Oskar Schindler (1908-1974) was born in Svitavy (Zwittau), Moravia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. An ethnic German and a Catholic, during World War II Schindler rescued close to 1200 Jews from deportation to Auschwitz. In 1936, Schindler began working with the German Office of Military Foreign Intelligence. In February 1939, he joined the Nazi Party. An opportunist businessman with a taste for the finer things in life, Schindler was an unlikely candidate to become a wartime rescuer.
Following the German invasion of Poland, Schindler moved to Krakow. Taking advantage of the German program to “Aryanize” businesses in occupied Poland, in November 1939 he bought a Jewish-owned enamelware manufacturer and established a factory, known as Emalia. While Schindler operated two other factories, only at Emalia did he employ Jewish forced laborers from the nearby Krakow ghetto. During the ghetto's liquidation in March 1943, Schindler allowed his Jewish workers to stay in relative safety at the factory overnight. At its peak in 1944, Emalia employed 1,700 workers; at least 1,000 were Jewish forced laborers, who were eventually moved to the Plaszow concentration camp.
Although the prisoners deployed at Emalia were still subject to the brutal conditions of the Plaszow camp, Schindler intervened repeatedly on their behalf, through bribes and personal diplomacy. In order to support the claim that the workers were essential to the German war effort, he added an armaments manufacturing division to Emalia. In addition to the approximately 1,000 Jewish forced laborers registered as his workers, Schindler also permitted 450 Jews working in nearby factories to live at Emalia. Schindler's protection of these workers and some of his business dealings led German authorities to suspect him of corruption and of giving unauthorized aid to Jews. SS and police officials arrested him three times, but were unable to charge him.
In October 1944, Schindler obtained authorization to relocate the plant to Brünnlitz (Brnenec) in Moravia. One of his assistants drafted several versions of a list of up to 1,200 Jewish prisoners needed to work in the new factory. These lists came to be known collectively as “Schindler's List.” Though classified as an armaments factory, the Brünnlitz plant produced only one wagonload of live ammunition in almost eight months of operation. By presenting bogus production figures, Schindler justified its existence to German authorities.
In 1949, Schindler and his wife immigrated to Argentina. In 1962, the Israeli Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, awarded Schindler the title "Righteous Among the Nations" for his wartime rescue efforts. In October 1974, Schindler died in Germany, penniless and almost unknown. Schindler's story garnered more attention thanks to Steven Spielberg's popular 1993 film Schindler's List. In all, Schindler facilitated the survival of some 800 Jewish men and between 300 and 400 Jewish women during the Holocaust.