Skip to comments.The Challenging Life Of Oskar Schindler [No good deed goes unpunished]
Posted on 11/03/2016 7:16:55 AM PDT by SJackson
The publication of Thomas Keneallys book Schindlers Ark (1982) and the release of the Steven Spielberg Oscar-winning film Schindlers List (1993), made the basic story of Oskar Schindler widely known.
German industrialist, Nazi Party member, war profiteer, alcoholic, and shameless womanizer, Schindler (1908-1974) was both a cynical, greedy exploiter of slave workers and an authentic Holocaust hero best known for risking his life and spending his entire fortune during World War II to save over 1,200 Jews by employing them at his Krakow enamelware factory and protecting them by bribing German officials.
When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, the opportunistic businessman joined the Nazi Party. He gained ownership of an idle Jewish-owned enameled-goods factory close to the Jewish ghetto, Deutsch Emailwaren Fabrik, and, with the help of Itzhak Stern, his Jewish accountant, he obtained some 1,000 Jewish slave laborers.
Though initially motivated by money, Schindler was appalled by the Nazi murder of many of his Jewish workers and he thereafter used all his skills to protect his Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews). He used the special status of his factory (business essential to the war effort) to arrange with Amon Göth, commandant of the Plaszow concentration camp, for 700 Jews to be transferred to an adjacent factory compound where he protected them.
In 1962 Schindler was declared one of the righteous among the nations, an honor awarded by Israel to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust at great personal risk, and he was the only (former) member of the Nazi Party ever invited to plant a tree at Jerusalems Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Less well known than Schindlers wartime heroics is his life after the war, which is actually a tragic tale of recurrent failure. He became the subject of substantial physical and verbal abuse because of the assistance he had provided to Jews during the war; in fact, after he was honored by Israel, Schindlers German business partner terminated the partnership because now it is clear that you are a friend of Jews and I will not work together with you any longer.
His unambiguous condemnation and denunciation of German war criminals only served to exacerbate the enmity many Germans felt toward him. He was attacked with taunts of You dirty Jew. They forgot to gas you (Schindler, of course, was not Jewish), and workmen shouted Too bad you didnt burn with the Jews.
In particular, Schindler received countless threats from former Nazis, including one from an attorney who, after unambiguously identifying himself as an old Nazi, noted Schindlers visit to Israel and his support for Jews during the war and warned: Because of your behavior, I have an eye on you, Herr Schindler.
In one incident, one of his factory workers attacked him with an iron rod and, though he pressed charges, the post-Holocaust German authorities failed to take any action. When he punched out a factory worker who accused him of being a Jew kisser, he was hauled into court, charged with violence, and received a lecture from the judge on proper social behavior.
* * * * *
By the end of the war, Schindler had spent his vast fortune on bribes and black-market purchases of supplies for his workers and was virtually broke. Facing monumental financial difficulties and feeling understandably vulnerable in postwar Germany, he applied for an entry permit to the United States, but was turned down because he had served as a member of the Nazi Party. In 1949 he and his wife, Emilie, fled to Argentina where he settled down as a farmer. But when he went bankrupt in 1957, he abandoned Emilie (whom he would never see again).
Shown here is a card from a May 20, 1994 WIZO Gala Schindler Night in West Palm Beach, Florida, to honor Emilie Schindler. The card is signed by Emilie, Tom Keneally (author of Schindlers Ark), and Jack Feigenbaum and Rena Schoenthal Fagen, surviving Schindler Jews. The event was the first time in 50 years that Emilie got to meet some of the people she and her husband had saved. She passed away on October 5, 2001 at age 93.
* * * * *
Schindler returned to Germany, where every subsequent business he tried, including a cement factory, also failed.front-page-110416-postcard
He was repeatedly saved from destitution only through funds provided by some of his Schindlerjuden, who had never forgotten him, and later thanks to a small pension he received from the West German government and stipends from Jewish organizations. He had serious health issues, including cardiovascular problems, and ultimately died of liver failure.
Exhibited here are excerpts from what is a truly remarkable and historic correspondence, one of only a handful of Schindler letters in existence. (It was typed on onionskin and therefore does not reproduce well here; I encourage readers interested in seeing all three pages of the letter to contact me and I will be happy to forward the entire scan.).
In the January 2, 1964 letter from Frankfurt am Main to Alfred Hermann, he discusses his difficult life after the war (translation from the German):
As you learned from German television, Channel 2, Mr. Wilfert intends to visit you in NY . He wants to make a feature about you and some of our friends for television and produce material for your article in New York Herald Tribune . It seems to be of no consequence that I am present. On December 30, 1963 at an exhibition at Frankfurts Paulskirche honoring the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, I had a short conversation with Mr. Wilfert (the exhibition coincides with the trial against Auschwitz guards in the City Hall next door) . In your first article, and unfortunately I dont read English, it supposedly says that I was stoned on the streets of Frankfurt. This is untrue and must be based on a translation error . However, it is true that I was attacked with an iron rod in my factory by one of my workers. This happened in a suburb of Frankfurt in front of 10 witnesses, and I fell down the stairs into concrete blocks on the floor. The emphasis was not on the injuries I sustained but on the words that were spoken: You dirty Jew. They forgot to gas you. Half an hour later, I pressed charges with the Hanau police in front of witnesses, but nobody followed up on my complaint . The police did nothing, and even my lawyer, Dr. Alexander Besser, advised me to let it go. At this time, I had been receiving medical treatments due to my cardiovascular problems, and I didnt want to deal with this issue . I was boycotted and we experienced an unusually cold winter . This was a new enterprise, we had no reserve assets and finally we received an eviction notice.
I have to reject the notion that these events could turn me into a martyr or that they were caused by political intrigue against me . On the other hand, I cannot bear the notion that things beyond my control are being trivialized. And Mr. Wilfert was wrong when he stated that You dirty Jew. They forgot to gas you is a common saying in Frankfurt.
But I have to complain about a company I used to do business with. Witnesses were unavailable to Mr. Wilfert since they were sick or had been fired, but their attorney revealed himself as an old Nazi in front of witnesses. He commented on my visit to Israel and on my support for Jews during the war by saying: Because of your behavior, I have an eye on you, Herr Schindler. I am an old Nazi. I informed my lawyer, and my co-owner, Herr von Wangenheim, about this incident. The result was that our business with them sunk to 10%.
After talking to me, Mr. Wilfert plans to find more witnesses to the assault on me and to my failed business. Today my lawyer informed me that he had told Mr. Wilfert, They didnt beat Schindler to death. Hes still alive. This was only a small part of their conversation, and it might have been intended to be a compliment on my physical and mental strength, but it doesnt help.
Dear Hermann, we have known each other now for 30 years, and unfortunately were getting older. Weve always had the courage to face the truth, and it didnt matter if personal, national or racial matters were involved. We have fought hard and honestly for our Golden Years, even though success was sometimes elusive. Therefore, I ask you to give the attached copy and newspaper article to your friend, the journalist, who was kind enough to publish your piece of writing. I want this gentleman to have an objective view of what happened. I want you, your family, and all of your friends to be healthy and successful, and I remain, as always,
The recipient of the letter, Alfred Hermann, was a Czech Jew who, according to his employment entry on Schindlers List, was an accountant.
Otto Wilfert was a renowned German journalist and writer who served as editor for Second German Television (ZDF), a public service German television channel and one of the largest public broadcasters in Europe. He did in fact go on to write the feature article which Schindler discusses in our letter, These Days: An Interview with Oscar Schindler. He produced several television features detailing vicious attacks against Jews in Germany by neo-Nazis long after the Holocaust and he ran a documentary demonstrating that, as late as the 1970s, there was still strong support for Nazi ideology among the general German public.
Alexander Besser, whom Schindler cites as his lawyer, is himself an interesting character. After studying law at the Universities of Breslau and Berlin and earning his doctorate in law in 1927, he along with every other Jewish lawyer in Germany was disbarred in 1933. Beginning 1937, he worked in the Berlin Emigration Office of the Jewish Agency of Palestine, but was forced to flee to Eretz Yisrael in 1938, where he turned to journalism and worked for the magazine Hakidmah (progress) in Tel Aviv.
Upon his return to Germany in 1950, where he was admitted to the Frankfurt bar, he became a renowned radio and television commentator and served as a journalist for the General Weekly of the Jews in Germany. Besser represented Schindler in a broad range of matters, including the purchases of several businesses as well as various bankruptcy proceedings. Its interesting to note that Schindler not only turned to a Jewish lawyer to assist him with his many legal issues but to one with a significant public profile as a German Jew.
Finally, public exhibitions and memorials in Germany dealing with the Holocaust were always controversial, a manifestation of Germanys struggle to confront its terrible Nazi legacy. The first such event, to which Schindler refers in our correspondence, was the Warsaw Ghetto Exhibition at the Frankfurt Paulskirche, which opened on November 23, 1963, ran through January 1964, and drew 61,000 visitors.
As Schindler notes, the exhibition opened in Frankfurt during the trial of several former Auschwitz camp guards. In fact, highlighting the trial was, at least in part, an important objective of the creators of the exhibition, who deliberately included contemporary photographs of the Nazi defendants entering the courthouse and excerpts from the prosecutions indictment.
The exhibition designers depicted the Holocaust as the logical result of the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 and the gradual dehumanization of Jews. The underlying theme they sought to convey was that immoral ideas inexorably lead to evil actions. However, the exhibition was broadly criticized for emphasizing universal lessons about victimization, and for presenting a generic characterization of the victims of National Socialism, when in fact the Nazis primary victims were Jews and the unambiguous goal of the Third Reich was the total annihilation of the Jewish people.
In the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials, which attracted considerable publicity in Germany, 22 defendants were charged under German criminal law not on the legal definition of crimes against humanity as then recognized by international law for their roles as lower-level officials at Auschwitz. Though the defendants were convicted, the trial was considered by many to be a failure because the media treated the accused as sick, deviant monsters, which enabled Germans to view the defendants as different from normal Germans such as themselves.
Schindler died in Germany on October 9, 1974, at age 66 about 10 years after he wrote our letter. As he had requested, he was buried in Jerusalem.
His great legacy is attested to by the more than 7,000 descendants of the Schindler Jews who are alive today.
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Long, not current, but interesting
I ain’t surprised. If you stick your neck out and do something good, something that God wants, the devil is going to be on your tail trying to stop you.
Good story here. Thanks for posting.
Schindler’s life and story reflects the great dichotomy present in the German personality. Intelligence, creativity an even kindness coexist simultaneously with harsh dogmatic compulsions, rigidity, projection and murderous prejudice. It continues to this day and is reflected in their politics and policies. Churchill summarized it best. “The Germans are either at your throat or at your feet”. They can never atone for their crimes nor will they ever recover the irreplaceable genetic loss of their best stock between 1914-1945. The results insanity of the Kaiser and Hitler can never be forgotten or reversed.
All those who mistreated him will pay the price....................
Some may understand later and get on the right road. I don’t think Schindler himself, if (as I hope) in heaven, would bear a grudge in those cases.
Let's just say that Oskar was far more enigmatic than the books or movies have portrayed him. A very good man, but also one who fought his temptations (to put it mildly).
We’d wish, of course, that Schindler could have saved all of them. This is one of the most agonizing situations.
We ultimately have to conclude by confessing that God knows what He is doing. Suffering on earth isn’t the entire picture of human existence.
Schindler was an avid motorcyclist before the War, and rode the racing circuit in Europe. He liked Italian bikes (like Moto-Guzzi and Ducati) and was designing and building bikes in his garage when the War started.
He later used his knowledge of bikes to divert some SS who roared up to his factory on motorcycles. Some cigarettes, petrol, and “scooter-talk” sent them on their way as a couple of hundred Jewish Workers held their breath on the other side of a wall.
The scene from Keneally’s book would have made a wonderful movie sequence, and to this day, I can’t figure out why Spielberg ignored it.
Oh well, I guess us bikers look at the world a little differently!
Keep the chrome side up, brother Oskar!
Sometimes I think we nuked the wrong country.
Thank you for posting.
Instructive tale for all those who believe that world attitudes toward Jews actually changed at all after WWII.
When did we nuke a country?
I was shocked, and I told him any sort of self-mutilation, self-maiming, but especially to destroy your reproductive capacity, is immoral. He said, rather, that it was immoral for Germans to reproduce, since they were historically such warmongers and racists. So, since he was against abortion (the ethical residue of a Catholic upbringing), sterilization was the perfect way to prevent that, and also reduce Germans down to a more humble level vis-a-vis the rest of the world.
He called it "demographic justice."
I called it "sick, irrational inherited guilt". I urged him not to do anything so destructive and drastic. He was amazed that I didn't agree with him, and then said, "Well, not being German, you wouldn't understand."
Japan. It was in all the newsreels.
Germany surrendered before we touched the first one off in New Mexico. Nuking them after they had surrendered would have been seen as ‘not playing fair’.
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