Mejzesz Puntierer - today Murray Pantirer - was born in June 1925 as the
second of seven and grew up in Cracow, Poland. He attended afternoon
Hebrew school, but the Germans occupied Crakow in 1939 and the family
separated several times in search of food and other necessities.
the family was confined to the Crakow ghetto. In 1942, Murray and a
brother were deported for forced labor in Plaszow. In May 1944, his
brother was sent to Auschwitz. That year, Murray was transferred to
Gross-Rosen and to Brunnlitz to work for Oscar
Schindler employed Jews in his enamelware and munitions factories.
Pantirer was chosen as one of 900 workers at Schindler's munitions
factory in Czechoslovakia. He remained there from October 1944 to May
1945, when the survivors at the factory were liberated.
To this day, Pantirer, teenager during the war, remains mystified how
his name appeared on Schindler's
list. Pantirer was listed as a sheet metal worker, an occupation
about which he said he knew nothing. Murray Pantirer was liberated in
1945, the only one of nine family members to survive.
After the war, Pantirer spent a couple of years in an Austrian refugee
camp at Bindermichel, emigrating to the United States in 1949, where he
set up a construction firm a year later with his friend Abraham
From the beginning, they knew they had to find a way to remember their
protector. "After the war he couldn't find himself," said
Pantirer. "He was too big of a man to start over."
"When we started the business - we came in 1949, we incorporated in
1950 - in our first subdivision in South Plainfield, N.J., the first
thing we did was put his name on a street, Schindler Drive.
Their first residential complex in 1953, four- roomed single storey
homes, were then sold for R50 000. Today they build luxury houses for 40
times that price, but their greatly differing complexes have one thing
in common. Each has a Schindler Street, a Schindler Drive or a Schindler
Way, named for Oscar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved more
Jewish lives during the Holocaust than any other person.
As a mark of their gratitude, Zuckerman and Pantirer have by now
dedicated 25 streets in New Jersey to his memory. Planning authorities
often queried their choice of names, they say, but none objected when
they made known the reasons for their requests.
"From then on, every project that we had that we put in the
infrastructure, we put in the name Oscar Schindler. Sometimes people
would say 'Who is this?' When we told them they didn't care, they would
say 'We want to live on a street with an English name, a French name,'
but we didn't pay any attention.
"After the movie, when Schindler became a household word, they came
and showed me the envelopes they received from people, with their
address, Schindler Drive. They were so proud to be on Schindler
Zuckerman and Pantirer's devotion didn't stop with street naming. From
1957 until he died in 1974, the two helped Schindler financially as well
with money and air tickets, sponsoring his trips to America, where they
would buy him clothes and shoes.
"We did it so that he wouldn't think it was like charity,"
says Zuckerman. "It was a gesture like - he got a coat, I got a
coat. I'd say, 'I need one too.' "Besides that we gave money in his
hands," he added, declining to say how much, except that it was
thousands of dollars.
From the early 1950s until Schindler's death in 1974 at the age of 66,
Pantirer and Zuckerman extended financial support to their savior,
treating him as an honored member of both their families. In 1972
Schindler came to the United States to celebrate the Pantirers' 25th
anniversary, an event covered by The New York Times. Pantirer also
arranged parties in his honour, with one of the last of them remembered
in a photograph showing Schindler in 1972 being carried seated in a
chair around the room - an honour usually reserved for wedding couples.
Pantirer's son, Larry, met Schindler on that occasion and remains in awe
of the person who saved his father's life. "He still had charm and
personality," recalled the younger Pantirer. "You could see
the way he carried himself, even as an old man."
Pantirer not only assisted Schindler but also contributed to the
construction of various Jewish and Holocaust museums, and founded, in
Schindler's name, a bursary for Hebraic studies in Jerusalem, again with
Their primary goal is to express their everlasting gratitude to the man
who saved them both from almost certain death. Their second goal is to
honor the memory of all the Jews who perished in their boyhood town of
Cracow. Through all the years, and all the conversations they had when
they would get together in America, Europe and Israel, the big question
always remained: Why? What prompted Schindler to act as he did, at
tremendous risk to himself?
Pantirer thinks he heard 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'.
"And 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'm going to work against them and
I'm going to save as many as I can.' And I think that he told the truth,
because that's the way he worked."
But for these Schindlerjuden, as they are called, the "why" is
not as important as the fact that he did what he did, and that he be
remembered for it. That he was a man who, according to Pantirer,
"liked three 'W's - wealth, women, and whiskey" is immaterial.
Adds Pantirer, "If he wouldn't be that way, maybe he wouldn't have
taken the risk that he took. He took a tremendous risk."
Like most survivors, Pantirer always felt a need to explain how his
survival was nothing less than a miracle. While there was a finite
number of ways people could die in the Holocaust
- gas, starvation, shooting, torture, suffocation, electrocution - every
one of the hundreds of thousands who survived did so through a unique
combination of circumstances.
For decades, the Schindlerjuden were telling people their story, and
were frustrated that not many seemed interested in hearing it. When
Keneally's book was published in 1982, they finally had something in
hand that told their story, which is more than most survivors enjoy.
Eleven years later, they hit the jackpot: Their story was made into a
successful, Oscar-winning film by no less than Steven Spielberg,
elevating their experiences to the celluloid hall of fame for eternity.
And not only was their story being told and preserved for future
generations, but so was Schindler's, thus honoring their savior -
arguably, as described on the cover of Keneally's book, someone who
"single-handedly saved more Jews at greater risk than any other
person in World War II."
"All of a sudden people ask me - 'You're a Schindlerjude?"
says Murray Pantirer. "It makes you feel a little special, very