I recently had the rare opportunity to meet with the youngest of “Schindler’s Jews,” Holocaust survivor, Celina Karp Biniaz, who was saved by Oskar Schindler. At only 13, Celina was marched into Auschwitz alongside nearly 300 women. Now 85, you’d never guess her story began with such trauma and despair, especially while listening to her youthful outlook on life, her message of forgiveness, or her acceptance of others’ opinions and hope.
Her story, alongside 1,300 others’, was made famous by the Stephen Spielberg movie Schindlers’ List. If you’ve seen the 1993 movie, you may be able to recognize the portrayal of Celina’s experience in the camp. As unbelievable and heartbreaking as it is, she was the young girl in the shower, surrounded by women who were unsure if they were to be sprayed with harmless water or deadly gas.
Celina faced the despair of losing her family, starvation, and constant fear for her life, all while surviving and escaping from Nazis and fleeing from communism after the war. Her story is almost more than you can absorb.
After Celina’s speech, we spoke for several minutes. Explaining that I was trying to find ways to help individuals become more healthy through inspiration for better self-care, I asked her two questions.
First, I asked Celina what advice or inspiration she could give to others enduring tough times. She took my hand and looked deep into my eyes.
“People need to connect with other people,” she said. “They need to know others are listening and care about them and what drives them. That applies to anything, whether it’s for survival or getting healthy. We can endure great challenges knowing there is someone else who is there to help by listening and caring.” The difference between life and death for many of us was the ability to focus on our motivation and having someone there for us. Even though we had no idea if the next day would be our last, we had to focus on the hope of tomorrow and the joy of living today.”
After hearing how important motivation was to her survival, I asked Celina what hers was during that horrific time.
“It was my parents,” Celina said. “They had taught me that life is a gift from God that you can never take for granted. No matter how scared or hurt I was, I focused on my motivation to live, knowing I could not forsake God’s gift. It helped me find the joy in the midst of despair. I didn’t want to disappoint them – I knew they were right.”
I once had the opportunity to meet with Steven Spielberg one-on-one in the late 90’s, shortly after the release of Schindler’s List. His humility and concern for giving the story of Oskar Schindler and those he saved the justice it deserved left an incredible impression on me. I have long believed that he was the most impressive person I would ever have the opportunity to speak with. After meeting with Celina, that changed.
Celina confirmed what I have long believed: the journey to inspire change and improve self-care starts with individual connections and discovering each person’s motivation to become healthier.
“The difference between life and death for many of us,” Celina said, “was the ability to focus on our motivation and have someone there for us. Even though we had no idea if the next day would be our last, we had to focus on the hope of tomorrow and the joy of living today.”