Oskar Schindler: An Unlikely Hero
Leopold Page describes meeting Oskar SchindlerClose
Leopold was a teacher in Krakow, Poland, when World War II began in 1939. While serving in the Polish army, he was captured by Germans. Leopold escaped from a prisoner-of-war transport. Soon after, he met the German industrialist Oskar Schindler. The two became friends. Leopold was forced to live in the Krakow ghetto. He later worked in Schindler's factory in Bruennlitz. He and the other Jews who worked there were treated relatively well and protected from the Nazis. After the war, Leopold moved to the United States. US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Murray Pantirer describes one of Oskar Schindler's rescue effortsClose
The Germans occupied Krakow in 1939. Murray's family was confined to the Krakow ghetto along with the rest of the Jewish population of the city. In 1942, Murray and a brother were deported for forced labor in the nearby Plaszow camp. In May 1944, his brother was transferred to Auschwitz and Murray was sent to the Gross-Rosen camp in Germany. Murray was later transferred to Bruennlitz, in the Sudetenland, as a forced laborer for German industrialist Oskar Schindler. Schindler helped the Jews who worked for him survive the war. Murray was liberated in 1945. US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Ludmilla Page describes sabotage during production of munitions in Schindler's factory in BruennlitzClose
Ludmilla was born to an assimilated Jewish family in Kishinev, Romania. She and her mother, a physician, were living in Poland when the Germans invaded on September 1, 1939. They were taken to Krakow. Ludmilla was forced to live in the Krakow ghetto; her mother was sent to the Warsaw ghetto. Ludmilla worked in a factory at the Plaszow labor camp for a businessman who was a friend of the German industrialist Oskar Schindler. In October 1944, Schindler attempted to save some Jewish workers by relocating them to a munitions factory in Bruennlitz, in the Sudetenland. Ludmilla was among those on Schindler's list to be relocated. She and about 300 other women were detained briefly in Auschwitz before reaching Bruennlitz. There, some of the workers sought to sabotage the production of munitions. Ludmilla was liberated in early May 1945. US Holocaust Memorial Museum
A 19th-century Italian violin owned by Henry Rosner, a professional Jewish violinist from Krakow who was saved by Oskar Schindler during World War II. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Murray Pantirer
Oskar Schindler (third from left) at a party with local SS officials on his 34th birthday. Schindler attempted to use his connections with German officials to obtain information that might protect his Jewish employees. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Leopold Page Photographic Collection
At Yad Vashem, the Israeli national institution of Holocaust commemoration, Oskar Schindler stands next to the tree planted in honor of his rescue efforts. Jerusalem, Israel, 1970. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Leopold Page Photographic Collection
Asked why he had intervened on behalf of the Jews, Schindler replied:
The persecution of Jews in the General Government in Polish territory gradually worsened in its cruelty. In 1939 and 1940 they were forced to wear the Star of David and were herded together and confined in ghettos. In 1941 and 1942 this unadulterated sadism was fully revealed. And then a thinking man, who had overcome his inner cowardice, simply had to help. There was no other choice.
—Oskar Schindler, 1964 interview.
Oskar Schindler’s actions to protect Jews during the Holocaust have earned him a special place among honored rescuers.
Schindler was an unlikely hero. An ethnic German living in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, he joined the Nazi party in 1939. In the wake of the German invasion of Poland, Schindler went to Krakow. He assumed responsibility for the operation of two formerly Jewish-owned manufacturers of enamel kitchenware and then established his own enamel works in Zablocie, outside Krakow. Through army contracts and the exploitation of cheap labor from the Krakow ghetto, he amassed a fortune. Dealing on the black market, he lived in high style.
In 1942 and early 1943, the Germans decimated the ghetto’s population of some 20,000 Jews through shootings and deportations. Several thousand Jews who survived the ghetto’s liquidation were taken to Plaszow, a forced labor camp run by the sadistic SS commandant Amon Leopold Goeth. Moved by the cruelties he witnessed, Schindler contrived to transfer his Jewish workers to barracks at his factory.
In late summer 1944, through negotiations and bribes from his war profits, Schindler secured permission from German army and SS officers to move his workers and other endangered Jews to Bruennlitz, near his hometown of Zwittau. Each of these Jews was placed on “Schindler’s List.” Schindler and his workforce set up a bogus munitions factory, which sustained them in relative safety until the war ended.
Oskar Schindler’s transformation from Nazi war profiteer to protector of Jews is the subject of several documentaries, the best-selling novel Schindler’s List.