Schindler file photo [7204]

Oskar Schindler

SurnameSchindler
Given NameOskar
Born28 Apr 1908
Died9 Oct 1974
CountryGermany
CategoryCommerce-Industry
GenderMale

Contributor:

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.

ww2dbaseSource: Wikipedia; oskarschindler.com; oskarschindler.net; Jewish Virtual Library.

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.

Photographs

Oskar Schindler, circa 1940-1945Portrait of Oskar Schindler, date unknownOskar Schindler, post-warOskar Schindler standing next to the tree planted in honor of his rescue efforts, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel, 1970
See all 6 photographs of Oskar Schindler



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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Gregg Heilman says:
6 Dec 2009 08:47:47 PM

Our son played Little League Baseball for years with a fine Jewish boy. They were good friends all through school. Martins father asked me if we were Jewish and I said no, but it didn't matter to either of us. Our families were good friends through the baseball seasons. When Schindlers List came out my wife and I went to see it the first night. Unknown to Martins parents they asked us to go with them the following month. I told my wife when I went into their home it was filled with photos who appeared as the people in the film had looked. His wife cried during the movie it broke our hearts too. Some years later I printed the actual Schindlers List on the Internet. We live in an area settled by Germans for 300 years. The list had many of the same names we have in our local phone book. I took it into work and my coworkers agreed with me. Then some years later we had work done by Germans from Germany. One young man said to me your phone book is just like ours back home in Germany. I did not tell him so does Schindlers List. There was even a Mr. and Mrs. Heilman. I said no doubt Nazis Hoffman's, Heilmans, Schmidt's etc. were rounding up Jewish Hoffman's, Heilmans and Schmidt's. I did actually did communicate with the son of the Heilmans on schindler List. He lives in New York State. We are not related as many of the surnames were not related
2. Roger Paul White says:
10 Sep 2016 03:34:32 PM

When we forget. We history becomes just facts and figures, then it begins again: social exclusion, persuasion for been different, the use of economic uncertainty and fear of the 'other', that leads to these events, time and again. Someone once said that six million is a huge figure to think about. My reply: 'think of the people as if they were your family, friends, relatives, the people you know who live beside you or your next door neighbour you don't know, the people you like or dislike, if it's put in that context then each of those six million people is an individual with life and a story.'
3. Anonymous says:
16 Mar 2018 09:00:32 AM

where can i get more information
4. Commenter identity confirmed David Stubblebine says:
16 Mar 2018 09:09:22 PM

During a 1964 interview, Oskar Schindler was asked why he had intervened on behalf of the Jews. He said, “The persecution of Jews in the General Government in Polish territory gradually worsened in its cruelty. In 1939 and 1940 they were forced to wear the Star of David and were herded together and confined in ghettos. In 1941 and 1942 this unadulterated sadism was fully revealed. And then a thinking man, who had overcome his inner cowardice, simply had to help. There was no other choice.” [USHMM]

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Oskar Schindler, circa 1940-1945
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