Why did he do it ? Why did he spend something like 4 million German marks keeping his Jews out of the death camps - an enormous sum of money for those times ? Why did he risk his life to rescue his Jews in the shadow of Auschwitz ?
Samaritan actions, brotherly love ...? Oscar Schindler does not exactly fit the description of guardian angel very well! We think we know what goodness looks like. It looks like Gandhi, skinny in his loincloth, or Mother Teresa, unostentatious in her nun's habit. Goodness does not drink, womanize, wear big Nazi-badges ...
No one will ever know exactly what made this complex man do what no German had the courage to do. A large part of the fascination of Schindler is that not even those who admire him most can figure out his motives. But Oscar Schindler rose to the highest level of humanity, walked through the bloody mud of the Holocaust without soiling his soul, his compassion, his respect for human life - and gave his Jews a second chance at life. He miraculously managed to do it and pulled it off by using the very same talents that made him a war profiteer - his flair for presentation, bribery, and grand gestures.
Oscar Schindler was a sentimentalist who loved the simplicity of doing good. A man full of flaws like the rest of us. An ordinary man who even in the worst of circumstances did extraordinary things, matched by no one. The unlikeliest of all role models who started by earning millions as a war profiteer and ended by spending his last pfennig and risking his life to save his 1300 Schindlerjews.
Oscar Schindler not only saved their lives - he saved our faith in humanity ...
In his acclaimed international bestseller Schindler's Ark, the author Thomas Keneally tells us, that one of the most common sentiments of the Schindlerjews is still:"I don't know why he did it ..." Keneally drops a hint in his description of Oscar Schindler's childhood, a strong Catholic household and deeply religious parents. The nearest neighbors were a Jewish Rabbi family, and the two sons were Oscar's closest friends for years.
Steven Spielberg, who turned the novel into a seven Academy Award-winning film, Schindler's List, pointed out in an interview in Der Spiegel, that Oscar Schindler simply was 'ein guter Mensch', whose sheer humanity forced him to take extremely great personal risks to save the Schindlerjews.
A decade before Schindler's List made it to the top of Hollywood's A-list Jon Blair, producer and director, made Schindler, an 80-minute documentary for Britain's Thames Television about Oscar Schindler's life. In 1983 it won the British Academy Award for best documentary. But the film left few clues as to why Schindler devoted his fortunes and future to saving the lives of his Jews. Blair later told:"Oscar, this big man with a big heart and big connections, loved to be loved and needed. But I always felt it was a weakness in my film that I couldn't explain Schindler's motivation, and Spielberg told me the same about his - it seems impossible to crack that enigma .."
Irving Glovin, Schindler's attorney and friend, met Oscar in 1963 and bought the rights to the story and film in 1980. He later recalled Schindler not only with affection, but with great admiration:"He drank, yes, he drank. He liked women. He bribed. But he bribed for a good purpose. All of these things worked. If he were not this kind of person he probably wouldn't have succeeded. Whatever it took to save a life he did. He worked the system extraordinarily well. He was a true human being in the best sense of the word .. His actions in those circumstances were absolutely extraordinary and I know of no one who has matched them."
Schindler's wife, Emilie Schindler, recalls Oscar this way in A Memoir Where Light And Shadow Meet:"In 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 .."
In a 1964 interview, standing in front of his dingy apartment Am Hauptbahn No. 4 in Frankfurt Am Main, West Germany, Oscar Schindler for once commented on what he did:
"The persecution of Jews in occupied Poland meant that we could see horror emerging gradually in many ways. In 1939, they were forced to wear Jewish stars, and people were herded and shut up into ghettos. Then, in the years '41 and '42 there was plenty of public evidence of pure sadism. With people behaving like pigs, I felt the Jews were being destroyed. I had to help them. There was no choice."
A Schindler survivor, Murray Pantirer, set up a construction firm after the war and has by now dedicated 25 streets in New Jersey to Oscar Schindler's memory. Through all the years the big question always remained: Why? What prompted Schindler to act as he did, at tremendous risk to himself ? Pantirer thinks he got the answer:
"He came to my house once, and I put a bottle of cognac in front of him, and he finished it in one sitting. When his eyes were flickering - he wasn't drunk - I said this is the time to ask him the question 'why' ? His answer was 'I was a Nazi, and I believed that the Germans were doing wrong ... when they started killing innocent people - and it didn't mean anything to me that they were Jewish, to me they were just human beings, menschen - I decided I am going to work against them and I am going to save as many as I can'. And I think that Oscar told the truth, because that's the way he worked."
When asked, Schindler told that his metamorphosis during the war was sparked by the shocking immensity of the Final Solution. In his own words: "I hated the brutality, the sadism, and the insanity of Nazism. I just couldn't stand by and see people destroyed. I did what I could, what I had to do, what my conscience told me I must do. That's all there is to it. Really, nothing more."
Oscar Schindler was isolated and rejected by his fellow citizens after World War II. His clear indictment of German war criminals in the trials after the war nourished the hatred that many felt for him. He was persecuted, he was sworn at on the streets, and stones were thrown at him. He was an irritating reminder to everyone that it had after all been possible to do something against the Nazis. It was said that he was their bad conscience - the conscience of all those who had known something but done nothing.
years after the war, Moshe Bejski, a Schindlerjew and later a Supreme
Court justice in Israel, asked Schindler why he did it ? Schindler
replied, "I knew the people who worked for me. When you know people,
you have to behave towards them like human beings."
Even on the days when the air was black with the ashes from bodies on fire, there was hope in Crakow because Oscar Schindler was there. Helen Beck, a Schindler survivor, recalls:"We gave up many times, but he always lifted our spirits ... Schindler tried to help people however he could. That is what we remember."
Rena Ferber - today Rena Finder - was only 10 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland. She was saved by Oscar Schindler and later recalled:"He was a gambler, who loved living on the edge. He loved outsmarting the SS. I would not be alive today if it wasn't for Oscar Schindler. To us he was our God, our Father, our protector."
Roman Ferber's name also was on 'Schindler's List'. He was one of the youngest 'Schindlerjews' and later told how Oscar Schindler underwent a transformation when he witnessed the sadism of the Nazis and gave up everything to save as many lives as he could. "I thank God for Oscar Schindler. If not for him, I would not be here and not have any family."
As an 11-year-old boy, Zev Kedem was another Schindlerjew, whose life was miraculously saved by Schindler. Only an operator like Oscar Schindler could have pulled off this effort, Kedem says: "If he was a virtuous, honest guy, no one in a corrupt, greedy system like the SS would accept him .. In a weird world that celebrated death, he recognized the Jews as humans. Schindler used the corrups ways, creativity and ingenuity against the monster machine dedicated to death."
Schindler is credited with many acts of kindness, small and large. Abraham Zuckerman spent five of his teenage years in Nazi kz camps. He later recalled Oscar Schindler this way:"There were SS guards but he would say 'Good morning' to you. He was a chain smoker and he´d throw the cigarette on the floor after only two puffs, because he knew the workers would pick it up after him. To me he was an angel. Because of him I was treated like a human being. And because of him I survived .."
Abraham Zuckerman recalled how Oscar Schindler got 300 Schindler-women released from the deathcamp Auschwitz - during World War 2 the only shipment out of Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered 2-3 million people. "What people don't understand about Oscar is the power of the man, his strength, his determination. Everything he did he did to save the Jews. Can you imagine what power it took for him to pull out from Auschwitz 300 people ? At Auschwitz, there was only one way you got out, we used to say. Through the chimney! Understand ? Nobody ever got out of Auschwitz. But Schindler got out 300 ....! "
One day the 300 Schindler-women were routed on a train to Auschwitz by a mistake. Certain death awaited. A Schindler survivor, Anna Duklauer Perl, later recalled:'I knew something had gone terribly wrong .. they cut our hair real short and sent us to the shower. Our only hope was Schindler would find us.'
The Schindler-women were being herded off toward the showers. They did not know whether this was going to be water or gas. Then they heard a voice: 'What are you doing with these people ? These are my people.' Schindler! He had come to rescue them, bribing the Nazis to retrieve the women on his list and bring them back. And the women were released.
When they returned to his factory, weak, hungry, frostbitten, less than human, Schindler met them in the courtyard. They never forgot the sight of Schindler standing in the doorway. And they never forgot his raspy voice when he - surrounded by SS guards - gave them an unforgettable guarantee: 'Now you are finally with me, you are safe now. Don't be afraid of anything. You don't have to worry anymore.'
Jonathan Dresner was one of the Schindlerjews, and his mother and sister were among the 300 Schindler-women, Schindler got out of Auschwitz. "That was something nobody else did," Dresner later recalled, "Schindler was an adventurer. He was like an actor who always wanted to be centre stage."
Another Schindler survivor, Ludwik Feigenbaum, gave this description of Schindler:"I don't know what his motives were, even though I knew him very well. I asked him and I never got a clear answer and the film doesn't make it clear, either. But I don't give a damn. What's important is that he saved our lives .."
Still some questioned Schindler's motives. Stanislaw Dobrowolski, member of the Polish underground committee during World War 2, had a scathing opinion of Oscar Schindler. He argued that Schindler only saved his Jews because he was convinced that the Nazis would lose the war.
But Poldek Pfefferberg, a Schindler-Jew who spent 40 years trying to drum up interest in the Schindler-Story, had no doubt about the nobility of Schindler's motives. He insisted that Oscar Schindler began helping Jews long before the tide of war turned against the Nazis. 'He risked his life,' Pfefferberg said. 'He was doing it from the first day.'
A similar assessment came from Irving Glovin, Schindler's attorney. 'The man rose to an occasion,' Glovin said. 'Why the story is remarkable is that he did something when it appeared that the Germans were winning, and he did it over a long period of time, about four years, and he did it in the worst area, Poland, and he did it openly ... He did it for strangers.'
Schindler earned the everlasting gratitude of his Schindlerjews. No matter
why, no matter that he was an alcoholic and a shameless
womanisor of the worst sort, no matter that he was no saint and left his
wife - what matters to his Jews is that he surfaced from the chaos of
madness and risked everything for them. And generations will remember him
for what he did. No matter how many businesses Schindler failed in, he was
a success in life ..