Mr. Olek Rosner, a survivor of Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps and who appeared in the film Schindler’s List, was the guest speaker at Westfield High School on April 24. Following an early morning viewing of the film, students heard Mr. Rosner describe his years of separation, starvation and fear as a 6-year old child of the Holocaust.
“Very few kids survived during the ‘actions’,” recalled Mr. Rosner, who credited his survival to his father’s violin playing, which was valued by the Nazis.
Mr. Rosner recalled that while living in the assigned Jewish ghetto, his family was protected by Oskar Schindler and the factory he created. The family considered Schindler an "angel.”
One day when Schindler was not present, soldiers entered and took 11 fathers and boys, including Olek, to Auschwitz. His mother remained at the factory, was separated from her husband and son and was told they were dead until a reunion four years later.
Liberated by the American Army in 1945 when still a young boy, his fondness for Americans grew, and he was “highly motivated to be an American.” His wish came true when his American uncle sponsored the family and they made the journey to New York to live.
When he came to America he taught himself English through comic books and western movies. His first year in America he advanced from 3rd to 6th grade, he was so determined to never leave.
Many years later the author of Schindler’s List reached out to his parents for insight on his book. Then Steven Spielberg reached out to them as well. He and his father flew to Jerusalem to be in the final scene of the movie.
Following Mr. Rosner’s heartfelt narrative and a question and answer period with the students, Principal Peter Renwick thanked the speaker and said, “We are very privileged to have this experience today – possibly a once in a lifetime. We will walk away with not only knowledge but empowerment to change the world.”
WHS Senior Luke McGrory, in exiting the auditorium, expressed this reaction: “He was very honest, and rather than sugar-coating, he was very straightforward. It was very interesting coming from someone who has lived through it as a primary source.”
The assembly was sponsored by the Education Fund of Westfield. The film and guest speaker coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Month. Mr. Rosner was contacted through his friends -- the McCready family in Westfield -- whose daughter is in Thom Hornish’s Advanced Placement European History class.
“To meet the person who is portrayed on the screen, who endured so much, and who is willing to share his story is a unique moment,” explained Mr. Hornish. “Mr. Rosner symbolizes that even our darkest moments there is light; hopefully his words enlightened us all. His visit was a gift of immeasurable value.”