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“My Wish was to touch the List”

He owes his life to Schindler’s list. “This knowledge has been my constant companion”, states Ronny Bronner. Together with his wife Gila, the Israeli citizen came to see the International Tracing Service (ITS) at Bad Arolsen and look into the documents on his family yesterday. His parents, Jetti and Leopold Bronner, were among the 1200 Jews the German industrialist Oskar Schindler rescued from certain death in Nazi death camps.

“My wish was to see the list, to touch it with my own hands”, said 61-year-old Bronner. The story became famous due to Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood movie “Schindler’s List”. Ronny Bronner once met his parents’ rescuer in Tel Aviv. “He stroked our hair saying that we all were his children. I found that remark strange and understood only later on“, recalls Bronner.

After Poland had been occupied by the Germans, his parents – originating in Upper Silesia – and their son Walter were seized and confined to the Krakow ghetto. When the ghetto was vacated in March 1943, the family found itself on the brink of death for the first time. Ten-year-old Walter was murdered. His mother saved her and her husband’s lives by holding up their labour papers from Schindler’s factory thus coming through selection by the SS. “People with handicraft skills had a chance only”, knows Bronner. “My father washed his hands in sulphuric acid and blackened them only to look like a worker. He pretended to be a shoemaker.”

The married couple then worked as forced labourers for Schindler in the concentration camp Plaszow until the order to abandon the camp was given in September 1944. In this moment the list that was going to save so many individuals’ lives was drawn up. Schindler opened a shells factory at Brunnlitz (today called Brněnec, Czech Republic), a place situated in 350 kilometres’ distance westwards. He asked for the permission that a part of his labourers from Plaszow be sent there and used for the “siegentscheidende Produktion” (war production crucial to the German victory). “My mother’s name was number 15 on the list. As she took care of his correspondence and spoke German, she was important for Schindler. My father worked in the factory”, relates Bronner. “Before the last SS man had left site, they were living in constant insecurity and fear of death.” In May 1945 finally, Bronner’s parents were freed by the Red Army.

The photograph showing his elder brother he never met made the strongest impression on Bronner when he was a child. “I just could not believe that he existed until my grandpa confirmed it was true. My mother had saved his picture over the whole period of time: the ghetto, the concentration camp, the post-war era up to their emigration to Israel.” The grief that had befallen his parents when they had lost their child never really left them. “It was on my wedding day in 1971 only that they danced again for the first time“, recounts Bronner. “Miraculously my parents had the mental strength to give us the present of a normal life despite the horror they had went through. In my eyes, the survivors are true heroes.”

To this day, the photograph of the lost brother has its place in the Bronners’ house. “We do not forget, but we are happily living our life”, says the Israeli and father of two children. He has had his all-private encounter with the past in Nuremberg. “I stood on the site where the Nazis held the rally for their party and said to myself: This is my victory. Here, I stand - alive.” What makes occurrences especially cruel and monstrous to his mind is that the Germans organised genocide as systematically as if they were launching an industrial production series.

Nonetheless, he feels no resent. For 30 years, the Bronners have come to see Germany regularly. Gila has learned the language expressly for her husband. “My mother has managed to differentiate culture from the Nazis’ crimes”, says Bronner. And present-day Germany deals well with the past, he thinks. “I am full of recognition for the work of the ITS. This place is of relevance to millions of people”, states Bronner. “The documents prove that the story is not just a legend or a movie, but the truth.”