No one will ever know exactly what made this complex man do what no German had the courage to do. Oscar Schindler rose to the highest level of humanity, walked through the bloody mud of the Holocaust without soiling his respect for human life - and gave his Jews a second chance at life. He miraculously managed to do it and pulled it off by using the very same talents that made him a war profiteer - his flair for presentation, bribery, and grand gestures.
During the war the conditions of life at the work camp of Plaszow were made dreadful by the SS officer Amon Goeth, the Commandant. He had made the final liquidation of the Crakow ghetto and had experience at three death camps in eastern Poland: Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
Goeth passed his mornings by using his high-powered, scoped rifle to shoot at children playing in the camp. He walked the line with his dogs during the rollcalls and ordered them to rip prisoners apart. After a few minutes of torture, Goeth would shoot the victims in front of everyone. A prisoner in Plaszow was very lucky if he could survive more than four weeks. Collective punishment became frequent, torture and death were daily events.
Moshe Beijski, a Schindler Jew who became a High Court Judge in Israel, later told about Amon Goeth and his methods of punishment:
case of Olmer, whose daughter lives in Jerusalem, and I know her .. Olmer was
summoned by the Camp Commandant Amon Goeth. The Camp Commandant had two dogs,
Ralf and Rolf, and he set the dogs on him. The dogs ate him up alive. Possibly a
little breath still remained in him. He shot him and he was killed ..
The real Oscar Schindler
Oscar Schindler continually risked his life to protect and save his Schindler-Jews from Amon Goeth. He quickly got on good terms with Goeth and desperately spent every penny he had bribing and paying off the SS Commandant and other Nazi officials to get food and better treatment for his Jews. Nobody was hit at his factory, nobody murdered, nobody sent to death camps like the nearby Auschwitz.
Word spread among Cracow’s Jews that Schindler's factory was a safe haven, the place to work. The workforce at Emalia, as Schindler called his factory, burgeoned triplefold; whenever a worker at Plaszow was put in direct peril, Schindler traded a blackmarket item for that worker’s transfer to his factory.
Oscar Schindler in Cracow with Nazi officers
But soon the Nazis’ Final Solution threatened Emalia itself. Increasingly helpless, Schindler found that he could no longer joke easily with the Nazi officials who came on inspections. The double game was becoming more difficult. Dangerous incidents happened more and more often.
On one occasion, three SS men walked onto the factory floor without warning, arguing among themselves. "I tell you, the Jew is even lower than an animal," one was saying. Then, taking out his pistol, he ordered the nearest Jewish worker to leave his machine and pick up some sweepings from the floor. "Eat it," he barked, waving his gun. The shivering man choked down the mess. "You see what I mean," the SS man explained to his friends as they walked away. "They eat anything at all. Even an animal would never do that."
Oscar Schindler's factory Emalia today
Another time, during an inspection by Goeth and his SS officers, the attention of the visitors was caught by the sight of the old Jew, Lamus, who was pushing a barrow too slowly across the factory courtyard, apparently utterly depressed. Goeth asked why the man was so sad, and it was explained to him that Lamus had lost his wife and only child a few weeks earlier during the liquidation of the ghetto. Goeth ordered his adjutant Grün to execute the Jew "so that he might be reunited with his family in heaven," then he guffawed and the SS officers moved on.
Someone from the metal hall rushed up to Oscar Schindler's office and alerted him. Oscar came roaring down the stairs and reached the yard just as the SS man ordered Lamus: "Slip your pants down to your ankles and start walking." Dazed, the old man did as he was told.
Schindler called out desperately:"You can't do that. You are interfering with all my discipline .." The SS officer just sneered. Schindler continued, blurting out the words:"The morale of my workers will suffer. Production for der Vaterland will be affected." The SS adjudant took out his pistol, ready to shoot.
"A bottle of schnapps if you don't shoot him", Schindler almost screamed, no longer thinking rationally.
"Stimmt!" To Schindler's astonishment, the SS man complied. Grinning, the officer put the gun away and strolled arm in arm with the shaken Schindler to the office to collect his bottle of schnapps. And old Lamus, trailing his pants along the ground, continued shuffling across the yard, waiting sickeningly for the bullet in his back that never came.
From Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List
In his famous book Schindler's Ark Keneally tells the story of the Danziger brothers, who cracked a metal press one Friday. Oscar Schindler was away on a business trip and someone denounced the brothers to Amon Goeth. They were immediately arrested and their hanging advertised in the next morning's rollcall in Plaszow.
Oscar returned at three o'clock on Saturday afternoon, three hours before the execution. News of the sentence was waiting on his desk. He drove to the SS headquarter at once, taking cognac with him and some fine kielbasa sausage. He found Goeth in his office and no one knows the extent of the deal that was struck that afternoon. It is hard to believe that the SS Commandant was satisfied simply with cognac and sausage. In any case, he was soothed by Schindler, and at six o'clock, the hour of their execution, the Danziger brothers returned to Schindler's factory in the back seat of Oscar's plush limousine.
Oscar Schindler in Plaszow
On another occasion the 20-year-old Schindler-worker Isak Pila had made the mistake of falling asleep under a table at the factory the same day that Amon Goeth came by for an inspection. When Goeth saw the sleeping boy, he told Oscar Schindler to kill him instantly. Schindler desperately tried to find a way out and hit the boy on one side of the face, then the other. Finally he said to Goeth, 'He's had enough. I need him. We've got a war to win. This can always be settled later ..'
Schindler's usual technique but Amon Goeth complied - and Isak Pila survived.
Oscar Schindler in 1972
Puntierer - today Murray Pantirer - lost both his parents,
two sisters and four brothers during the war, all murdered by the Nazis. He
himself was saved because Oscar Schindler gave him work in his companies,
provided him with food and protected him from the Nazi reign of terror. After
the war Murray Pantirer built up a great fortune as a construction magnate in
the United States, and he honoured Schindler in his own special way. Every time
a new town district was planned and built, at least one street was named after
Schindler. In New Jersey alone there are 21 Schindler Streets, and even a
Schindler Plaza. Even today when the children have taken over the business, this
entirely special mark of honour for Schindler continues ...
Murray Pantirer later recalled the time a prisoner in Brunnlitz stole some potatoes:
An SS man put a potato in his mouth; he had to stand outside like that in the cold weather, and it was written on him 'I'm a potato thief.' When Schindler saw it, he took the potato out of his mouth, and said to the guy, 'go back to your work.' And he told the SS man: In my camp you don't do those things.
And Pantirer retold the well-known story of Schindler going to rescue a trainload of frozen Jews, and said Emilie Schindler helped nurse them back to health, cooking for them and tending to their needs. When a young girl died one day, Oscar Schindler bought a piece of land and allowed her to be buried according to Jewish law.
Oscar Schindler in Israel
Leon Leyson was just a skinny kid during World War II but he was chosen to work for Oscar Schindler, though he was so little that he couldn't reach the handles on the machine. He used to stand on an upside-down box. Schindler developed a fondness for him, nicknaming him little Leyson and showing him many kindnesses. Leyson later recalled:"Occasionally, when he was by himself, he would come and talk to me. He ordered that I get extra rations of food .."
When Leyson's vision began to blur from the factory work, he was excused from the night shift. Schindler's most important act was putting little Leyson on the final list. His two eldest brothers did not survive the war, but he, his parents and brother and sister were saved by Schindler.
Leon Leyson met Oscar Schindler once after the war, in 1972, when a group of survivors invited Schindler to Los Angeles. Leon was among those who welcomed him at the airport. He wasn't sure Schindler would recognize him, but no reminder proved necessary. "I know who you are," said Oscar Schindler. "You are little Leyson!"
From the film Schindler's List
Little Leyson's mother and sister were among the 300 Schindler-women, who were routed on a train to Auschwitz by a mistake. Certain death awaited. When they were being herded off toward the showers they did not know whether this was going to be water or gas. Suddenly they heard a voice:'What are you doing with these people ? These are my people.' Schindler! He had come to rescue them, bribing the Nazis to retrieve the women on his list and bring them back.
The women were released from Auschwitz - the only shipment out of the deathcamp during World War 2. A survivor later told:"Can you imagine what power it took for him to pull out from Auschwitz 300 people ? At Auschwitz, there was only one way you got out, we used to say. Through the chimney! Understand ? Nobody ever got out of Auschwitz. But Schindler got out 300 ...!"
When the women returned to Schindler's factory, weak, hungry, frostbitten, less than human, Oscar met them in the courtyard. They never forgot the sight of him standing in the doorway. And they never forgot his raspy voice when he - surrounded by SS guards - gave them an unforgettable guarantee:'Now you are finally with me, you are safe now. Don't be afraid of anything. You don't have to worry anymore.'
From the film Schindler's List
In those years, millions of Jews died in Polish camps like Auschwitz, but Schindler's Jews miraculously survived. In May, 1945, it was all over. Schindler gathered everyone together in the factory and took a deeply emotional leave of them. At five after midnight - certain that his Jews finally were out of danger - Schindler left the factory.
Oscar Schindler lost millions, everything he possessed. He was penniless. But he - and 1200 Schindler-Jews along with him - had survived the horrors of the Holocaust.
Schindler earned the everlasting gratitude of his Schindlerjews. No matter why, no matter that he was an alcoholic and a shameless womanisor of the worst sort, no matter that he was no saint and left his wife - what matters to his Jews is that he surfaced from the chaos of madness and risked everything for them. And generations will remember him for what he did. No matter how many businesses Schindler failed in, he was a success in life ..
Oscar Schindler's original List
Adolf Hitler's SS Men
Hitler surrounded himself with a small clique of fanatical, ruthless henchmen - a violent group of outsiders who rose to power in the Third Reich and established political and economic institutions of legitimized terror.
These masterminds of death were found to be quite psychologically normal. They were men of fine standing, husbands who morning and night kissed their wives, fathers who tucked their children into bed.
But murders, brutalities, cruelties, tortures, atrocities, and other inhuman acts were an everyday occurrence.
The European Jews were the primary victims of the Nazis. In 1933 nine million Jews lived in the 21 countries of Europe that would be occupied by Germany during the war. By 1945 two out of every three European Jews had been killed.
But Jews were not the only group singled out for persecution by Hitler's Nazi regime. One-half million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally or physically disabled persons, and more than three million Soviet prisoners-of-war also fell victim to Nazi genocide. Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Social Democrats, Communists, partisans, trade unionists, and Polish intelligentsia were also victims of the hate and aggression carried out by the Nazis.
USHMM - archives
Thomas Keneally: Schindler's Ark
Elinor J. Brecher: Schindler's Legacy
Steinhouse: The Real Oskar Schindler, Saturday Night, April 1994
www.auschwitz.dk Louis Bülow Privacy. ©2009-11.