Alumna and Holocaust survivor to give Grinnell College commencement address

Celina Biniaz was youngest of about 1,200 Jewish people Oskar Schindler helped rescue

Celina Biniaz GRINNELL, Iowa —  Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, the youngest person on Oskar Schindler’s list and a 1952 graduate of Grinnell College, will give the commencement address at her alma mater on Monday, May 21. During the commencement ceremony, in which approximately 380 seniors will receive Bachelor of Arts degrees, Biniaz will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Grinnell College's Commencement exercises, which are open to the public, will start at 10 a.m. Monday, May 21, in central campus. If the weather is inclement, the ceremony will be held in the Charles Benson Bear '39 Recreation and Athletic Center, 1201 10th Ave., Grinnell. No tickets are required. The ceremony also will be live-streamed on Grinnell's website.

Biniaz, whose story was mirrored in Steven Spielberg’s film “Schindler's List,” has been a key supporter of Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation. The organization has collected more than 50,000 video testimonies and survivor stories from Nazi Germany’s attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Six million Jewish people perished along with millions of other Europeans.

Two days after the Germans surrendered in 1945, the Soviets liberated Biniaz’s concentration camp: Auschwitz, the most notorious of the death camps, where an estimated 1.1 million inmates were killed. Biniaz, who was 14 and weighed only 70 pounds, hitchhiked to her hometown of Krakow, Poland, with her parents. They fled to Slovakia after Jews were attacked in a pogrom, and Biniaz attended school in a convent there until May 1947, when her family emigrated to the United States.


Her uncle from Des Moines met the family in New York City and drove them to Iowa’s capital city. Biniaz graduated from North High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Grinnell College in 1952.

She continued her studies at Columbia University, where she received a master’s degree in education and met Amir Biniaz. The pair married and moved to Long Island, where Celina Biniaz began her long and distinguished teaching career, retiring in 1992.

Silent about her Holocaust experiences before the release of “Schindler’s List” in 1993, Biniaz was inspired by the movie to tell her story. Since then she has been sharing her recollections and the lessons she learned. Despite the horrors she witnessed, Biniaz says hate is corrosive, and stresses the importance of moving forward in love.

Additional honorary degree recipients

Grinnell College will also confer honorary degrees upon three other accomplished individuals:

Chase Strangio, a 2004 Grinnell graduate, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws. A staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and AIDS Project, he was lead counsel for the ACLU team that represented U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Strangio also has worked on other high-profile transgender rights cases, including that of Virginia high-school student Gavin Grimm, which garnered national headlines.  

James Holbrook, a 1966 Grinnell graduate, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws. Holbrook has been honored for his extensive work in negotiation, including mediating civil rights and health care disputes, and teaching mediator and arbitrator skills around the United States and in India. His work has earned him major awards from the Utah Council on Conflict Resolution and the International Academy of Mediators. The longtime trial lawyer currently is a faculty member at the University of Utah.

Tracey Menten, who teaches English and writing at Omaha Central High School in Omaha, Nebraska, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Her students who have gone on to attend Grinnell College describe her as "inspiring," "encouraging" and "dedicated." In 2014, she received the Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award, given to exceptional educators in Omaha public schools.

For questions concerning access or to request an accommodation, please check the commencement website at or call 641-269-3178. Additional information about commencement activities is available on the commencement website.

live stream of the commencement ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. CDT (GMT -05:00). Follow and join the conversation on Twitter: #Grinnell2017. Share your photos on Instagram: #GrinnellCollege or #Grinnell2018. To view highlights of the day, follow the college on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Snapchat (username: grinnellcollege). 

Guest internet access is open on campus from noon Friday, May 18, through Monday, May 21. Connect to GrinnellCollegeCommencement wi-fi; no password is required. For assistance, please call 641-269-4901.

About Grinnell College

Since its founding in 1846, Grinnell has become one of the nation's premier liberal arts colleges, enrolling 1,700 students from all 50 states and from 44 countries. Grinnell's rigorous academic program emphasizes excellence in education for students in the liberal arts; the college offers the B.A. degree in a range of departments across the humanities, arts and sciences. Grinnell has a strong tradition of social responsibility and action, and self-governance and personal responsibility are key components of campus life. More information about Grinnell College is available at