|Born||28 Apr 1908|
|Died||9 Oct 1974|
Contributor: David Stubblebine
ww2dbaseEdmund Burke said, "All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." When confronted with the greatest evil of the age, Oskar Schindler did something.
ww2dbaseOskar Schindler was born April 28, 1908 in Svitavy, Austria-Hungary (now in the Czech Republic). His parents were ethnic Germans who maintained a pious Catholic household. Their nearest neighbors were the family of a Jewish Rabbi and Schindler's most frequent boyhood playmates were the Rabbi's two sons.
ww2dbaseIn the 1930's Schindler worked in various businesses, but went bankrupt in the Great Depression. In 1939, Schindler joined the Nazi Party, continuing his earlier relationship with the German Abwehr (Army Intelligence) that helped pave the way for a German invasion of Poland in 1939.
ww2dbaseAn opportunistic businessman, Schindler was one of many who sought to profit from the German invasion of Poland. He gained ownership of an idle enamelware factory in Kraków and with the help of his Jewish accountant, Itzhak Stern, he arranged for Jewish laborers to work there. When the two men were first introduced, Schindler held out his hand but Stern declined to take it. Stern explained that he was a Jew and it was forbidden for a Jew to shake a German's hand. Schindler replied with a German expletive, "Scheisse."
ww2dbaseSchindler became quite wealthy and adapted his lifestyle to match his income, becoming a prodigious womanizer and a hard drinker. Thriving in the corrupt system, he became a respected guest at SS parties where he had easy chats with high-ranking officers that often benefited Schindler later.
ww2dbaseIn 1943, while watching soldiers round up residents of the Kraków Ghetto for shipment to the nearby Plaszów concentration camp, Schindler was appalled by the murder of many Jews who worked for him. After the raid, he began using his many persuasive skills to protect his Schindlerjuden (Schindler's Jews). There are several stories where Schindler feigned anger at a worker's minor transgression when high-ranking Germans were present, so the worker would be spared from much harsher treatment by the Germans or even death. He often used his legendary charm and ingratiating manner with Gestapo and SS officers to help his workers get out of difficult situations. Author Eric Silver says 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.'"
ww2dbaseThe special status of his factory ("business essential to the war effort") became the decisive factor in his efforts to support his Jewish workers. Whenever the Schindlerjuden were threatened with deportation, he would claim special exemptions for them; wives, children, and even handicapped persons were listed as necessary mechanics and metalworkers. He arranged with the Plaszów commandant, Amon Göth, for 700 Jews to be transferred to a compound adjacent to Schindler's factory where they would be reasonably well fed and relatively safe from the brutality of the German guards. Schindler also reportedly began to smuggle children out of the ghetto, delivering them to Polish nuns who claimed they were Christian orphans.
ww2dbaseAs the Soviet Army drew closer, Schindler bribed Göth and other SS officials to allow him to move his 1,100 Jewish workers to Brnenec in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. With Itzhak Stern's help, Schindler prepared a typed list of all the names of his "essential workers," each one paid for with a sizable bribe to the SS drawn from Schindler's fortune. Schindler was keenly aware that each name on the list represented a person - with a family and a life. He would later lament to Stern that he had not spent enough; he said if he spent more, more people could have been saved. As it was, the list contained 1,198 names.
ww2dbaseThrough clerical errors, the train with 300 Schindlerjuden women was routed to Auschwitz where it was processed like any other trainload of Jews arriving at the notorious death camp. Schindler rushed to Auschwitz where, through his implacable charm and offering numerous bribes, he negotiated their release. The women had survived at Auschwitz for 20 days - almost certainly because of their relatively high level of health from Schindler's better treatment in Kraków. These women also represent the only Jews to leave Auschwitz during the war and also survive the war.
ww2dbaseOnce in Brnenec, Schindler gained another former Jewish factory for the production of missiles and hand grenades, but not a single weapon Schindler produced actually worked. This meant he made no money, but rather he spent all he had on bribes and black-market purchases to save his workers right up to the end of the war.
ww2dbaseSchindler did not prosper in postwar Germany; he was shunned as a traitor and was reduced to receiving assistance from Jewish organizations. He emigrated to Argentina in 1948 where he went bankrupt again. He left his wife, Emilie, in 1957 and returned to Germany, where he had a series of unsuccessful business ventures.
ww2dbaseIn 1963, Schindler was honored as one of the Righteous Among Nations at Israel's Yad Vashem memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, an honor awarded by Israel to non-Jews who worked to save Jews during the Holocaust at great risk to themselves. Schindler was the first member of the Nazi party to be recognized with a tree planted in his name at the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem. He was also honored with the German Federal Cross of Merit and with the Papal Order of St. Sylvester.
ww2dbaseOskar Schindler died on October 9, 1974, at the age of 66 and destitute. He is buried at the Catholic cemetery at Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the only member of the Nazi party buried there. Usually many stones rest on top of his grave as a token of gratitude, according to Jewish tradition. An inscription in German on his grave reads "The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1200 Persecuted Jews."
ww2dbaseSchindler's story was the basis for Thomas Keneally's book Schindler's Ark, which was adapted into the 1993 Steven Spielberg film Schindler's List. The film is the sole source of most people's knowledge of Schindler and he is generally perceived much as Spielberg's film depicts him: a man instinctively motivated by profit-driven amorality but at some point made a conscious silent decision to preserve the lives of his Jewish employees, even though it cost him all his wealth and could have cost him his life.
ww2dbaseIn 1999 a suitcase belonging to Schindler was discovered in the attic of the house in Hildesheim, Germany where he lived at the time of his death. It contained over 7,000 photographs and documents, including The List. The contents of the suitcase, including The List and the text of his 1945 farewell speech to "his children," are now at the Holocaust Museum of Yad Vashem in Israel.
ww2dbaseSixty years after the war, the 1,198 names on The List and their descendants total over 7,000 people, more Polish Jews than in all of Poland today; 7,000 people who would not have lived at all had Oskar Schindler done nothing when faced with evil.
Last Major Revision: Jan 2009
Oskar Schindler Timeline
|28 Apr 1908||Oskar Schindler was born in Zwittau, Moravia, Austria-Hungary (now Svitavy, Czech Republic).|
|9 Oct 1974||Oskar Schindler passed away in Hildesheim, West Germany.|
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