Skip to comments.Schindlerís risk
Posted on 02/13/2005 4:06:20 AM PST by lizol
A North Carolina professor finds that the man who rescued 1,000 Jews from the Holocaust was a spy as well as a savior
By MARTHA WAGGONER
The Associated Press
OSKAR SCHINDLER: THE UNTOLD ACCOUNT OF HIS LIFE, WARTIME ACTIVITIES, AND THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE LIST
by David Crowe
(Westview Press, 766 pages, $30)
ELON, N.C. David Crowe began researching Oskar Schindler with an open mind, wondering how much of the Academy Award-winning movie about the European industrialist who saved more than 1,000 Jews could possibly be true.
Early findings shook the historian in Crowe: Schindler spied on Czechoslovakia for the Germans, aided in the invasion of Poland and fathered two children out of wedlock, with whom he had no relationship.
But he also truly saved more than 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust, spending his personal fortune to feed and house them as World War II raged to an end. In turn, those "Schindler Jews" cared for their savior following the war, when he became an alcoholic with little money, Crowe writes in "Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind the List."
"The bottom line is does he deserve the accolades? Absolutely," Crowe says. "He was the single most righteous gentile during the Holocaust."
Crowe's book is hardly the only one written about Schindler at least six other books have been published, including his wife Emilie's memoir; Ann Byers book for young adults, "Oskar Schindler: Saving Jews From the Holocaust," comes out this spring.
However, Mordecai Paldiel, director of the Righteous Among the Nations Department at Yad Vashem, describes Crowe's work as the definitive story of Schindler. Yad Vashem, a Holocaust memorial foundation in Jerusalem, has the world's largest repository of Holocaust information.
And it draws on new records Crowe uncovered during his research, including Czech secret police files that documented Schindler's work for German military counterintelligence.
Crowe, a history professor at Elon University and a member of the education committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, has written other books, including one on Gypsies in Eastern Europe and Russia. His biography of Schindler also will be published in German and Dutch.
Crowe's book and "Schindler's List" the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie based on the 1982 historical novel by Thomas Keneally reach the same conclusion. However, as might be expected, Hollywood's version of the Schindler story simplifies the transformation of a man whose passage from spy to savior still confounds.
One of the most memorable scenes in Spielberg's movie occurs when Schindler, played by Liam Neeson, confers with kindly clerk Itzhak Stern (Ben Kinglsey) about which names to put on a list of Jews to be saved from the Plaszow labor camp near Krakow, Poland.
The Nazis had given Schindler permission to take 700 Jewish men and 300 women from the Krakow plant to a new one in Brunnlitz near his hometown in Czechoslovakia. But in reality, the list was composed while Schindler was behind bars, accused of bribing the commandant of the labor camp, Amon Goth.
Also, Stern did not write the list. According to Crowe's book, it was drawn up by a far less sympathetic individual a Jew named Marcel Goldberg who worked for the German noncommissioned officer in charge of transport at the camp. It was a common practice for the SS to use Jews as administrators at camps.
Schindler had passed on word of some general groups of people he wanted included, but Goldberg composed the actual list.
"So the question among the Jews became, 'How do you get on Goldberg's list? Crowe says.
Crowe believes Goldberg selected people with prewar connections and those his family knew. And the decision made at Plaszow about who to put on the list was not final. During a stop at a camp called Gross Rosen for processing, 20 to 25 Plaszow men were removed from the list and left behind, replaced by Jews from Gross Rosen.
"The word is out among the Gross Rosen Jews that this is a list of life," Crowe says. "At Gross Rosen, Goldberg lets it be known that he's in control of the list. People swarm around him."
Similarly, the names of eight to 10 of the women were changed while that group stopped at Auschwitz.
Eventually, 1,000 Jews made their way to Brunnlitz in early 1945. Schindler and his wife were there and for some reason, another three transport trains full of Jews showed up also. Crowe believes the cars were sent to Brunnlitz by mistake in the confusion of the final stages of the war.
Schindler and his wife were struggling to feed the Jews already at Brunnlitz and could have turned the cars around. Instead, they accepted them.
Some Jews had frozen to death on the way to Brunnlitz and others died there. But in the end, 1,098 survived, with Schindler spending his personal fortune to keep them alive with food purchased on the black market.
Schindler easily could have shut down his factory in Krakow and ridden out the war on the money he made there, Crowe says.
"But he orchestrates a situation where he is able to convince authorities in Berlin to move his factory and move 1,000 Jews in the process," he says. "He takes all the money he made in the first five years of the war to feed and care for his Jews."
Crowe is not sure what caused Schindler to save "his" Jews. He doubts it was a single event, as is suggested in Spielberg's film.
The historian acknowledges that Schindler may have opportunistically hoped to be able to stay in business after the war. But Crowe also believes he also was compelled by something simpler and more altruistic: "I think he was just disgusted by some of the things he saw."
Sol Urbach, a Schindler Jew whom Crowe interviewed for the book, agrees. "The brutality of the Germans was more than he bargained for," said Urbach, 79, who now lives in Del Ray Beach, Fla.
After the war ended, Schindler became an alcoholic. In 1957, he abandoned his wife in Argentina.
By the end of his life Schindler died in 1974 and is buried in Jerusalem the Jews Schindler saved were supporting him.
As he fell into alcohol dependency, Schindler pawned the gold ring the Jews gave him after the war, which was inscribed with a verse from the Talmud: "He who saves a single life saves the entire world." So when he traveled to Israel for the first time in 1962, Schindler was given a replacement, a symbol of the work he had done to save 1,098 "worlds."
"There certainly had to be an element of self-preservation in Oskar's actions, though it is difficult to determine how much," Crowe says. "In the end, he sacrificed everything for his Jews and lost everything."
Illustrates that courage and honor are complex things sometimes, but courage and honor nonetheless.
In the end he sacrificed everything, but saved his soul.
I believe he asked Hitler to tell the Japanese to back off. Of course Hitler did nothing.
The idea that Schindler was the most righteous gentile for saving 1000 Jews overlooks what was done by Pius XII--who saved almost a million Jewish lives. Despite the smear campaign launched by the Soviets in the mid-fifties and perpetuated by Catholic-bashers till recent years, this good man's story is finally getting out--the papal decree that commanded all convents and monasteries to become hiding places for Jewish refugees, the fake baptismal certificates and passports printed by the Vatican to give cover to the refugees, the liturgical vessels of gold melted-down to pay necessary ransoms and bribes paid to Nazis to look the other way as caravans of food left daily from the Vatican to secret destinations...
Like many others before him, Schindler began thinking it was all about him and realized at the end that it was for this purpose he had been placed in that place at that time, and he stepped up. I have a lot more respect for a man like him than I do for a Pope who after all was following his job description.
Not that I devalue the Pope, far from it. But remember there is more rejoicing in Heaven over the one reclaimed than over the 99 who never strayed.
He didn't give his life to stop the Nazis although he risked it. He was no more righteous a gentile than the thousand who died storming Normandy or died in Africa or anywhere else in the effort to defeat the Nazis.
He saved over a thousand yet the American soldier saved the extermination of the whole race.
I am not detracting from Schindler. But neither should we denigrate Pius XII who did more than any other single human being during the war--more than FDR or Churchill, for instance--to save Jewish lives. He did grow silent eventually. But this was because he wished to deflect attention from himself in order to protect the lives dependent on him. Ironically, this became the handle that his enemies used later on to smear his reputation.
But it would be wrong, as you are suggesting, to suppose he was "just doing his job". He went far beyond what was merely required in the name of justice. For instance, since the food refugees were given was necessarily of the coarsest fare, Pius himself refused anything other than what they were given to eat. This illustrated, I think, how closely he identified with those he was hiding, despite the extraordinary danger involved. His own palace basements were packed with thousands of Jewish men, women and children.
It is well-known he was instrumental in saving around 800,000 lives. But did you know that documents recently released indicate that he pleaded with the President of Roumania, then under Nazi rule, to stop a shipment of almost a million Jews to Auschwitz? He worked behind the scenes continually to rescue those being hunted-down. In fact countless lives were saved by this means alone--in addition to those the Pontiff was hiding. The truth about all this is finally getting out--thanks to some Jewish and Catholic scholars--but very belatedly, in my opinion.
By the way, that pleading with the President of Roumania was SUCCESSFUL. The transportations to Auschwitz were halted.
Sounds like this REAL LIFE STORY would be the basis for a good movie.
I believe what you say in post #6. I am looking for a book or articles that document it. Can you help?
Sort of like a fire man who saves someone from a burning building. It's heroism at it's finest but he's "just" doing his job. It's only big news if he fails to do it.
The thing of it is is, when Jesus told the crowd, "Let him with no sin cast the first stone," he was speaking to all of us.
I hope we can always condemn the evil that men do while remaining awed by and aspiring to the heroic.
Some more facts:
1. Over 85% of the Italian Jewish population was rescued by the Church in the war, despite Nazi occupation midway in the war.
2. Italian zones of occupation in France, Yugoslavia and Greece were hotbeds of rescue activities.
3. It is estimated that 25% of Slovakian Jews were rescued by means of Vatican interventions.
4. Roumania was the only country in Europe besides Germany fully committed to implementing the Nazi plan to exterminate Jews. But though only 8% of the population of Roumania was itself Catholic, and though the Church itself was subject to harsh repression, nevertheless the Chief Rabbi of Roumania, Dr. Alexander Shafran, was able to state in his diary, "At this moment the Catholic Church is the one and only body which can intervene usefully. Nuncio Cassulo continues to bring every problem we ask him about to the Government. It sometimes happens that he appears before them twice on one day."
In September of 1942 as a result of such incessant intervention the deportations ceased, and in spite of several strong Gestapo and SS protests, they were not resumed.
You have very selective memory and present questionable facts.
Yugoslavia and Greece are not Catholic countries. What about Croatia - a Catholic country - that was executing Jews, Serbs, Greeks?
Why don't you just claim that Catholic church saved 10 million Jews? 100 million?
Nothing I've stated is false. It is easy enough to do a google search to find the truth--if you wished to find it. Obviously Pius was successful sometimes, unsuccessful at other times. Yugoslavia and Greece were under Italian control in the early part of the war--and Italians, influenced by the Church even under fascism, did what they could to limit Hitler's persecution of Jews. Your anti-Catholic animus is showing. I know it galls some to admit what is owed to a saintly man like Pius XII--but facts are facts.