Oskar Schindler is variously credited with saving 700 to more than a thousand Jews from the death camps by either hiring and hiding or otherwise speaking out for his indistrial need for his Jewish workers. Like Calmeyer, Schindler worked within the system to subvert Nazi intentions, but could not always shield all Jews that came his way. Unlike Calmeyer in the Netherlands, Schindler had a history of close cooperation with Nazi operations and Jewish laborers in Poland before he apparently saw the light versus Nazi evils, and began to recognize the value of the human lives placed essentially in his care and command. Yad Vashem also has extensive writings about Schindler, and of course the Stephen Spielberg movie “Schindler’s List” is well worth a closer look.
Oskar Schindler was born 28 April 1908 into an ethnic German family in Svitavy (German: Zwittau),Moravia, then part of Austria-Hungary, now in the Czech Republic. His parents, Hans Schindler and Franziska Luser, divorced when Oskar was 27. Oskar was very close to his younger sister, Elfriede. Schindler was brought up in the Catholic faith and remained a Roman Catholic throughout his life. After school he worked as a commercial salesman.
Oskar and Emilie in 1946.
On 6 March 1928, Schindler married Emilie Pelzl (1907â€“2001), daughter of a wealthy ethnic German farmer from Alt Moletein (Moravia) and a pious Catholic, who received most of her education in a nearby Czech-German monastery. In the 1930s he changed jobs several times. He also tried starting various businesses, but soon went bankrupt because of the Great Depression. He joined the separatist Sudeten German Party in 1935. Though officially a citizen of Czechoslovakia, ethnic German nationalist Schindler started to work for German military intelligence (the Abwehr under Wilhelm Canaris). He was exposed and jailed by the Czech government in July 1938, but after the Munich Agreement, he was set free as a political prisoner. In 1939, Schindler joined the Nazi Party. One source (based on Nazi documents and postwar investigation) contends that he also continued to work for the Abwehr, allegedly paving the way for the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939.
World War II
As an opportunistic businessman, Schindler was one of many who sought to profit from the German invasion of Poland in 1939. He gained ownership from a bankruptcy court of an idle enamelware factory Pierwsza MaÅ‚opolska Fabryka NaczyÅ„ Emaliowanych i WyrobÃ³w Blaszanych "Rekord" in KrakÃ³w, and renamed the factory Deutsche Emaillewaren-Fabrik or DEF. With the help of his German-speaking Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern, Schindler obtained around 1,000 Jewish forced labourers to work there.
Schindler soon adapted his lifestyle to his income. He became a well-respected guest at Nazi SS elite parties, having easy chats with high-ranking SS officers, often for his benefit. Initially Schindler may have been motivated by money â€” Jewish labour was less costly â€” but later he began shielding his workers without regard for cost. He would, for instance, claim that certain unskilled workers were essential to the factory.
While witnessing a 1943 raid on the Krakow Ghetto, where soldiers were used to round up the inhabitants for shipment to the concentration camp at Passau, Schindler was appalled by the murder of many of the Jews who had been working for him. He was a very persuasive individual, and after the raid, increasingly used all of his skills to protect his Schindlerjuden ("Schindler's Jews"), as they came to be called. Schindler went out of his way to take care of the Jews who worked at DEF, often calling on his legendary charm and ingratiating manner to help his workers get out of difficult situations. Once, says author Eric Silver in The Book of the Just, "Two Gestapo men came to his office and demanded that he hand over a family of five who had bought forged Polish identity papers. 'Three hours after they walked in,' Schindler said, 'two drunk Gestapo men reeled out of my office without their prisoners and without the incriminating documents they had demanded'". The special status of his factory ("business essential to the war effort") became the decisive factor for Schindler's efforts to support his Jewish workers. Whenever "Schindler Jews" were threatened with deportation, he claimed exemptions for them. Wives, children, and even handicapped persons were shown to be necessary mechanics and metalworkers. He arranged with Amon GÃ¶th, the commandant of Plaszow, for 1000 Jews to be transferred to an adjacent factory compound, where they would be relatively safe from the depredations of the German guards. Schindler also reportedly began to smuggle children out of the ghetto, delivering them to Polish nuns, who either hid them from the Nazis or claimed they were Christian orphans.
Schindler's factory at Brnunec in 2004
Schindler was arrested twice on suspicion of black market activities and complicity in embezzlement; GÃ¶th and other SS-guards used Jewish property (such as money, jewelry, and works of art) for themselves, although according to law, it belonged to the Reich. Schindler arranged such sales on black market. He managed to avoid being convicted after each arrest. Schindler typically bribed government officials to avoid further investigation.
As the Red Army drew nearer to Auschwitz concentration camp and the other easternmost concentration camps, the SS began evacuating the remaining prisoners westward. Schindler persuaded the SS officials to allow him to move his 1,100 Jewish workers to BrnÄ›nec (German: BrÃ¼nnlitz) in the German-speaking Sudetenland province (currently in Czech Republic), thus sparing the Jews from certain death in the extermination camps. In BrnÄ›nec, he gained another former Jewish factory, where he was supposed to produce missiles and hand grenades for the war effort. However, during the months that this factory was running, not a single weapon produced could actually be fired. Hence Schindler made no money; rather, his previously earned fortune grew steadily smaller as he bribed officials and cared for his workers.
After the war
By the end of the war Schindler had spent his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases of supplies for his workers. Virtually destitute, he moved briefly to Regensburg, Germany and, later, Munich, but did not prosper in postwar Germany. In fact, he was reduced to receiving assistance from Jewish organizations. Eventually, Schindler emigrated to Argentina in 1948, where he went bankrupt. He left his wife Emilie in 1957 and returned to Germany in 1958, where he had a series of unsuccessful business ventures. Schindler settled down in a small apartment at Am Hauptbahnhof Nr. 4 inFrankfurt am Main, West Germany and tried again â€“ with help from a Jewish organization â€“ to establish a cement factory. This, too, went bankrupt in 1961. His business partners cancelled their partnership. In 1968 he began receiving a small pension from the West German government.
In 1971 Oskar Schindler moved to live with friends at Goettingstrasse Nr. 30 in Hildesheim, Germany. Due to a heart complaint he was taken to the Saint Bernward Hospital in Hildesheim on 12 September 1974, where he died on 9 October 1974, at the age of 66. At the time of his death, he was surrounded by friends and family.[not in citation given]
He died penniless. The costs for his stay in the hospital were paid from social welfare of the city of Hildesheim.
Oskar Schindler's grave. Schindler wanted to be buried in Jerusalem, as he said, "My children are here". After a Requiem Mass, Schindler was buried at the Catholic Franciscans' cemetery on Mount Zion, the only member of the Nazi Party to be honoured in this way. A sign at the entrance to the cemetery directs visitors "To Oskar Schindler's Grave."
Schindler's grave is located on the mountainside below Zion Gate and the Old City walls. Stones placed on top of the grave are a sign of gratitude from Jewish visitors, according to Jewish tradition, although Schindler himself was not Jewish. On his grave, the Hebrew inscription reads: "Righteous among the Nations", anhonorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis. The German inscription reads: "The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1200 Persecuted Jews".
No one knows what Schindler's motives were. However, he was quoted as saying "I knew the people who worked for me... When you know people, you have to behave toward them like human beings."
The writer Herbert Steinhouse, who interviewed Schindler in 1948 at the behest of some of the surviving Schindlerjuden (Schindler's Jews), wrote:
Oskar Schindler's exceptional deeds stemmed from just that elementary sense of decency and humanity that our sophisticated age seldom sincerely believes in. A repentant opportunist saw the light and rebelled against the sadism and vile criminality all around him. The inference may be disappointingly simple, especially for all amateur psychoanalysts who would prefer the deeper and more mysterious motive that may, it is true, still lie unprobed and unappreciated. But an hour with Oskar Schindler encourages belief in the simple answer.
Schindler's List (Schindler's Ark)
Schindler's story, retold by Holocaust survivor Poldek Pfefferberg, was the basis for Thomas Keneally's book Schindler's Ark (the novel was published in America as Schindler's List), which was adapted into the 1993 movie Schindler's List by Steven Spielberg. In the film, he is played by Liam Neeson, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal. The film won seven Oscars, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. The prominence of Spielberg's film introduced Schindler into popular culture. As the film is the sole source of most people's knowledge of Schindler, he is generally perceived much as Spielberg's film depicts him: as a man who was instinctively driven by profit-driven amorality, but who at some point made a silent but conscious decision that preserving the lives of his Jewish employees was imperative, even if requiring massive payments to induce Nazis to turn a blind eye.
Other film treatments have included a 1983 British television documentary narrated by Sir Dirk Bogarde entitled, "Schindler: The Documentary" (released in the US in 1994 as "Schindler: The Real Story"), and a 1998 A&E Biography special, "Oskar Schindler: The Man Behind the List."
In the autumn of 1999 a suitcase belonging to Schindler was discovered, containing over 7,000Â photographs and documents, including the list of Schindler's Jewish workers. The document, on his enamelware factory's letterhead, had been provided to the SS stating that the named workers were "essential" employees. Friends of Schindler found the suitcase in the attic of a house in Hildesheim, Germany, where he had been staying at the time of his death. The friends took the suitcase to Stuttgart, where its discovery was reported by a newspaper, the Stuttgarter Zeitung. The contents of the suitcase, including the list of the names of those he had saved and the text of his farewell speech before leaving his Jewish workers in 1945, are now at the Holocaust museum of Yad Vashem in Israel.
Oskar Schindler's enamel factory in 2009
List of Schindlerjuden
In early April 2009, a second list was discovered at the State Library of New South Wales, Australia by workers combing through boxes of materials collected by the author Keneally. The 13-page document, yellow and fragile, was filed between research notes and original newspaper clippings. This list, given to Keneally in 1980 by Leopold Pfefferberg, who was listed as worker number 173, differs slightly from the other list, but is nonetheless considered to be genuine and authentic. It is believed that several lists were made during the war as the protected population changed. This particular list, dated 18 April 1945, was given to Keneally by Pfefferberg when he was persuading Keneally to write Schindler's story. In the last months of the war, German Nazi camps stepped up their extermination efforts. This list is believed to have saved the lives of 801 people from death in the gas chambers. It was this list, taken with the surrounding events of the time, that inspired Keneally to write his novel.