did he do it ? Why did he spend something like 4 million German
marks keeping his Jews out of the death camps - an enormous sum
of money for those times ? Why did he risk his life to rescue
his Jews in the shadow of Auschwitz ?
Samaritan actions, brotherly love ...? Oskar Schindler does not
exactly fit the description of guardian angel very well! We
think we know what goodness looks like. It looks like Gandhi,
skinny in his loincloth, or Mother Teresa, unostentatious in her
nun's habit. Goodness does not drink, womanize, wear big
No one will ever know exactly what made this complex man do what
no German had the courage to do. A large part of the fascination
of Schindler is that not even those who admire him most can
figure out his motives. But Oskar Schindler rose to the highest
level of humanity, walked through the bloody mud of the
Holocaust without soiling his soul, his compassion, 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.
Oskar Schindler was a sentimentalist who loved the simplicity of
doing good. A man full of flaws like the rest of us. An
ordinary man who even in the worst of circumstances did
extraordinary things, matched by no one. The unlikeliest of all
role models who started by earning millions as a war profiteer
and ended by spending his last pfennig and risking his life to
save his 1300 Schindlerjews.
Schindler not only saved their lives - he saved our faith
in humanity ...
his acclaimed international bestseller Schindler's Ark, the
author Thomas Keneally tells us, that one of the most common
sentiments of the Schindlerjews is still:"I don't know why
he did it ..." Keneally drops a hint in his
description of Oskar Schindler's childhood, a strong Catholic
household and deeply religious parents. The nearest neighbors
were a Jewish Rabbi family, and the two sons were Oskar's
closest friends for years.
Spielberg, who turned the novel into a seven Academy
Award-winning film, Schindler's List, pointed out in an
interview in Der Spiegel, that Oskar Schindler simply was 'ein
guter Mensch', whose sheer humanity forced him to take extremely
great personal risks to save the Schindlerjews.
decade before Schindler's List made it to the top of
Hollywood's A-list Jon Blair, producer and director, made Schindler,
an 80-minute documentary for Britain's Thames Television
about Oscar Schindler's life. In 1983 it won the British Academy
Award for best documentary. But the film left few clues as to
why Schindler devoted his fortunes and future to saving the
lives of his Jews. Blair later told:"Oskar, this big man
with a big heart and big connections, loved to be loved and
needed. But I always felt it was a weakness in my film that I
couldn't explain Schindler's motivation, and Spielberg told me
the same about his - it seems impossible to crack that enigma
Glovin, Schindler's attorney and friend, met Oskar in 1963 and
bought the rights to the story and film in 1980. He later
recalled Schindler not only with affection, but with great
admiration:"He drank, yes, he drank. He liked women. He
bribed. But he bribed for a good purpose. All of these things
worked. If he were not this kind of person he probably wouldn't
have succeeded. Whatever it took to save a life he did. He
worked the system extraordinarily well. He was a true human
being in the best sense of the word .. His actions in those
circumstances were absolutely extraordinary and I know of no one
who has matched them."
wife, Emilie Schindler, recalls Oskar this way in A Memoir
Where Light And Shadow Meet:"In spite of his flaws,
Oscar had a big heart and was always ready to help whoever was
in need. He was affable, kind, extremely generous and charitable,
but at the same time, not mature at all .."
a 1964 interview, standing in front of his dingy apartment Am
Hauptbahn No. 4 in Frankfurt Am Main, West Germany, Oskar
Schindler for once commented on what he did:
persecution of Jews in occupied Poland meant that we could see
horror emerging gradually in many ways. In 1939, they were
forced to wear Jewish stars, and people were herded and shut up
into ghettos. Then, in the years '41 and '42 there was plenty of
public evidence of pure sadism. With people behaving like pigs,
I felt the Jews were being destroyed. I had to help them. There
was no choice."
Schindler survivor, Murray Pantirer, set up a construction firm
after the war and has by now dedicated 25 streets in New Jersey
to Oskar Schindler's memory. Through all the years the big
question always remained: Why? What prompted Schindler to act as
he did, at tremendous risk to himself ? Pantirer thinks he got
came to my house once, and I put a bottle of cognac in front of
him, and he finished it in one sitting. When his eyes were
flickering - he wasn't drunk - I said this is the time to ask
him the question 'why' ? His answer was 'I was a Nazi, and I
believed that the Germans were doing wrong ... when they started
killing innocent people - and it didn't mean anything to me that
they were Jewish, to me they were just human beings, menschen -
I decided I am going to work against them and I am going to save
as many as I can'. And I think that Oskar told the truth,
because that's the way he worked."
asked, Schindler told that his metamorphosis during the war was
sparked by the shocking immensity of the Final Solution. In his
own words: "I hated the brutality, the sadism, and the
insanity of Nazism. I just couldn't stand by and see people
destroyed. I did what I could, what I had to do, what my
conscience told me I must do. That's all there is to it. Really,
Schindler was isolated and rejected by his fellow citizens after
World War II. His clear indictment of German war criminals in
the trials after the war nourished the hatred that many felt for
him. He was persecuted, he was sworn at on the streets, and
stones were thrown at him. He was an irritating reminder to
everyone that it had after all been possible to do something
against the Nazis. It was said that he was their bad conscience
- the conscience of all those who had known something but done
years after the war, Moshe Bejski, a Schindlerjew and later a
Supreme Court justice in Israel, asked Schindler why he did it ?
Schindler replied, "I knew the people who worked for me.
When you know people, you have to behave towards them like human
Poldek Pfefferberg, another Schindlerjew, recalled how Schindler
in 1944 was a very wealthy man, a multimillionaire:"He
could have taken the money and gone to Switzerland ... he
could have bought Beverly Hills. But instead, he gambled his
life and all of his money to save us ..." When Pfefferberg
asked him the same question 'WHY' ? Schindler answered,
"There was no choice. If you saw a dog going to be crushed
under a car, wouldn't you help him?"
on the days when the air was black with the ashes from bodies on
fire, there was hope in Crakow because Oskar Schindler was there.
Beck, a Schindler survivor, recalls:"We gave up many
times, but he always lifted our spirits ... Schindler tried to
help people however he could. That is what we remember."
Ferber - today Rena Finder - was only 10 years old when the
Nazis invaded Poland. She was saved by Oskar Schindler and later
recalled:"He was a gambler, who loved living on the edge.
He loved outsmarting the SS. I would not be alive today if it
wasn't for Oskar Schindler. To us he was our God, our Father,
Ferber's name also was on 'Schindler's List'. He was one of the
youngest 'Schindlerjews' and later told how Oscar Schindler
underwent a transformation when he witnessed the sadism of the
Nazis and gave up everything to save as many lives as he could.
"I thank God for Oskar Schindler. If not for him, I would
not be here and not have any family."
an 11-year-old boy, Zev Kedem was another Schindlerjew, whose
life was miraculously saved by Schindler. Only an operator like
Oskar Schindler could have pulled off this effort, Kedem says:
"If he was a virtuous, honest guy, no one in a corrupt,
greedy system like the SS would accept him .. In a weird world
that celebrated death, he recognized the Jews as humans.
Schindler used the corrups ways, creativity and ingenuity
against the monster machine dedicated to death."
is credited with many acts of kindness, small and large. Abraham
Zuckerman spent five of his teenage years in Nazi kz camps. He
later recalled Oskar Schindler this way:"There were SS
guards but he would say 'Good morning' to you. He was a chain
smoker and he´d throw the cigarette on the floor after only two
puffs, because he knew the workers would pick it up after him.
To me he was an angel. Because of him I was treated like a human
being. And because of him I survived .."
Zuckerman recalled how Oskar Schindler got 300 Schindler-women
released from the deathcamp Auschwitz - during World War 2 the
only shipment out of Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered 2-3
million people. "What people don't understand about Oskar
is the power of the man, his strength, his determination.
Everything he did he did to save the Jews. 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 ....! "
day the 300 Schindler-women were routed on a train to Auschwitz
by a mistake. Certain death awaited. A Schindler survivor, Anna
Duklauer Perl, later recalled:'I knew something had gone
terribly wrong .. they cut our hair real short and sent us to
the shower. Our only hope was Schindler would find us.'
Schindler-women were being herded off toward the showers. They
did not know whether this was going to be water or gas. Then
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. And the women were released.
they returned to his factory, weak, hungry, frostbitten, less
than human, Schindler met them in the courtyard. They never
forgot the sight of Schindler 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.'
Dresner was one of the Schindlerjews, and his mother and sister
were among the 300 Schindler-women, Schindler got out of
Auschwitz. "That was something nobody else did,"
Dresner later recalled, "Schindler was an adventurer. He
was like an actor who always wanted to be centre stage."
Schindler survivor, Ludwik Feigenbaum, gave this description of
Schindler:"I don't know what his motives were, even though
I knew him very well. I asked him and I never got a clear answer
and the film doesn't make it clear, either. But I don't give a
damn. What's important is that he saved our lives .."
some questioned Schindler's motives. Stanislaw Dobrowolski,
member of the Polish underground committee during World War 2,
had a scathing opinion of Oskar Schindler. He argued that
Schindler only saved his Jews because he was convinced that the
Nazis would lose the war.
Poldek Pfefferberg, a Schindler-Jew who spent 40 years trying to
drum up interest in the Schindler-Story, had no doubt about the
nobility of Schindler's motives. He
insisted that Oskar Schindler began helping Jews long before the
tide of war turned against the Nazis. 'He risked his life,'
Pfefferberg said. 'He was doing it from the first day.'
similar assessment came from Irving Glovin, Schindler's attorney.
'The man rose to an occasion,' Glovin said. 'Why the story is
remarkable is that he did something when it appeared that the
Germans were winning, and he did it over a long period of time,
about four years, and he did it in the worst area, Poland, and
he did it openly ... He did it for strangers.'
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 ..