Holocaust, to living a fulfilling and beautiful life before finally succumbing to stage IV melanoma at the age of 87.
The tragic experiences in Max’s early life never dimmed the light of this man who exemplified quiet strength and resolve, and love for life and family. Max’s life was a testament to the strength of the human spirit.
—Jeff Schindler is the son of Max Schindler. The Schindler family requests contributions in his father’s name be made to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., USC Shoah Foundation Institute of Los Angeles, Jewish Family Service of San Diego or Boys Town Jerusalem.