Oskar Schindler

“Oskar Schindler: We All Know the Movie, What About the Man?”

In 1982, the book “Schindler’s Ark” by Thomas Keneally, told the story of Oskar Schindler, a man who had been a Nazi Party member but ultimately saved over 1,200 Jews from certain death. While the novel won many awards and made a lot of noise, it was in 1993 that famed director Steve Spielberg brought Schindler’s story to a larger audience.

In the cinematic classic, “Schindler’s List” starring Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, the audience learns about Schindler’s life from his perspective as a businessman, someone in the Nazi Party as well as someone who dissented with the Nazi’s views and transforms into the hero. The movie projected the horrors of the Holocaust into countries and onto crowds that had not been fully informed or which held common misconceptions about the events that had taken place in Nazi-occupied Europe between 1933 and 1945. The movie ends with many of the 1,200 people whom Schindler had saved from the concentration camps placing symbolic stones of respect onto the grave of Oskar Schindler, who is buried in nowhere else but the City of Peace — Jerusalem, Israel.

Oskar Schindler

The real Oskar Schindler was born April 28, 1908 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, present day Czech Republic. After a short stint as a worker in the trade industry, in 1936 he joined Abwehr, the intelligence service of Nazi Germany. He played a role in the Nazi’s eventual invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Schindler had gathered intelligence, reported military movement by the Czechs, and recruited others into his spy-apparatus. He was eventually arrested for espionage, though his release came from the 1938 Munich Agreement.

In 1939, Schindler went back into business when he bought a factory in Krakow, Poland, producing enamelware. Schindler’s Enamelware Factory would become the essence of his humanitarianism, starting with his enter into the Nazi Party. As a member of the Nazi Party, Oskar Schindler would be connected to high-ranking politicians and military officials, ones who he later bribed with luxury gifts and items that could only be received on the black market. Schindler’s bribes gave him the credibility as well as the protection he needed to save over 1,200 Jews from certain death.

Schindler’s new-found credibility convinced the Nazi’s to grant him Jews from the Polish ghettos to work as free labor in his factories, their status as his workers would protect them from certain deportation to the concentration camps. Though by mid-1944, it was obvious that Germany was losing the war, but they did not stop their efforts in mass murdering the Jewish people. As the Nazi army started to close down bases and structures on the Eastern front, due to the success and ever closer Soviet Red Army, Schindler had to act again to save his Jewish workers. He convinced the commander of the Krakow concentration camp to let him move his factory to the Sudetenland, sparing his Jewish friends and work colleagues.

At the end of World War II, Oskar Schindler had avoided the suspicions of the Nazi intelligence services, successfully bribing Nazi political and military officials to keep his operation afloat, and most importantly kept his Jewish workers unscathed. By May 1945, Schindler was broke, he had spent his entire fortune on bribes and supplies to keep his Jewish colleagues alive. After the war, Oskar Schindler and his wife Emilie moved around, West Germany to Argentina and back to Germany in 1958. He was never able to regain his once large fortune, but his legacy will be known forever.

Oskar Schindler is presented in the Friends of Zion Museum as a “Light in the Darkness” for his incredible and heroic work to save 1,200 Jews during a time where he was surely facing certain death for his courageous actions. Oskar Schindler is also honored as a “Righteous Among the Nations,” an honor given by Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum. Schindler was laid to rest October 9, 1974, buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, Israel, the only member of the Nazi Party to receive this distinction.