Two sides of a coin
The Things we chose to Remember
I had noticed it before, but it had never really made sense; the way people look at you when they find out you are German! It got worse when I came to the States.
I guess I didn't feel responsible for what happened back then. Yes, I am German. But this happened before my Mom was born and I only knew what I learned in History class in high school. And Yes, we had a great teacher who didn't hide anything or make anything sound better!
My Grandfather was a soldier who has been said to have earned the 'Eisernes Kreuz' (Iron Cross). But, like I served my adopted country, he had served his own! He fought at the front as a soldier; and had nothing to do with the SS and Hitler other than serving his country!
When I took History classes for my last Bachelor degree, World War II and its horrors came up a lot. But when people look at me funny, my Professor would always remind them that while most Nazis had been Germans, not all Germans had been Nazis!
For my Modern Germany class I wrote a paper on one man I had admired in the movies. But how much truth was in the movies? Was there anything good about a country that will always be in my heart? Do I have something to be proud about?
The unforgotten Savior of Lives
For those of you not fluent in German, the engraving is translated:
The unforgotten Savior of Lives
1,200 hunted (pursued, chased, hounded) Jews
It is contrary to what most people first think of when thinking about Germany. Usually the first thought is... Hitler!
But Hitler was only one of almost 70 billion Germans!
One of the 999,999,999 remaining Germans was Oskar Schindler!
When describing Oskar Schindler, those that knew and loved him compared him to a poker player with a lousy hand of cards and a God given talent to bluff.
In the jackpot: 1,200 Jews!
He was born in 1908 in Zwittau, Moravia in what was at the time Austria-Hungary. It was a country ruled by the Habsburger Kings and a World soon to be riddled by a 'Great War', World War I, that would change the way Monarchy existed in Germany.
Several million ethnic Germans lived in the 'Sudetenland' with so many others and his best friends were two sons of a local rabbi. His mother was Franziska Luser and his father Hans Schindler; owner of a factory producing farm machines. His sister Elfriede and he were very close.
He went to school in a German language school and eventually started working with his father in the family factory. In 1928 he married Emilie Pelzl, daughter of a wealthy farmer from Maletein. But the marriage caused difficulties between father and son and Oskar Schindler left the factory. Instead he tried himself as a salesman for a local electric company and often traveled to Poland; eventually falling in love with the city Krakow. Krakow was known to be the ancient seat of the Kings of Poland.
When Schindler was 27 years old, his parents divorced.
Unaware of what was going on around him and how Europe was changing, Schindler worked in several different jobs with more or less success. But evil was brewing!
Unbeknownst to Germany, a deadly force grew in the shadows; a Austrian born man with questionable ancestry, expelled from school, having struggled for income in questionable jobs, once living in a homeless shelter - Adolf Hitler!
Germany became cursed the day he became Chancellor! And despite the fact that he was a decorated war hero, some of his actions would eventually lead to the downfall of the 'Deutsche Reich' (German Reich).
Hitler had joined the Nazi Party in 1919 and became the leader of the National Sozialistische Arbeiter Partei (NSDAP) two years later. He was obsessed with German Nationalism, which was partially a way to rebel against his father. As a Chancellor his vision of a new German empire included the Sudentenland; at that time annexed by the fledgling Republic of Czechoslovakia.
In the meantime Oskar Schindler was struggling. The Great Depression had not been easy on the seemingly aimless Schindler. Eventually, despite his Czechoslovakian citizenship, he worked for the 'Abwehr', was imprisoned and later released.
Hitler had been stirring up ethnic passion in the Sudeten Germans and his charisma as a gifted speaker drew his listeners in with the skills of a TV show preacher.
Schindler followed the trend of German nationalism growing in the Sudetenland; more with a business sense than love for the Nazis. When Hitler forced an international crisis in 1938 and the Sudetenland was annexed to Germany, he had gotten involved for the profit!
He was an opportunist and bought an idle enamelware factory in his beloved Krakow through a bankruptcy court. Naming the factory 'Deutsche Emaillewaren-Fabrik (DEF), he obtained around 1,000 Jews that bad been turned into forced laborers.
Schindler had met Itzhak Stern, speaking Jewish and familiar with the Jews, shortly after arriving in Krakow. A liaison with the local Jewish community Stern helped him to get the funds to buy the factory from Jewish business men and became his accountant. And he was instrumental in gaining Schindler the 'cheap' laborers; Jews!
The player Schindler adapted to his new lifestyle and growing income. His charm gained him access to the Nazi SS elite parties and he became a well-respected guest; having an easy time to gain favors with high-ranking SS officers. He also managed to gain many Army contracts for his factories through his connections. Initially his motivation may have been money...
During that time roughly 56,000 Jews lived mostly in the ghettos. In 1940 things became worse!
Schindler was ordered to pay the wages for his laborers to the SS instead. And a few months later all Jews were ordered to leave the city, unless they were considered work-essential. The Jews scrambled to find work that was considered 'essential' and Stern convinced Schindler to hire 150 of them for his factory. ...By the end of the year all Krakow Jews were ordered to wear the four-inch wide white armband emblazoned with the Star of David!
Schindler was arrested the end of 1941 and charged with dealing on the black market. But his high-ranking friends, who he had been doing the black market business for, and well placed bribes ensured his release and return to his work. Just a few months later he was arrested again for a 'Race and Resettlement Act' violation. His well-maintained connections saved him again, but things became more dangerous for him!
June of 1942 saw the first Krakow Jews transported to labor camps. What had started as 'just' labor camps in the 1930s, became now divided into four categories of inmates; based on their 'usefulness'.
Some of Schindler's workers had been taken with the first group of people ordered to report to the local train station for transportation. Furious at the SS for the unwelcome SS interference Schindler raised to the station and argued the importance of his workers for the war effort.
Using his Nazi friends and threats, he managed to rescue his workers!
But despite his attempts to turn the wheel in favor of the Jews, without showing his true intentions, only 4,000 of the once over 17,000 Jews in the ghetto were still left. He contacted the Jewish leaders of the community in Budapest, Hungary and attempted to warn them of the dangers ahead, but his words fell on deaf ears! The thought that Nazis could be capable of such horrible actions was just not accepted as possible! This mistake would be made by many other leaders all over the World!
On Hitler's orders the Krakow ghetto was eliminated, but Schindler once again managed to secure the safety of his workers within his factory. That same year he witnessed a raid on the Ghetto of his beloved Krakow and saw first hand the horrors of the methods used by the Nazis. He was appalled and hit hard to see so many of his workers killed.
Schindler increased his efforts to keep his workers safe!
Eric Silver described one of Schindler's actions in his book 'The Book of the Just'. He talked about two Gestapo men that came to Schindler's office to demand that he handed over a family of five that had bought forged Polish identity papers. Just three hours after the men walked in, according to Schindler "two drunk Gestapo men reeled out of my office without their prisoners and without the incriminating documents they had demanded."
He would claim that children, wives and even handicapped were necessary mechanics and metal workers. In his camp within the factory workers were treated with civilly; ...while next door in the camp inmates faced abuse and even random killings! He allowed them to continue to observe their religion and traditions. Many of his former workers reported that he would light a cigarette, take a puff or two... and throw it near the workers on the ground. Or he would eat a sandwich, take only a few bites... and drop it!
His contacts within the SS, often based on the black market business he would do for them when they were selling Jewish property, paid off in one of the most important moments:
When the Nazis formed the plan to close all factories not directly involved with the war efforts, Goeth's (the commandant of the labor camp) personal secretary alerted him. She encouraged him to switch his production to anti-tank grenades rather than enamel cook ware and he persuaded his SS friends to allow him to move his workers to the town of Bruennlitz in the Sudetenland.
It was their ticket to life!
With the help of the secretary and Stern, a list was compiled of those 1,200 names of Jews that would be moving to Bruennlitz. This list later became known as 'Schindler's list'!
Roughly 1,000 of the names on this list were his 'Schindler Juden' (Schindler's Jews) and another 200 inmates that had been send to Bruennlitz.
The Plazow labor camp 'next door' had turned into a concentration camp at the begin of 1944!
To more than 1,200 Jews Oskar Schindler was all that stood between them and death at the hands of the Nazis!
When tragedy struck and 300 women and children were send to Auschwitz, rather than Bruennlitz, while Schindler had been imprisoned once more an released, he rushed to Auschwitz! He told the SS that the women's and children's hands were the only ones small enough to polish the inside of the anti-tank shells he was producing... and his 300 'Schindler Juden' were send to Bruennlitz; just hours away from being killed!
The day Germany surrendered in May of 1945 Schindler gathered his workers in the factory and gave them the news. He called a moment of silence for the lives lost and managed to convince the remaining SS guards to leave without further violence.
When he prepared to leave his workers presented him with a letter the had written to attest to his good deeds; and to protect him in case he was arrested and considered a Nazi. They also gave him a special golden ring made of the bridgework of one of the workers that was inscribed with a verse of the Talmud in Hebrew.
"He who saves one life, it is as if he saved the entire world!"
Schindler and his wife fled to Austria, dressed in prison cloths and only armed with the letter of his workers. He was broke; having spend his entire fortune on purchases for his workers and to bribe the Nazis!
Despite help from many within the Jewish communities he remained unsuccessful and left his wife in 1957. By 1968 he depended on a tiny pension of the new West German government and help by his friends!
The same year he lost his cement business he was invited to Israel and treated so much better than by his own country men that often despised him for testifying in court against Nazi war criminals. He would return to Israel every spring for the rest of his life.
Penniless, divorced and depending on the generosity of those he once had saved, he became sick in 1974 and died at age 66 on the 9th of October, 1974. He had been so broke that the social welfare of the city of Hildesheim had to pay for his hospital bill!
The 'good' German
Oskar Schindler was one of the very few Germans honored and respected by the Jews.
Shortly after his 54th birthday he had been honored by the Jewish people when he was declared a 'Righteous Gentile'. He was invited to plant a tree on the Avenue of the Righteous that leads up to the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem; a memorial to the Holocaust.
When he became sick, suffering from liver- and heart-problems, he requested to by buried in Jerusalem. He stated: "My children are there..."
His request was granted!
After a 'Requiem Mass' he was buried on Mount Zion on the Catholic Franciscan cemetery. At the gate to the cemetery a sign gives directions to his grave located near the mountainside below the Old City walls and the Zion Gate.
The rocks placed on his grave stone represent a Jewish tradition; despite the fact he was not Jewish!
The inscription on his grave stone reads:
Rigtheous among the Nations
It is an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis!
Over 500 of his 'beloved children' attended his funeral and watched a German being laid to rest in Jewish Earth!
In all he was credited with saving over 6,000 lives during the Holocaust!
"(I) knew the people who worked for (him/me)... When you know people, you have to behave towards them like human beings." Oskar Schindler
Oskar Schindler - Part 1 - Nazi Party in Krakow Poland, A&E Biography
Schindler's List (1/9) Movie CLIP - That's Oskar Schindler (1993) HD
Oskar Schindler's Farewell Speech
- Online Speech Bank: Oskar Schindler - Farewell Speech to Jewish Factory Workers at Brunnlitz
Complete text of Oskar Schindler's Farewell Speech to Jewish Factory Workers at Brunnlitz
The Oscar Schindler Story
- Oskar Schindler (1908-1974): Biography from Answers.com
Oskar Schindler (1908-1974) Oskar Schindler, born in Austria-Hungary in 1908, was a Catholic businessman living in Poland in the 1930s and '40s
- The Schindler Jews
The Schindler Jews
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The Oscar Schindler Story, Emilie, Survivors
Oskar Schindler Quotes
- Oskar Schindler - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Oskar Schindler (28 April 1908 – 9 October 1974) was an ethnic German industrialist born in Moravia. He is credited with saving over 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories, which were located...
Oskar Schindler Book
- Amazon.com: Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story
Amazon.com: Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind The List: David M. Crowe: Books
Stories of Survivors
- Amazon.com: Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Surviors [ILLUSTRATED] (97805259394
Amazon.com: Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Surviors [ILLUSTRATED] (9780525939412): Elinor J. Brecher, Thomas Keneally: Books