one will ever know exactly what made this complex man do what no German
had the courage to do. Oscar Schindler rose to the highest level of
humanity, walked through the bloody mud of the Holocaust without soiling
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.
During the war the conditions of life at the work camp of Plaszow were
made dreadful by the SS officer Amon Goeth,
the Commandant. He had made the final liquidation of the Crakow ghetto and
had experience at three death camps in eastern Poland: Belzec, Sobibor,
Goeth passed his mornings by using his high-powered, scoped rifle to shoot
at children playing in the camp. He walked the line with his dogs during
the rollcalls and ordered them to rip prisoners apart. After a few minutes
of torture, Goeth would shoot the victims in front of everyone. A prisoner
in Plaszow was very lucky if he could survive more than four weeks.
Collective punishment became frequent, torture and death were daily
continually risked his life to protect and save his Schindler-Jews from
Amon Goeth. He quickly got on good terms with Goeth and desperately spent
every penny he had bribing and paying off the SS Commandant and other Nazi
officials to get food and better treatment for his Jews. Nobody was hit at
his factory, nobody murdered, nobody sent to death camps like the nearby
Word spread among Cracow’s Jews that Schindler's factory was a safe
haven, the place to work. The workforce at Emalia, as Schindler
called his factory, burgeoned triplefold; whenever a worker at Plaszow was
put in direct peril, Schindler traded a blackmarket item for that
worker’s transfer to his factory.
But soon the Nazis’ Final Solution threatened Emalia
itself. Increasingly helpless, Schindler found that he could no longer
joke easily with the Nazi officials who came on inspections. The double
game was becoming more difficult. Dangerous incidents happened more and
On one occasion, three SS men walked onto the factory floor without
warning, arguing among themselves. "I tell you, the Jew is even
lower than an animal," one was saying. Then, taking out his
pistol, he ordered the nearest Jewish worker to leave his machine and pick
up some sweepings from the floor. "Eat it," he barked,
waving his gun. The shivering man choked down the mess. "You see
what I mean," the SS man explained to his friends as they walked
away. "They eat anything at all. Even an animal would never do
Another time, during an inspection by Goeth and his SS officers, the
attention of the visitors was caught by the sight of the old Jew, Lamus,
who was pushing a barrow too slowly across the factory courtyard,
apparently utterly depressed. Goeth asked why the man was so sad, and it
was explained to him that Lamus had lost his wife and only child a few
weeks earlier during the liquidation of the ghetto. Goeth ordered his
adjutant Grün to execute the Jew "so that he might be reunited
with his family in heaven," then he guffawed and the SS officers
Someone from the metal hall rushed up to Oscar Schindler's office and
alerted him. Oscar came roaring down the stairs and reached the yard just
as the SS man ordered Lamus: "Slip your pants down to your ankles
and start walking." Dazed, the old man did as he was told.
Schindler called out desperately:"You can't do that. You are
interfering with all my discipline .." The SS officer just
sneered. Schindler continued, blurting out the words:"The morale
of my workers will suffer. Production for der Vaterland will be
affected." The SS adjudant took out his pistol, ready to shoot.
"A bottle of schnapps if you don't shoot him", Schindler
almost screamed, no longer thinking rationally.
"Stimmt!" To Schindler's astonishment, the SS man complied.
Grinning, the officer put the gun away and strolled arm in arm with the
shaken Schindler to the office to collect his bottle of schnapps. And old
Lamus, trailing his pants along the ground, continued shuffling across the
yard, waiting sickeningly for the bullet in his back that never came.
In his famous book Schindler's Ark Keneally tells the story of the Danziger
brothers, who cracked a metal press one Friday. Oscar Schindler was away
on a business trip and someone denounced the brothers to Amon Goeth. They
were immediately arrested and their hanging advertised in the next
morning's rollcall in Plaszow.
Oscar returned at three o'clock on Saturday afternoon, three hours before
the execution. News of the sentence was waiting on his desk. He drove to
the SS headquarter at once, taking cognac with him and some fine kielbasa
sausage. He found Goeth in his office and no one knows the extent of the
deal that was struck that afternoon. It is hard to believe that the SS
Commandant was satisfied simply with cognac and sausage. In any case, he
was soothed by Schindler, and at six o'clock, the hour of their execution,
the Danziger brothers returned to Schindler's factory in the back seat of
Oscar's plush limousine.
On another occasion the 20-year-old Schindler-worker Isak Pila had
made the mistake of falling asleep under a table at the factory the same
day that Amon Goeth came by for an inspection. When
Goeth saw the sleeping boy, he told Oscar Schindler to kill him instantly.
Schindler desperately tried to find a way out and hit the boy on one side
of the face, then the other. Finally he said to Goeth, 'He's had
enough. I need him. We've got a war to win. This can always be settled
Schindler's usual technique but Amon Goeth complied - and Isak Pila
Mejzesz Puntierer - today Murray Pantirer - lost both his
parents, two sisters and four brothers during the war, all murdered by the
Nazis. He himself was saved because Oscar Schindler gave him work in his
companies, provided him with food and protected him from the Nazi reign of
terror. After the war Murray Pantirer built up a great fortune as a
construction magnate in the United States, and he honoured Schindler in
his own special way. Every time a new town district was planned and built,
at least one street was named after Schindler. In New Jersey alone there
are 21 Schindler Streets, and even a Schindler Plaza. Even today when the
children have taken over the business, this entirely special mark of
honour for Schindler continues ...
Murray Pantirer later recalled the time a prisoner in Brunnlitz stole some
SS man put a potato in his mouth; he had to stand outside like that in the
cold weather, and it was written on him 'I'm a potato thief.' When
Schindler saw it, he took the potato out of his mouth, and said to the
guy, 'go back to your work.' And he told the SS man: In my camp you don't
do those things.
Pantirer retold the well-known story of Schindler going to rescue a
trainload of frozen Jews, and said Emilie Schindler helped nurse them back
to health, cooking for them and tending to their needs. When a young girl
died one day, Oscar Schindler bought a piece of land and allowed her to be
buried according to Jewish law.
Leon Leyson was just a skinny kid during World War II but he was
chosen to work for Oscar Schindler, though he was so little that he
couldn't reach the handles on the machine. He used to stand on an
upside-down box. Schindler developed a fondness for him, nicknaming him little
Leyson and showing him many kindnesses. Leyson later recalled:"Occasionally,
when he was by himself, he would come and talk to me. He ordered that I
get extra rations of food .."
When Leyson's vision began to blur from the factory work, he was
excused from the night shift. Schindler's most important act was putting little
Leyson on the final list. His two eldest brothers did not survive the
war, but he, his parents and brother and sister were saved by Schindler.
Leon Leyson met Oscar Schindler once after the war, in 1972, when a group
of survivors invited Schindler to Los Angeles. Leon was among those who
welcomed him at the airport. He wasn't sure Schindler would recognize him,
but no reminder proved necessary. "I know who you are,"
said Oscar Schindler. "You are little Leyson!"
Little Leyson's mother and sister were among the 300 Schindler-women,
who were routed on a train to Auschwitz by a mistake. Certain death
awaited. When they were being herded off toward the showers they did not
know whether this was going to be water or gas. Suddenly 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.
The women were released from Auschwitz - the only shipment out of the
deathcamp during World War 2. A survivor later told:"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 ...!"
When the women returned to Schindler's factory, weak, hungry,
frostbitten, less than human, Oscar met them in the courtyard. They never
forgot the sight of him 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.'
In those years, millions of Jews died in Polish camps like Auschwitz,
but Schindler's Jews miraculously survived. In May, 1945, it was all over.
Schindler gathered everyone together in the factory and took a deeply
emotional leave of them. At five after midnight - certain that his
Jews finally were out of danger - Schindler left the factory.
Schindler lost millions, everything he possessed. He was penniless. But
he - and 1200 Schindler-Jews
along with him - had survived the horrors of the Holocaust.