July 19, 2002
OSKAR SCHINDLER EXHIBITION OPENS AT UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oskar Schindler, the ethnic German and Nazi party member who has come to personify those heroic individuals who risked their lives to rescue Jews and others from the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust, is the subject of a new exhibition that will be on view at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum before traveling to host institutions around the country. The 600-square-foot exhibition, Schindler, will be on view at the Museum from now until Sunday, August 18 in the Gonda Education Center on the Museum’s Lower Level.
“Oskar Schindler was an ambitious German businessman who joined the Nazi party, albeit probably more for expediency than conviction,” says Stephen Goodell, Director of Exhibitions at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and curator of Schindler. “While his political beliefs remain ambiguous, party membership afforded increased business opportunities. He made a fortune during the war and enjoyed living the high life. He is not one we would think of who would subsequently risk everything he acquired to save people he didn’t know, yet that is exactly what he did.”
In 1939, the year Germany invaded Poland and launched World War II, Oskar Schindler was living in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, a region with a high ethnic German population. He joined the Nazi party on February 10, 1939. He assumed responsibility for a formerly Jewish-owned factory in Poland and eventually established a second under his ownership. The new factory became a haven for its approximately 900 Jewish workers for much of the war. Although he amassed a fortune exploiting their labor and trading on the black market, he protected them by insisting they be housed at his factory rather than the local labor camp, Plaszów, which was run by a sadistic SS commandant Amon Leopold Göth.
In late summer 1944 as the German war effort was collapsing, Schindler, through negotiations and bribes from his wartime profits, secured permission from German Army and SS officers to move his workers and other endangered Jews to Brünnlitz, near his hometown of Zwittau, where he had been assigned to oversee a new munitions factory. Its workers were placed on “Schindler’s List” and were transported to the factory where they remained in relative safety throughout the remainder of the war.
Asked in 1964 why he had intervened on behalf of the Jews, Schindler replied, “The persecution of the 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.”