Oscar Schindler: Protector of the Jews
Oscar Schindler was one of the popular personalities during the Second World War. He was a German Nazi who made a reversal role by portraying the duty of a savior to thousands of Jews who were sentenced to die in concentration camps during the Holocaust period. Because of his heroic action, many people were given a second chance to enjoy life and live in an environment that is free from racism and prejudice.
In 1908, a baby boy was born on the 28th of April from a famous and wealthy family from Zwittau in Czechoslovakia. This fortunate boy was named Oscar Schindler. He grew up with a silver spoon wherein various resources were at his disposal. Also, he spent most of his childhood with their Jewish next door neighbors whom he formed a close bond(Bülow “Prewar”). Exuberance and enjoyment were the words that best described his growing up years. Going to parties, cars and motorcycle racing and womanizing were just some of the things that filled his time (Roberts 10-11). But in the 1930’s, the worldwide depression affected their way of living that led to their businesses to be bankrupt. Due to this financial crisis, Schindler decided to join the Nazi party to earn some income in 1938 (Bülow “Prewar”). This move turned out to be very beneficial for Schindler at the latter part of his life. Moreover, he got a provisional membership from the district court of the party because of his previous records of recklessness. They wanted to make sure that every aspiring member should undergo a thorough background investigation in order to ensure that applicants have the same mindset and political ideals with the Nazi principles. More so, they made sure that the applicants do not have any affiliation with the Jewish culture (Crowe 46). He was able to foster good relations with the local Gestapo chiefs. Then, the German Intelligence Agency saw great potential from him and he was recruited to become a spy who was tasked to collect vital information from the Poles wherein he delivered very well (Bülow “Prewar”). It was also rumored that Hitler gave him a gold swastika as reward for his accomplishments (Crowe 45). Schindler was incorporated as an agent at the Abwehr, the German Military Intelligence (Crowe 54). During the German’s preparation phase to invade Poland, Schindler was under “Abwehr II-Breslau, Aktion Commando VII” who were in charge of monitoring initial operations and making reports on the outcomes (Crowe 56). His role was not that extensive but he was able to obtain several Polish uniforms that were worn by German soldiers in their invasion operation in Poland (Crowe 57). Despite his contributions, the Gestapo regarded him as a mere confidant of the Abwehr and not as a real intelligence agent. Their assumption was further vindicated when Schindler’s apartment got burglarized by a small-time criminal who was incessantly branded as a Polish intelligence agent by the Gestapo. Initially, Schindler did not report the incident to the Gestapo and he said that nothing of importance was stolen. As a result, the Gestapo insisted that Schindler’s actions were unacceptable and that several important documents were also stolen. Since then, the relationship between Schindler and the Gestapo was strained that led to several attempts to arrest Schindler (Crowe 58-60). But overall, Schindler’s performance in the party would later on play a vital part “in the war for Schindler when he needed all his contacts.” To further advance his career, he went to Krakow, Poland with his wife, Emilie Schindler. There they lived in an apartment owned by a Jewish family. His transactions here were filled with bribery and illegal trading of merchandises. When the Nazi instructed him to supervise a Jewish-owned enameled-goods factory called Deutsch Emailwaren Fabrik located near the urban poor area of Krakow, he mainly employed Jews because at that time they were the cheapest source of labor (Bülow “Prewar”).
The holocaust commenced when the Nazi achieved fame and acceptance from the Germans. The Nazis disseminated several propaganda that ensured the public that they can bring reform in Germany. Also, their focus was depicting the Jews as the culprits of the society because Nazis and Germans alike believed that they were the cause of all the tribulations of Germany and for that they must be exterminated (Roberts 10). The German’s occupation of Poland was a step to advance Hitler’s goal of world domination and annihilation. Poland was utilized as a “racial laboratory” and a venue for the Nazi government to exploit the resources of the Polish and the Jews. It even came to a point when avarice and desire for material things were the driving forces for the German invasion. By 1944, an estimate of 1.7 million Poles were forced to work as Third Reich laborers and one sixth of them were prisoners of wars. Another “400, 000 to 480, 000 Poles” were coerced to work in concentration camps. The looming population of the laborers became the bread and butter of Germany because they were the only ones that provided manpower which resulted to the economic development of Germany (Crowe 133-135).
Schindler had three enterprises in Krakow, Poland namely: Emalia, the Shlomo Wiener enamelware firm and the Prokosziner Glashutte. Then in 1944, he managed a new factory in Brunnlitz in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia where he employed 1,000 Jews who were later became a part of the ‘infamous Schindler’s List’ (Crowe 136). Krakow was an opportunity for Schindler to generate some money but when he saw the real intention of the German occupation, he started to make life-changing actions. He persuaded the diabolical commandant of the Plaszow forced labor camp, Amon Goth, to allow him to provide quarters and other amenities for his laborers. Housing for 450 Jewish workers were sponsored by Schindler. He was described as the protector of the Jewish workers because of his efforts to make the plight of his laborers more bearable for them by properly feeding them and providing comfortable accommodations (Crowe 139-140). The news quickly spread that the factories owned by Schindler were the “place to work.” Most of Schindler’s workers were not aware that he changed their records by altering their personal documents so that the Nazis will not be suspicious on their operation. The elderly were indicated as young adults while children were registered as adults. “Lawyers, doctors, and engineers were registered as metalworkers, mechanics, and draftsmen- all trades considered essential to war production.” Little do they know while Schindler was doing these things, he was spending his nights entertaining the local SS and Wehrmacht officers in order to gain more influential friends and strengthen his hold on position wherever possible. Charm and personality made Schindler looked kind and reliable that increased his popularity within the inner circle of the Nazis in Poland (Steinhouse “The Real Oskar Schindler”).
In the movie Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg, the drafting of the list was shown as a momentous scene between Schindler and Itzhak Stern, a Jewish Accountant. But in reality, Schindler was not fully involved in preparing the list. He only provided guidelines about the type of workers he preferred to be included on the list. The man behind the famous list was Marcel Goldberg, a dishonest Jewish OD man under a high-ranking SS official. Some Jewish even bribed Germans to be part of the “list of life” (Crowe 317-317). Itzhak Stern played by Ben Kinsley in the movie said that “an absolute good, the list is life, all around its margins lies the gulf” (cited in Crowe 316). Those included in the list were either transported to Brunnlitz, a factory of Schindler or to other production camps. Meanwhile, those unfortunate ones were delivered to extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau.
By the time the Allied forces were gaining a foothold in the war and the Soviets were on the verge of liberating Poland, the Nazis did everything they could in pursuing their goal of dominance and supremacy of the Aryan race. They tried to produce more armaments while killing as many Jews as they want. Schindler and his wife tried to sustain and maintain their factories that became safe houses for the Jews. Almost all of their funds were used to provide basic needs for his workers and his family. On May 9, 1945, Schindler left Brunnlitz to avoid being persecuted by the Soviets. As a sign of gratitude, the Jews gave him a gold ring and they said to Schindler that he, “took care of our subsistence and during the entire time in the factory not one person died an unnatural death” (Crowe 453).
After Schindler’s ‘compassionate and heroic act,’ many doubted his motives. Probably, it was the heinousness of the crimes committed by the Germans that awakened him to the reality that their extreme solutions were inhumane and immoral. In the end, the humanity and sympathy prevailed in Schindler that influenced him to help save the lives of many innocent Jews. He proved that despite his imperfect persona, he can still make a difference and spread goodness in times of turmoil.
Bülow, Louis. “Prewar.” OscarSchindler.com. 12 June 2008 ;http://www.oskarschindler.com/1.htm;.
Crowe, David M. Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind The List. Tennessee: Basic Books, 2007.
Roberts, Jeremy. Oskar Schindler Rigtheous Gentile. New York:Rosen Publishing Group, 2001.
Schindler’s List. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Universal Pictures, 1993.
Steinghouse, Herber. “The Real Oskar Schindler.” April 1994. Literature of the Holcaust. 13 June 2008 <http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Holocaust/steinhouse.html>.