Chandler Museum chronicles Holocaust survivor’s story - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler Museum chronicles Holocaust survivor’s story

February 4th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Chandler Museum chronicles Holocaust survivor’s story

By Alli Cripe

Chandler Museum’s new exhibit, “Death and Diamonds: A Holocaust Survivor’s Journey from Krakow to Chandler,” chronicles the inspirational history of Samuel Soldinger, beloved father and diamond cutter.

Born in 1924, Soldinger was raised in Poland before the Nazi invasion forced his family into the Krakow ghetto. He worked at Oskar Schindler’s factory and became the sole survivor of his family.

After the war, Soldinger became an expert diamond cutter and moved from New York to Arizona in 1962 for the managerial position at the Harry Winston diamond processing plant, once located on Pecos Road.

“Laura and I sat down a couple years ago when she donated her father’s diamond cutting tools,” said museum Collections Coordinator Nate Meyers, “And she said, ‘of course you know my dad’s story as a Holocaust survivor,’ and I didn’t.”

Last February, Meyers shared Soldinger’s history in a lecture for Our Stories, a collaboration between the Chandler Library and the Chandler Historical Society.

The packed crowd exceeded the 70-person limit and overflowed out onto the patio. This year, inspired by the lecture, the museum will host an exhibit.

“We are always looking for compelling local stories and especially stories that help place people and events in Chandler,” said Meyers. “Just being able to share his incredible story has been an honor.”

The 1994 release of the Spielberg film, “Schindler’s List,” catapulted the little-known story of Oskar Schindler’s deeds during the Holocaust into the spotlight and Soldinger received sudden notoriety. Yotter remembers that he took speaking engagements at schools, churches and universities.

“He liked to tell his story,” Yotter explained, “Because it was so important to him that it would never happen again.”

As a little girl, Yotter used to ask her father for his personal stories but, he usually declined. “He’d say, ‘I don’t want to give you nightmares. When you’re older I’ll tell you.’”

When she grew older, he told her harrowing tales of near-death experiences, like what she remembers as the last day in Krakow when the Germans were exterminating a majority of the ghetto’s population.

 “When they got to my father, they sent him one way and then after that, they said, ‘Everybody else the other way,’ which was to the gas chamber.”

Even after Soldinger escaped the Holocaust, it still surrounded his life until he passed away on Jan. 2, 2001. Soldinger had friends who’d survived the Holocaust with him and who lived as far away as Israel. They wrote to each other and visited each other around the globe, according to Yotter. Even the best man at Soldinger’s wedding was a fellow Holocaust survivor.

“A lot of my dad’s friends would be like, ‘Sam, that’s behind us. Let’s not talk about what happened,’” said Yotter. “So, my dad was very rare in that he always talked about it.”

According to Yotter and Tiffani Egnor, education coordinator at the Chandler Museum, the atrocities Soldinger suffered also helped qualify him for the position at Harry Winston.

“He thought he was a really good fit because he had the cultural sensitivity of being someone who’d experienced so much turmoil in his life because he was Jewish,” said Egnor.

In 1962, Harry Winston had employed an approximately 80-90 percent Native American workforce due to a government program created by Barry Goldwater and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help lessen tribal unemployment at the time.

“The BIA would provide funding for the employment of Native Americans to learn the diamond cutting trade to work there,” Egnor explained.

Yotter, who accompanied her dad to work sometimes, remembers personal details in bits and pieces because she was around 6-years-old at the time. She remembers the high security and the common presence of glittering diamonds and gemstones.

She remembers picnics on the front lawn of the factory and that her father brought in a ping pong table for employee lunch breaks.

“He tried to keep a good environment,” Yotter said. “For the holidays, I remember they’d give out hams and turkeys, and on Halloween, I’d hand out candy.”

Out of all the fascinating stories surrounding Soldinger’s life, Yotter said that his positive outlook impacted her the most.

“Even somebody that went through Hell and fortunately survived was able to flourish,” she said. “There are good stories no matter what people go through in life.”

“Death and Diamonds, the story of Samuel Soldinger,” will show from Feb. 3-March 10 at the Chandler Museum, located at 300 S. Village Dr.

Admission is free.