Rossmoor woman’s experience in ‘Shindler’s List,’ and camps remembered

The picture above is from the cover of Laura Hillman’s book, “I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree.” Courtesy photo

It was February 1994. A current student had asked Laura Hillman of Rossmoor if I could have her number. I made arrangements to see her. As I sat down at her kitchen table Laura said, “Mr. Steven Spielberg sat in that same chair.”

A few years earlier, in preparation for the movie, “Schindler’s List,” Spielberg had come to Laura’s house to interview her. The movie premiered that month and would win 7 Academy Awards.

Back in the 1930s, Laura Hillman, was known as Hannelore Wolf of Aurich, a town in Lower Saxony of Germany. Born in 1923, Laura was a teenager at the time of the Nazi anti-Jewish programs of the mid-1930s. By Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass, November 9-10, 1938) Laura’s father had been taken from the family home (never to be heard from again). That night the remainder of the family was forced out of their house to watch their synagogue burned to the ground. Shortly after Laura was removed from the house and sent to a camp. Both her parents and a brother would be killed in the concentration camps. Two sisters would survive, living outside continental Europe.

For various reasons, mostly overcrowding, Laura moved to her fourth camp, Plaszow, Poland. It was there she became part of the Schindler group. Approximately 1,100 prisoners were marched each day to the city of Krakow where Oscar Schindler’s factory was located. As the war was coming to an end, Schindler schemed and paid off German officials to save his group of workers.

As a history teacher at Los Alamitos High School, I worked with Laura to get her prepared to come to the school and share her story with my students. Laura, shared with me a few poems she had written, and a manuscript. Laura’s first presentation was March of 1994. Very timely because the movie was a big hit.

Also, one of my sophomore students that year, Megan Stidham (later to be Megan Stidham Nixon) became very good friends with Laura. Over the next seven years Laura came to my class to talk with my students. With encouragement from Megan and me, she also did presentations to other groups in the area. I also learned Laura’s son, now an executive with Hogg Hospital, did not know of his parents’ experiences until he came home on break during his first in at college. He was taking a modern World History class and became curious. It was the first time Laura and Bernard spoke of their experiences during the Holocaust.

By 2003 Laura had taken a writing class at CSULB and with the help of Megan’s mom, got together with Simon and Schuster. Her story was published in 2005. The book became part of the high school’s reading list – many students of our community have read it. The title comes from what Bernard told to Laura thru the fence at the Plaszow came in 1944.

Laura Hillman has done a lot for our community and for the remembrance of the Holocaust.