OLYMPIA FIELDS - Alexander White, a 70-year-old physician, opens his sturdy
red vinyl address book to the name Emilie Schindler and lays it on the long oak
dining table in the great room of his home.
White recalls meeting Mrs. Schindler in 1944 while he was a prisoner in a
Czechoslovakian concentration camp factory called DEF Works that was owned by
her husband, Oskar. White was in the infirmary having a tooth pulled and the
woman brought him soup.
Although White saw Oskar Schindler every day in the factory, he said during
a recent interview that he never met the man who would become the subject of
Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winning movie, "Schindler's List."
Schindler is remembered for taking a personal risk to save more than 1,000
Polish Jews from certain death by transporting them to his factory disguised as
laborers. The intent of the factory was to produce bogus shells for German guns
in the final months of the war, while providing a haven for Jewish prisoners
otherwise destined for death.
It was not until 38 years later, in 1982, that White learned he was one of
those prisoners. He and the others were removed from the Plaszow concentration
camp in Cracow, Poland, and sent to Brinnlitz, the site of Schindler's Czech
White will be the featured speaker during a Yom Hashoah, or Day of
Remembrance, ceremony honoring those in the Holocaust, the Nazi rampage that
claimed the lives of 6 million Jews and countless others from 1939 to 1945. The
ceremony will begin at 8 p.m. Thursday at B'nai Sholom at 4508 Baring Ave. in
White and Ina, his wife of 41 years, have remained in contact with Mrs.
Schindler, the same way he continues to stay in touch with many of the other
people in his address book.
In a way, it is a book of life.
By the time White arrived in Brinnlitz in October 1944, he had lost his
father, mother, sister and two brothers, as well as countless relatives from
his hometown of Krosnow, a city in south Poland.
"I never knew there was a list. In 1982, a neighbor called to tell me about
the book 'Schindler's List,'" White said, reviewing a copy of page 5, where his
given name, Alexander Bralywlos, is No. 269.
He wanted to learn how he came to be on the list.
So White referred again to his address book and called a friend and fellow
Plaszow camp survivor, Frieda Frankel, at her home in New York. "Frieda was No.
49 on the list. She said, 'Oh sure, there was a list.' I asked how I got on the
list. She said it was just plain 'mazel.'"
Mazel is a Yiddish word that means luck, but White said it wasn't luck that
saved him from Auschwitz.
He was a skilled worker, unlike most of the workers making pots and pans in
Schindler's Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik.
The Jews of his native Krosnow were forced into a ghetto in 1942. The ghetto
was actually a city block with a brick wall and a gate at each end, White said.
His family shared one room with aunts, uncles and their children until the
ghetto was liquidated at the end of the year. More than half of the residents
had been sent to Belzec concentration camp in July. The camp was liquidated
that year as well.
Other ghetto residents, including White's mother and sister, were killed in
mass executions carried out in a forest nearby.
In 1943, both of his younger brothers were killed. One died in Auschwitz.
The other was shot "as an example to the other children" when he was caught
trying to mail a letter to a non-Jewish family friend who had agreed to relay
messages between separated family members, White said.
He and his father went to work at an airport near Krosnow controlled by the
Luftwaffe, the German air force. In early 1944, a new set of troops brought
about 400 Russian workers to the airport. White, his father and about 120 Jews
then were sent 100 kilometers away to Plaszow.
In May, White saw his father for the last time after a selection procedure
in Plaszow. "We called (the procedure) the naked parade. That's where I lost my
father and my cousin. They perished in Auschwitz. My father was 50 and my
cousin was in his 30s," White said.
"Now I was alone. Nobody else from my family was alive."
At Plaszow, White worked with the glazers and painters. But they were pulled
off that detail as the Soviet troops began moving toward Cracow. The Nazis
wanted to burn the tens of thousands of bodies lying in shallow mass graves
surrounding Plaszow. Camp prisoners were forced to help them.
"And then, in October, for one reason or another, I was attached to a
transport going to Brinnlitz," White said.
The movie "Schindler's List" depicts a dramatic scene in which a trainload
of women is wrongfully sent to Auschwitz. White said a train filled with male
prisoners also made a stop at the Gross-Rosen concentration camp.
The event was horrible, he said. The men were removed from the train and
jammed into a single room. To fit inside, they sat in long rows with their legs
spread apart, one man's chest pressed into the next man's back. There was no
way to move and no way to get out.
Eventually, they were loaded back on the train and rerouted to Brinnlitz and
the DEF Works factory.
Liberation came in spring 1945.
In the years since, White has managed to stay in contact with other
survivors while pursuing his career.
He studied medicine in Munich, moved to the U.S. in 1950, served as a
captain in the Medical Corps of the U.S. Army and taught as an associate
professor of medicine at Chicago Medical School in Lake Forest.
He said he obtained a complete copy of the list of workers sent to Brinnlitz
because it's a part of his history and he wants to share that with his children
- Denise, 41, Les, 38, and Julie, 34.
"Losing your freedom, and especially if you didn't experience the Holocaust,
is difficult to understand. That's why people don't talk about it," he said,
taking out a plastic bag containing several old black-and-white photographs.
He turns the faded yellow loose-leaf pages in his address book and matches a
photo to the name and address of his cousin, a woman who lives in Tel Aviv.
The cousin survived a Siberian concentration camp and managed to save
original prints of photos of family and friends, taken before the Holocaust.
White had reproductions made.
The photo he matches to the book shows seven pretty teen-age girls,
including his sister, Miriam. Of the seven, only his cousin survived.
White said he thinks Spielberg made a tremendous contribution by making the
movie, but it's important to remember that it is just one story about one man.
"Oskar Schindler had what Mrs. Schindler called 'Menschlichkeit' - humanity.
Mensch in Yiddish is a special word (difficult to translate). My father's last
words to me as he was walking away, because he knew where he was going, were,
'All I want is, promise me to be a mensch.'"
"Here is a movie about a 'mensch' - a man with humanity in him," White said.
"He came to Poland to make money. But being a mensch, he soon saw what went on.
He did everything he could. He finagled and he saved so many people.
"I've always said that in every human being, there is a spark of humanity
and sometimes it shows itself. It would be an injustice to the thousands of
Poles who helped Jews survive if one doesn't mention and give credit and salute