Owings Mills resident reflects on family connection to Schindler’s list

Hahn’s grandmother, Lola (second from left), and her daughters, from left, Betty, Helen and Sydelle
Hahn’s grandmother, Lola (second from left), and her daughters, from left, Betty, Helen and Sydelle (Courtesy of Lola Hahn)

The 1993 film, “Schindler’s List,” which depicted the efforts of a German industrialist and Nazi party member to save the lives of over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust, made Oskar Schindler into a household name. But Owings Mills resident Lola Hahn was not always aware of Schindler, despite the story of her life being intrinsically tied to his.

“It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I learned who Oskar Schindler was, and that my mother and her sisters were on Schindler’s list,” said Hahn, 69.

A New York native and a 32-year resident of the Baltimore area, Hahn explained that while she knew both her parents were survivors, many of the details were left unspoken.

“My parents very rarely talked about their experiences,” she said, “because they really wanted their children to lead what they considered normal lives. They didn’t want us to be afraid, they didn’t want us to hate and they also didn’t want to relive their horrible experience.”

Hahn’s mother, Sydelle Abt, as she was later known in America, was held in the Plaszow concentration camp in Cracow, Poland, along with her younger sisters, Betty Schagrin and Helen Jonas. The camp was overseen by Commandant Amon Goeth, who resided in a villa where Jonas worked as a maid, and who often received visits from Schindler, said Hahn, a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

These visits to Goethe’s residence, Hahn explained, were the principal means by which Jonas became personally acquainted with Schindler, and how she and her two sisters found their way onto the list that likely saved their lives.

“My aunt received small kindnesses from a civilian,” Hahn explained in an email, “a frequent happy visitor to the villa, who she wasn’t sure she could trust because he seemed friendly with Commandant Goeth. She recalled him saying to her, ‘You’re going to be all right. Remember the people in Egypt? They were freed. So you will be, too.’”

Hahn’s mother and sisters spent three weeks in Auschwitz, Hahn said, before being taken to Schindler’s factory in Brinnlitz, Czechoslovakia. There they remained for another seven months, before they were liberated on May 6, 1945.

Lola Hahn
Lola Hahn (Courtesy of Lola Hahn)

Following the war, Hahn’s parents raised her and her sister in the United States.

“They loved being in America,” Hahn said. “They felt safe, and they felt that we could take advantage of any opportunities that are put forth in front of us.”

In addition to independence, good sense and courage, Hahn credits her parents with giving her the ability to find “a way to survive in a very positive way. Both of my parents were extremely positive people.”

Being Holocaust survivors, it was important to Hahn’s parents that their daughter receive a Jewish upbringing, she said. Growing up in Brooklyn, she attended Hebrew school for six years and would attend Shabbat services on Saturday mornings and Oneg Shabbats.

After a successful career in the fashion industry, Hahn took a position as the development director at Goucher Hillel. She spent nearly eight years in the role, during which she enjoyed spending time with the students and helping them with their Jewish growth, eventually receiving the moniker “the Hillel mom.”

On one occasion, Hahn traveled with a group of students from different Maryland Hillels on a trip to Poland. In addition to seeing the capital of Warsaw and several other towns, the journey eventually brought Hahn all the way to her mother’s native Cracow.

While Hahn’s parents may have been reluctant to share their past with her, she came to believe in the importance of sharing her family story with her community. After becoming acquainted with Jeanette Parmigiani, who recently retired from her position as the Baltimore Jewish Council’s director of Holocaust programs, Parmigiani persuaded Hahn to join their program and share her family story with the community. Hahn would go on to make presentations to a number of different school and religious groups, as well as to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, The John Carroll School and the Baltimore Zionist District.

On what compels her to do this work and tell her family story, Hahn explained that “[w]e must continue to raise the awareness and work toward a better world. It is urgent that the next generation give real meaning to Never Again. Only education about the truth of Holocaust history can do that.”

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