Oskar Schindler is one of the most recognizable figures of the 21st century. His heroic efforts during World War II saved more than 1,000 Jewish people from deportation to Auschwitz, Nazi Germany’s largest concentration camp.
Getting to Know Oskar Schindler
Oskar Schindler was born on April 28, 1908, in Svitavy (Zwittau), Moravia. He attended a series of trade schools and married Emilie Pelzl.
Oskar became a highly successful businessman while he worked in his father’s machinery business. He opened a driving school and sold government property. Furthermore, he attained the rank of lance corporal in the reserves after serving in the Czechoslovak army. It was then that Schindler began working with the Office of the Military Foreign Intelligence of the German Armed Forces in 1936, three years before war would be declared.
In 1939, he joined the Nazi Party.
WORLD WAR II
Oskar moved to Krakow following the German occupation of Poland in October 1939. Being an opportunist, he made his money off the local Gestapo by supplying them with alcohol and women.
Oskar also took advantage of the German occupation program to “Germanize” Jewish and Polish-owned businesses and bought Rekord Ltd., a Jewish-owned enamelware manufacturer. He converted the plant to a new name, The Deutsche Emalwarenfabrik Oskar Schindler, otherwise known as Emalia.
Of the three factories he operated in Krakow, Emalia was the only factory where he employed Jewish workers who resided in the nearby ghetto. At one point, Emalia employed approximately 1,700 workers. Of that number, about 1,000 were Jewish laborers. When the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto occurred, Oskar allowed his workers to stay in the factory overnight.
In 1943, the Nazi army re-designated Plaszow as a concentration camp. Oskar persuaded them to convert Emalia into a subcamp, allowing him to enlist an additional 450 nearby Jews to work in other factories close to Emalia.
Oskar added an armament manufacturing division to the factory in the following year to establish the Jewish workers as essential labor to the war effort.
The SS arrested Oskar three times on suspicion that he was aiding Jewish citizens, but they were unable to charge him.
By July, Germany was losing the war, and in anticipation of the Allies’ arrival, the SS began closing concentration camps and deporting the remaining prisoners to Auschwitz. Oskar convinced the SS to move to his factory and his workers to Brněnec, which was granted.
In October 1944, Mietek Pemper compiled and typed up a list of 1,200 Jews who would travel to Brünnlitz to continue working in Schindler’s factories.
During the transfer of his workers, Oskar was being detained in jail for an investigation of bribery. He was not charged in the investigation, and he continued to bribe the SS soldiers to save his workers’ lives until Poland was liberated, and World War II ended in Europe in May 1945.
AFTER WORLD WAR II
Oskar moved to West Germany and was supported by the financial assistance of Jewish relief organizations. He moved to Argentina with his wife and started a farm.
In 1958, Oskar returned alone to Germany. He died penniless and unknown in 1974. But many of the Jewish survivors he saved and their descendants successfully lobbied and financed the transfer of his body for burial on Mount Zion in Israel.
Oskar Schindler was internationally recognized for his heroic deeds through Thomas Keneally’s novel Schindler’s Ark, which was published in 1983.
In 1993, director Steven Spielberg adapted the novel in his Oscar-winning film “Schindler’s List” with Liam Neeson as Schindler, Ralph Fiennes as SS officer Amon Göth, and Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s Jewish accountant.
In that same year, the United States Holocaust Memorial Council posthumously presented the Museum’s Medal of Remembrance to Schindler. His ex-wife Emilie accepted the medal on his behalf. Yad Vashem also rewarded Oskar and Emilie Schindler the title “Righteous Among the Nations” to recognize their efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust.