[ An End to Intolerance (Volume 5 -- June 1997) ]

The "List" That Saved Jews

By Kris Koka
Cold Spring Harbor High School
(with the help of information from the
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Washington, DC, USA)

Who would have thought that a boy born in a small industrial city in the Sudetenland, in what is known as the Czech Republic, would be the savior of over 1,200 Jewish people during the most trying time in their history. Who would have thought that this man some thought as a gambler, drinker, womanizer would be declared "Righteous Among the Nations" by the Council of the Yad Vashem and be invited by the council to plant a tree on the Avenue of the Righteous? This tree, which was planted in 1968, still flourishes at this site in Jerusalem, as does the cherished memory of Oskar Schindler.

[ Oskar Schindler and People He Rescued ]
Oskar Schindler with people he rescued
(Professor Pfefferberg-Page; courtesy USHMM).

Schindler grew up in the ethnically German part of the former Czechoslovakia which was known as the Sudetenland. The young Schindler grew up just like any other boy, playing games with friends, attending school, and so on. He spent much time playing with his neighbors, two Jewish boys, the sons of a Rabbi. He married a woman named Emilie when he was 20, but they spent many years separated from one another. Schindler became a sales manager for Moravian Electric after his farm machinery plant was hit by the World Depression. When the Sudetenland became part of Germany in 1938, Schindler saw the economic potential of joining the Nazi party, and he did so. To get in even better standing with the German government, he gathered intelligence for the German government when business took him to Poland. On these trips, he collected information on industrial and military sites.

After the invasion of Poland by the Germans, Schindler followed the occupying forces to Cracow where he set up a cookware company called, Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik, or German Enamelware Factory. The factory manufactured mess kits and field kitchenware for the German army. Under Schindler's management, the company flourished. He used cheap Jewish labor from the Cracow ghetto, and secretly raised some of the funds for his company from Jewish businessmen. By this time, Schindler had already made himself quite a fortune.

The work force grew as the company did, from 190 in 1941, to 1,100 in 1944. It was at this time that the Nazis destroyed the Cracow ghetto and moved all of its inhabitants to the Plaszow Camps. Aware that his entire work force would be slaughtered in camps, Schindler contacted the Germans he had impressed and was able to get a few favors from people. He gained permission to take his whole work force to a factory outside the main camp at Plaszow where the other members of the Cracow ghetto had gone. This saved the lives of over 1,000 Jewish people and meant that they would never have to face the same tragedy that thousands of other Jews had at the hands of the infamous, brutal, SS Commandant Amon Göth.

[ Oskar Schindler with SS Officers ]
Oskar Schindler with SS officers
(Professor Pfefferberg-Page; courtesy USHMM).

This was only one of his many acts of heroism during the war. As the Soviet army advanced into Poland, the German high command instructed Schindler to abandon the factory. Instead of letting his workers be "deported" to Auschwitz, he was once again able to take his Jewish workers from his old factory to a new one, a munitions plant at Brunnlitz. He accomplished this through bribes to Göth which he paid for with his war earnings. He prepared a list, "Schindler's list" of over a thousand names, which was given to the German administrators. Schindler transferred his workers to Brunnlitz.

A large amount of those Jews on the list were not considered valuable workers and would have been killed if left behind. In October of 1944, after being mistakenly transported to Auschwitz, two transports of 800 men and 300 women finally reached the factory. Schindler also rescued one hundred Jewish men and women who lay trapped and nearly frozen in two cattle cars near his factory from the Goleszow concentration camp. At the war's end, some Jewish survivors gave him a gold ring in which was inscribed from the Talmud, "Whoever saves a single life, saves the world entire."

In 1949, Schindler moved to Argentina. After a failed attempt at farming, he grew to dislike life there. He was cheerless in these years and decided to go back to Germany in 1958. Schindler lived in a small apartment in Frankfurt; poverty almost placed him in debtor's prison. He was contacted by the Jews he had saved, and they sent him some money and invited him to Israel every year. Each time, he was treated hospitably by the survivors and their families. He died in 1974 in Frankfurt, Germany and was buried in Mount Zion Catholic Cemetery in Jerusalem.

Schindler was a man who risked everything he had to save a group of people whom the Nazis had deemed subhuman. The Jews he saved have said that he was a good man because he gave them shelter, food and the ability to carry on their religious observances. He was in good standing with the Nazi party, had a very successful business, had a fortune and a life of luxuries, all of which he risked and lost to protect his Schindlerjuden the Jewish people who were in his care. Oskar Schindler's moral choice and heroism can inspire us all.

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