tiny white-haired woman, gentle and courageous, showed us an intriguing
glimpse at the shadow world between memory and legend. Her husband Oscar
Schindler became a household name as one of the great humanitarians of
the century, saving 1,300 Jews from certain death in the Nazi death camps
during World War II.
While Oscar Schindler's efforts to save hundreds of Jews are well known
thanks to Keneally's book and the movie Schindler's List, the
silver-screen version left Emilie on the sidelines. An unsung heroine. Now
a new German-language book Ich, Emilie Schindler by the Argentinian
author Erika Rosenberg tries to show that Emilie was just as involved in
shielding Jews from the Nazis.
The biography highlights Emilie Schindler's bravery during the Holocaust
and portrays her not only as a strong woman working alongside her husband
but as a heroine in her own right. Erika Rosenberg, a journalist who
befriended Emilie Schindler 11 years ago, is writing the book to fulfil
one of the old widow's last wishes, to tell her story and to correct a
historical oversight. For Emilie Schindler, the book is about finding
peace. As Rosenberg says: 'She's looking for recognition. Not in the
form of money, but recognition for her service .. to be the same like her
For the last five decades Emilie Schindler led a modest existence in
her little house in San Vicente 40 kilometres south-west of Buenos Aires
with her cats, dog and beautiful roses. Only the uniformed Argentinean
police disturbed the idyll. They were posted 24 hours a day to protect the
old lady from anti-Semitic and ultra-Conservative extremist groups.
Emilie Pelzl was born on October 22, 1907, in the city of Alt Moletein, a
village in the German-populated border region of what was then The
Republic of Czechoslovakia. Emilie later recalled the local pastor, an old
family friend, who instructed young Emilie that her friendship with a
young Jew, Rita Reif, was not good. Emilie defied the pastor and retained
her friendship with Rita, until Rita was murdered by the Nazis in front of
her father's store in 1942.
Emilie Pelzl first saw the tall, handsome and outgoing Oscar Schindler
when he came to the door of her father's farmhouse in Alt Moletein. It was
1928 and Oscar was selling electric motors. After a courtship of six
weeks, they were married on March 6, 1928, in an inn on the outskirts of
Zwittau, Oscar's hometown. Emilie's father had given Oscar a dowry of
100.000 Czech crowns, a considerable sum in those days, and he soon bought
a luxury car and squandered the rest on outings. In her A Memoir Where
Light And Shadow Meet Emilie recalls how she struggled trying to
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. He constantly lied
and deceived me, and later returned feeling sorry, like a boy caught in
mischief, asking to be forgiven one more time - and then we would start
all over again ...
the thirties, now without employment, Oscar Schindler joined the Nazi
party, as did many others at that time. Maybe because he had seen
possibilities which the war brought in its wake, he followed on the heels
of the SS when the Germans invaded Poland.
The Schindlers decided to risk everything in desperate
attempts to save the 1300 Schindler Jews from certain death in the hell of
the death camps. Thanks to massive bribery and Oscar's connections, they
got away with actively protecting their workers.
Until the liberation of spring, 1945, the Schindler's used all means at
their disposal to ensure the safety of the Schindler-Jews. They spent
every pfennig they had, and even Emilie's jewels were sold, to buy food,
clothes, and medicine. They set up a secret sanatorium in the factory with
medical equipment purchased on the black market. Here Emilie looked after
the sick. Those who did not survive were given a fitting Jewish burial in
a hidden graveyard - established and paid for by the Schindlers.
One night in the last weeks of the war a tireless Emilie, acting alone
while Oscar was in Crakow, saved 250 Jews from impending death. Emilie was
confronted by Nazis transporting the Jews, crowded into four wagons, from
Golechau to a death camp. She succeeded in persuading the Gestapo to send
these Jews to the factory camp "with regard to the continuing war
industry production". In her A Memoir she recalls:
found the railroad car bolts frozen solid .. the spectacle I saw was a
nightmare almost beyond imagination. It was impossible to distinguish the
men from the women: they were all so emaciated - weighing under seventy
pounds most of them, they looked like skeletons. Their eyes were shining
like glowing coals in the dark ..
had to be carried out like a carcass of frozen beef. Thirteen were dead
but the others still breathed. Throughout that night and for many nights
following, Emilie worked without halt on the frozen and starved skeletons.
One large room in the factory was emptied for the purpose. Three more men
died, but with the care, the warmth, the milk and the medicine, the others
After the war survivors
told about Emilie's unforgettable heroism in nursing the frozen and
starved prisoners back to life ..
Emilie Schindler is credited with many acts of kindness, small and large.
Even today surviving Schindler-Jews remember how Emilie worked
indefatigably to secure food and somehow managed to provide the sick with
extra nourishment and apples. A Jewish boy, Lew Feigenbaum, broke his
eyeglasses and stopped Emilie in the factory and told her: "I
broke my glasses and can't see .." When the Schindler-Jews were
transferred to Brunnlitz, Emilie arranged for a prescription for the
eyeglasses to be picked up in Crakow and delivered to her in Brunnlitz.
Feiwel (today Franciso) Wichter, 75, was No. 371 on Schindler's List, the
only one of the Schindler Jews living in Argentina:
long as I live, I will always have a sincere and eternal gratitude for
dear Emilie. I think she triumphed over danger because of her courage,
intelligence and determination to do the right and humane thing. She had
immense energy and she was like a mother.
May, 1945, it was all over. The Russians moved into Brunnlitz. The
previous evening, Schindler gathered everyone together in the factory,
where he and Emilie took a deeply emotional leave of them.
The Schindlers - and 1300 Schindler-Jews
along with them - had survived ...
After the war Oscar Schindler fled to Buenos Aires in Argentina with
Emilie, his mistress and a dozen Schindler Jews. The Schindlers settled
down in 1949 as farmers, first raising chickens and then nutrias. They
were supported financially by the Jewish organization Joint and thankful
Jews, who never forgot them. But Oscar Schindler met with no success, and
in 1957 he became bankrupt and travelled back alone to Germany, where he
remained estranged from his wife for 17 years before he died in poverty in
1974, at the age of 66.
He never saw Emilie
stayed in Argentina, where she scraped by on a small pension from Israel
and a $650 a month pension from Germany. Her only relative, a niece, lived
in Bavaria, Germany.
Jewish organizations have honored her for her efforts during the war. In
May, 1994, Emilie Schindler received The Righteous Amongst the Nations
Award - along with Miep Gies, who hid Anne Frank's family in the
Netherlands and preserved her diary after the family was taken away by the
In 1995, Argentina decorated her with the Order of May, the highest
honor given to foreigners who are not heads of state. In 1998 The
Argentine government decided to give her a pension of $1,000 a month until
her financial situation improved. Last November, Emilie Schindler, was
named an Illustrious Citizen by Argentina.
In July, 2001, during a visit to Berlin, Germany, a frail Emilie handed
over documents related to her husband to a museum. Confined to a
wheelchair and totally dependent upon others, she told reporters that it
was her 'greatest and last wish' to spend her final years in
Germany, adding that she had become increasingly homesick. 'I am very
happy that I can be here,' she told with a dazzling smile.
Emilie Schindler died Friday night October 5, 2001, in the Berlin
famous Argentine journalist Sol tells that one of her favourites
interviews was on radio with Emilie Schindler:'When I talked with her I
felt a great spirit of love and wisdom in her words. She's a great woman,
a woman of courage and a woman of love and compassion for others. She did
much more than the movie presents.'
As to Oscar Schindler the author Erika Rosenberg had no doubt: 'Emilie
still loved Oscar Schindler', though Emilie was bitter and
disillusioned: 'He gave his Jews everything - and me, nothing.' But
she was capable of expressing both her love and bitterness towards him in
one sentence, calling him a drunk and womanisor, but also
saying: 'If he'd stayed, I'd have looked after him.'
In A Memoir Emilie tells about her inner thoughts, when she
visited his tomb, over thirty-seven years after he left:
At last we meet again .. I have received no answer, my dear, I do not know
why you abandoned me .. But what not even your death or my old age can
change is that we are still married, this is how we are before God. I have
forgiven you everything, everything ..