Oskar Schindler
File:Schindler, Oskar.jpg
Born 28 April 1908
Zwittau, Moravia, Austria-Hungary (present-day Svitavy, Czech Republic)
Died 9 October 1974(1974-10-09) (aged 66)
Hildesheim, West Germany
Resting place Jerusalem, Israel
31°46′13″N 35°13′50″E / 31.770164°N 35.230423°E / 31.770164; 35.230423
Occupation Industrialist
Political party National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi)
Religion Catholic
Spouse(s) Emilie Schindler
Parents Hans Schindler
Franziska Luser

Oskar Schindler (28 April 1908 – 9 October 1974) was an ethnic German industrialist born in Moravia, which was that time part of Austria-Hungary. He is credited with saving over 1,100[1][2] Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories, which were located in what is now Poland and the Czech Republic respectively.[3] He is the subject of the novel Schindler's Ark, and the film based on it, Schindler's List.[4]

Early life and career[edit | edit source]

Schindler was born on 28 April 1908 into a Sudeten German family in Zwittau, Moravia, Austria-Hungary. His parents, Hans Schindler and Franziska Luser, were divorced when he was 27. Schindler was always very close to his younger sister, Elfriede. Schindler was brought up within the Roman Catholic Church. Although he never formally renounced his religion, Schindler was never more than an indifferent Catholic.[1] After school he worked as a commercial salesman. On 6 March 1928, Schindler married Emilie Pelzl (1907–2001), daughter of a wealthy Sudeten German farmer from Maletein. A pious Catholic, Emilie had received most of her education in a nearby monastery.[5] During the Great Depression, Schindler changed jobs several times. He also tried starting various businesses, but always went bankrupt. He joined the separatist Sudeten German Party in 1935. Though officially a citizen of Czechoslovakia, Schindler also became a spy for the Abwehr, then commanded by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris.[1] He was convicted of espionage and imprisoned by the Czechoslovakian government in July 1938, but after the Munich Agreement, he was released as a political prisoner. In 1939 Schindler joined the Nazi Party. One source contends that he also continued to work for Canaris and the Abwehr, paving the way for the Wehrmacht's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939.[6]

World War II[edit | edit source]

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 in Kraków,[3] named Pierwsza Małopolska Fabryka Naczyń Emaliowanych i Wyrobów Blaszanych "Rekord",[7] which he renamed Deutsche Emaillewaren-Fabrik or DEF (location).[8] With the help of his German-speaking Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern,[3] Schindler obtained around 1,000 Jewish forced labourers to work there.[1] Template:The Holocaust 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.[8] Initially Schindler may have been motivated by money, as Jewish labour cost less, 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.[3]

While witnessing a 1943 raid on the Kraków Ghetto, where soldiers were used to round up the inhabitants for shipment to the concentration camp at Płaszów, Schindler was appalled by the murder of many of the Jews who had been working for him.[8] 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.[8] 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'".[9] 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.[3]

In the factory itself, Jewish workers were treated civilly, with none of the "shouting, abuse and random killing" that was going on in the Płaszów camp next-door. The Jews were able to pray in a minyan daily, and gathered at night to learn Chumash and exchange words of Torah and stories of Gedolim. At the close of Shabbat, the workers gathered for Shalosh Seudos and sang zemirot (Shabbat-table songs), said words of Torah, and told stories of tzaddikim.[10]

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Schindler's factory at Kraków in 2006
Schindler's factory at Brněnec in 2004

Schindler was arrested three times on suspicion of black market activities and complicity in embezzlement, as well as breaking the Nuremberg Laws by kissing a Jewish girl. Amon Göth, the commandant of the Płaszów camp, and other SS guards used Jewish property (such as money, jewellery, and works of art) for themselves, although according to law, it belonged to the Reich. Schindler arranged the sale of such items on the black market. None of his arrests led to a trial, primarily because he bribed government officials to avoid further investigation.[1][3]

As the Red Army drew nearer to Auschwitz concentration camp and the other easternmost concentration camps, the SS began evacuating the remaining prisoners westward. Amon Göth's personal secretary, Mietek Pemper, alerted Schindler to the Nazis' plans to close all factories not directly involved with the war effort, including Schindler's enamelware facility.[11] Pemper also persuaded and encouraged Schindler to switch production from enamelware to anti-tank grenades in an effort to save Schindler's Jewish workers.[11][12] Tipped off to the factory closure, Schindler persuaded the SS officials to allow him to move his 1,200 Jewish workers to Brünnlitz (Czech: Brněnec), in the German-speaking Sudetenland, thus sparing them from certain death in the gas chambers. Mietek Pemper further aided Schindler's efforts by compiling and typing the list of 1,200 Jews—1,000 of Schindler's workers and 200 other inmates—who were sent to Brünnlitz in October 1944.[11][12]

In Brünnlitz, Schindler gained another former Jewish factory, which was scheduled to produce hand grenades and parts for V-2 rockets. It is unclear how much armament was actually produced there; Schindler and some of the workers claimed in the immediate post-war years that there had been no production that would have been useful to the German war effort, and even that some or all of the output had been deliberately faulty product.

After the war[edit | edit source]

Schindler and his wife fled to Austria's U.S. zone, escaping prosecution by dressing in prison clothes and carrying a letter testifying to their heroic actions.[13] 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 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.[3] Schindler settled down in a small apartment at Am Hauptbahnhof Nr. 4 in Frankfurt am Main, West Germany and tried again – with help from a Jewish organization – 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.


Commemorative plaque at Goettingstrasse 30, Hildesheim

File:Schindlergrave - side view.jpg

Side view of Schindler's grave, piled with small stones left by Jewish visitors

In 1971, Schindler moved to live with friends at Goettingstrasse Nr. 30 in Hildesheim. 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.[14]Template:Failed verification He died penniless;[15] the costs for his stay in the hospital were paid from social welfare of the city of Hildesheim.[16][17]


Schindler's grave

Schindler wanted to be buried in Jerusalem, as he said, "My children are here".[15] After a Requiem Mass, Schindler was buried at the Catholic Franciscans' cemetery[18] on Mount Zion, the only member of the Nazi Party to be honoured in this way.[3] 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", an honorific 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. He was quoted as saying "I knew the people who worked for me... When you know people, you have to behave towards them like human beings."[19]

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, if it is true, still lie unprobed and unappreciated. But an hour with Oskar Schindler encourages belief in the simple answer."[3]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

Schindler's List (Schindler's Ark)[edit | edit source]

File:Enamel factory.JPG

Schindler's enamel factory in Kraków turned into museum in 2010

File:Commemorative plaque Schindler's Emalia Factory in Krakow.JPG

Commemorative plaque close to the museum entrance

File:Oskar Schindler's desk at Emalia Factory.JPG

Oskar Schindler’s desk and the tinware sarcophagus with his famous list inside

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 produced by Thames Television, narrated by Sir Dirk Bogarde entitled, Schindler: The Documentary (released in the US in 1994 as Schindler: The Real Story),[20] and a 1998 A&E Biography special, Oskar Schindler: The Man Behind the List.[21]

Schindler's suitcase[edit | edit source]

In late 1999 a suitcase belonging to Schindler was discovered, containing over 7,000 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, 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.[22]

List of Schindlerjuden[edit | edit source]

Main article: 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 author Thomas 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.[23]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Oskar Schindler, Saved 1200 Jews" (PDF). The New York Times. 13 October 1974. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=2&res=F10813FD3B591A728DDDAA0994D8415B848BF1D3. Retrieved 20 January 2009. 
  2. BBC NEWS | Middle East | Schindler list survivor recalls saviour. Other sources vary, placing the number at 1,098 according to the list, along with an additional 100 people according to a letter signed by Isaak Stern, former employee Pal. Office in Krakow, Dr. Hilfstein, Chaim Salpeter, Former President of the Zionist Executive in Krakow for Galicia and Silesia.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 "Herbert Steinhouse, "The Real Oskar Schindler", ''Saturday Night'' Magazine, April, 1994". Writing.upenn.edu. 2004-08-06. http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Holocaust/steinhouse.html. Retrieved 2012-07-21. 
  4. Thomas Keneally, Schindler's Ark. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982 (ISBN 0-340-33501-7).
  5. "Emilie Schindler, 93, Dies; Saved Jews in War". The New York Times. 8 October 2001. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0DE1DD133CF93BA35753C1A9679C8B63&scp=8&sq. Retrieved 20 January 2009.  Schindler's wife Emilie was born on 22 October 1907, the daughter of Josef and Maria Pelzl, and died on 5 October 2001, at age 93 in a hospital in Berlin. They did not have children.
  6. Jitka Gruntová, Legendy a fakta o Oskaru Schindlerovi. Naše vojsko, 2002 (ISBN 80-206-0607-6).
  7. Brzoskwinia, Waldemar (19 June 2008). "Spacerownik. Zabłocie: chłodnia i fabryki". Gazeta Wyborcza (Kraków). http://krakow.gazeta.pl/krakow/1,90719,5328861,Zablocie__chlodnia_i_fabryki.html. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 "Oskar Schindler: An Unlikely Hero". U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/focus/schindler/. Retrieved 29 May 2008. 
  9. Eric Silver (1992). The book of the just – the silent heroes who saved Jews from Hitler. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson. ISBN 0-8021-1347-8. 
  10. Werdyger, Duvid (1993). Songs of Hope. Lakewood, N.J.: CIS Publishers. pp. 161–162. ISBN 1-56062-226-1. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "Mietek Pemper". The Daily Telegraph. 15 June 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/8578020/Mietek-Pemper.html. Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Martin, Douglas (18 June 2011). "Mietek Pemper, 91, Camp Inmate Who Compiled Schindler’s List". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/19/world/europe/19pemper.html. Retrieved 26 June 2011. 
  13. Gutman (1995). Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. MacMillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0-02-864527-8. 
  14. Maslin, Janet. "Movies: About Schindler's List". The New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/119912/Schindler-s-List/overview?scp=1&sq=schindler%27s%20list&st=cse. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Bulow, Louis (2009). "Oskar Schindler: His List of Life". oskarschindler.com. http://www.oskarschindler.com/. Retrieved 4 July 2010. 
  16. "City of Hildesheim Archives (in German)". 2 October 1999. http://www.stadtarchiv-hildesheim.de/publikationen/dok_35_schindler.htm. Retrieved 16 December 2007. 
  17. Photos of house and plaque located at Göttingstr.30 in Hildesheim where Oskar Schindler lived from 1972 to his death in 1974. He was a guest of Dr. Staehr and his wife.
  18. Deutsches Historisches Museum Article Oskar Schindler.
  19. Crowe, David M. (2004). Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind The List. Philadelphia: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3375-X. 
  20. Bellafante, Ginia. "Test". The New York Times. http://tv.nytimes.com/show/60358/Schindler-The-Real-Story/overview. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  21. Goodman, Walter. "Test". The New York Times. http://tv.nytimes.com/show/57324/Oskar-Schindler-The-Man-Behind-the-List/overview. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  22. Bulow, Louis (2009). "The Suitcase". oskarschindler.com. http://www.oskarschindler.com/16.htm. 
  23. "Schingler" ([dead link]). News (Yahoo!). 6 April 2009. http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090406/ts_afp/australiagermanyhistorywwiiholocaustschindler. 

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