Would you risk your life and life savings to save someone else, knowing that at any point in time you could be killed for your actions? Oskar Schindler, possibly the most famous “Righteous Gentile,” was a German industrialist, spy, businessman, and former member of the Nazi Party who risked his life to save as many as 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust. During World War II, Schindler rescued Jews from the deportation to the Plaszow death camp by putting them on the famed “Schindler’s List,” and transferring them to a factory in today’s Czech Republic. Although he rescued many Jews, Schindler struggled to rebuild his life and gain recognition for his wartime deeds after spending his lifetime savings on rescuing the Jews. His story was brought to international acclaim by the 1982 novel Schindler’s Ark and the 1993 film, Schindler’s List (Oskar Schindler).
The life of the famed savior began on April 28, 1908 in Zwittau, Austria-Hungary (Fensch). Schindler grew up in an extremely privileged German-Catholic family. The family’s wealth came from his father who held a farm machinery business and a driving school (Karesh). Although raised in wealth, Schindler was a “spoiled child that grew into a self-indulgent young man, notorious as a womanizer” (Fensch). Schindler married Emilie Pelzl in 1928 at age 19, but always had a couple mistresses by his side. He continued his multiple affairs and a life of hard drinking and aggressive gambling, all of which drained his family of their money. Schindler’s reckless behavior and carefree lifestyle destroyed his family’s business. To rebuild wealth, he decided to become a “master of the black market” (Fensch). Following the German invasion of Poland, Schindler moved to Krakow from Zwittau in the October of 1939, at age 21 (Oskar Schindler).
Schindler noticed the German program to “Aryanize” Jewish and Polish-owned businesses and took advantage of this by purchasing a Jewish-owned enamelware manufacturer, and converted its plants to establish the Deutsche Emal Warenfabrik, or Emalia (Karesh). Schindler was only able to own the factory because he took several business trips to Poland to spy for the Germans. After he had helped the Germans, Schindler was able to own his own factory (Oskar Schindler). Through this, Schindler developed profitable friendships with the Gestapo; these friendships later become critical in saving the Jewish. Emalia was the first step to Schindler’s business life, but also a first step to his plan to saving many Jews, although he did not know it at the time.
When the Nazis began to forcibly take over Krakow, Jews were stashed into Schindler’s factory for slave labor. At the “peak of Emalia’s strength in 1944, it employed 1700 workers, 1000 of which were Jewish” (Schindler, Oskar World Book Discover). The Jews worked to help Schindler make huge profits by supplying the German army with pots and pans, thus adding more recognition to his name. As persecution of Poland’s Jews reached a crescendo, Schindler began to recognize the approaching horror. He made a decision to use all of his profits to “secure the lives of his Jewish workers” (Karesh). Up until this point, Schindler had been using Emalia as a mass producer of enamelware for money. Now, he saw Emalia as a Jewish shelter. The more Schindler saw of the Final Solution, the more Schindler became resolved to help as many Jews as possible.
The process of how Schindler was able to protect his Jews from persecution involved many bribes and connections that he made with the German SS. Jews at Emalia were sentenced multiple times to the Plaszow concentration camp in 1943, a camp run by Amon, an elite Nazi Party Guard that was “notorious for being violent” (Schindler, Oskar World Book Discover). Goeth had a short temper and would randomly shoot Jews, thus making the Jews that stayed at the camp live in constant fear (Oskar Schindler). To protect his workers from being deported to the camp, Schindler persuaded Amon to let him build a branch camp called Brunnlitz, where Schindler’s workers could stay. When the Russian army approached in 1944, the SS planned to close Plaszow and the branch camp Brunnlitz and exterminate all remaining Jews (Oskar Schindler). Schindler, once again, bribed and persuaded the Nazis to let him open a new factory, near what is now known as the Czech Republic.
At this factory, Schindler made a list of more than 1,100 Jews’ names that worked for him; this list later became known as the famed “Schindler’s List” (Schindler, Oskar World Book Online). Through many more bribes, financial resources and connections, Schindler saved the lives of his Jews from the Nazis up until liberation. His bribes included money, jewelry and valuables of that kind. Schindler left his last factory on May 9, 1945, the day that Soviet troops liberated the Jews. Schindler fled to Argentina after the war, “fearing he would be prosecuted as a war criminal” (Fensch). He was penniless after spending all his money on rescuing Jews; he only had a small farm to stay on. However, in 1958, Schindler abandoned his wife to return alone to Germany. Schindler received much attention from Israel and Germany for being a rare individual who risked his life to save Jews. He was also honored at Israel’s Holocaust Museum and proclaimed as a “Righteous Gentile”, a title that is rarely given out (Karesh). Schindler died in Hildesheim, Germany in 1974. Many of those who Schindler had saved during the Holocaust “financed his body for burial” (Schindler, Oskar World Book Online). Today, there are more than 6,000 descendants of the Jews Schindler saved living in Europe, United States and Israel.
Schindler legacy lives on through these descendants. In his book, Witness the Making of Schindler’s List, Franciszek Palowski tells about Janina Olszewska, a Jew who had worked for Oscar Schindler at his factory during World War II. When her husband was sentenced to death for his work with the Polish, Schindler miraculously got him out of prison and saved his life. Another occasion of when Schindler saved a life was when Janina’s friend’s son was being sent to slave labor in Germany. She asked “Schindler for help and he arranged the boy’s release, employing him in his factory till the end of the war” (Bülow). These were just some of the incidents where Schindler saved the Jews from the hands of death. He received worldwide attention when Australian write Thomas Keneally wrote the novel “Schindler’s Ark” in 1982, which was then made into a motion picture by Steven Spielberg in 1993 (Oskar Schindler). Oskar Schindler, a Righteous Gentile of Israel and former ex-Nazi Party member, risked his life and savings on rescuing Jews. Although he knew the risk of keeping Jews alive, Schindler made sure he secured the lives of over 1,100 Jews. Oskar Schindler’s life, actions and deeds during the Holocaust will not be forgotten and will forever live on.