Practices and Motives of Oskar Schindler
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- Word count: 4281
- Category: Schindler'S List
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How did Oskar Schindler primarily use the list of Jewish workers as a means of making money rather than saving the lives of his Jewish workers? Oskar Schinder who is credited for saving the lives of 1,200 Jews in Europe was born on 28th of April 1908 in Czechoslovakia. His religion was Christianity and was a businessman in Poland during 1930s -1940s. He was an opportunistic businessman. Schindler died in 1974. My main focus in this essay will be on his morality that is, if was he justified under any circumstance to take advantage of the Jewish situation to exploit their labor for his selfish motives.Schindler who is well known because of saving the Jews from being killed by the Nazi’s in Poland during the Second World War. His was born in 1908 at a place called Zwittan. His family, a catholic spoke German language and was located in the Sudetenland.
Schindler became an engineer after joining the German grammar school. His family wanted him to study well in school so that he would take over his father’s farm machinery plant. In school he met people from different races some of them Jews but fortunately or unfortunately he never formed a lasting friendship with any of them.
Shortly after German conjured Sudeten in 1938, Schindler joined the Nazi party where he before this, Schindler was a member of Konrad Heinlein’s party for the Sudeten Germans this was because it was a party of the German speaking people who lived in Sudetenland. He was married to Emily though their marriage was short lived as Schindler was an alcoholic and an infidel. He even became a womanizer who fathered two illegitimate children. He divorced with his wife Franziska Luser when he was 27 years old. After he finished schooling, he stated working as a salesman though he never stayed in one job for long. He kept on trying one after the other. He was also doing the same in the business where he experimented on many businesses but unfortunately he became bankrupt because of the great depression that had locked the country that started in 1927 and this depression continued up to the late 1930s.
In 1920s, (Steinhouse H. 1994) Oskar Schindler helped his father where acted as his salesman in his business. Later after he left his fathers work, he went to work in the Moravian electric company as a salesman. It is this job that made him go to Poland on a business mission. After some time Schindler came to develop an interest in the city and finally he went to stay there. The city of Krakow in the past times was a home to the polish kings.
During this time, the European politics were changing very fast and particularly the German politics. This was happening during the time after Hitler assumed the chancellor’s post in 1933. Since Hitler joined the German politics, he had various visions and one of these was to take back the Sudetenland which was taken after German lost in the First World War. This territory had been annexed by the Czechoslovakian republic shortly before the end of the First World War in 1918. The Czechoslovakian republic became the beneficiary of this territory after the German Empire and that of Austro Hungary were destroyed. This is the time Hitler started preaching the politics of ethnicity. He incited the Germans in Sudetenland by telling them that they did not belong to Czechoslovakia but to Germany. (Czech- German Declaration. 2006)His politics and incitements materialized in 1935 when the Germans in that territory started disassociating themselves from communists or what was termed as social democrats formed by the Sudeten pro-Nazi party. It should not be forgotten that at this time, Schindler was in Sudetenland and he was a German. For this reason he was not left behind when others joined this party. The situation turned sour in 1938 when Hitler started making claims on this territory. He wanted it to be returned back to Germany. He threatened to take by force something that worried France and Britain. The two were not prepared for another war and for this reason they allowed him to take back the Sudetenland.
During this period, Oskar Schindler frequently visited Krakow for his business missions and by then he already knew a number of people in the city thus he was approached by the intelligence unit of Germany military to help them in getting information about the activities of the polish military. Because of this new role he was given, he temporarily left the military service and he helped them by giving any relevant information that he could gather.
Schindler who was an opportunist went to Krakow a week after Germany declared war in 1939 September first. He wanted to capitalize on this volatile situation in making profit. By luck, the city became the headquarter of the Nazi government. Schindler quickly befriended the government officials who he knew would help him in protecting his businesses. He borrowed capital from the wealthy people. With this money he bought a kitchenware factory which he later called it the Deutche Emailwaren Fabrik which started working in 1940 January. (Fogelman E. 1994:51-78) He maintained his link with his employer who proved to be very useful in those trying moments. He continued to bribe the right individuals in the army to protect and help him in securing contracts on the items that his factory produced like pots, ammunitions and pans.
With the advice of Itzhak Stern who was a Jewish accountant who served as a link between Schindler and the Jewish community at large, to exploit the cheap labor of the Jews, he staffed his company with the local Jews. It was easier to get cheap and reliable from these people as most of them were poor and lived in ghettos. In the same year that is in 1940, the anti-Semitism begun. Schindler was asked not to pay the Jews salaries directly to them but through the SS or the Elite armed unit of the Nazi. Also, another directive was passed that required all the Jews to vacate this city except those who were employed. This city had about 56,000 Jews. They started fighting for job opportunities that were there though they could not accommodate the whole population. Schindler took advantage of this situation by employing not less than hundred and fifty Jews in his company.
The Jews in this city were ordered to identify themselves properly by wearing a white arm band which was supposed to be four inches wide and with David’s star. By 1942, his company had expanded very much and produced kitchenware and ammunitions for the company enmasse. It occupied about 45,000 sqm2 and was a home to about eight hundred people of whom 370 were Jews from the Krakow ghetto. Were it not for his corrupt deals with the Gestapo circles, he would not have been as prosperous as he was. It was because of this that he managed to migrate from Zwittau to a good apartment apartment at Krakow. Schindler was there when the Jews badly needed somebody who would save them from being killed by the Gestapo. (Brecher, E.J.1994; 48-102)
For the sake of his business continuity he liaised with the S.S officials. At odd hours at night he would be seen with these officers and chasing beautiful women. He was a very cunning Gambler who maintained a cordial relationship with the Jews who worked for him. It is this good character of his that made him to be different from others who mistreated the Jews.
Schindler never at any time opposed the Nazi’s move although he felt bad because of senseless killing of Jews and that is why he offered hundreds of them jobs in his company just to save their lives. Though he was greedy for money, he put his egoistic motives after saving the Jews. In a bid to save the lives of the Jews he was ready to use his money though not getting profit and more so to risk his own life. His businesses run normally despite the violence that was being perpetrated by the Gestapo and the Nazis. It was saved by the status it acquired from the Poland’s military armaments inspectorate because it was deemed vital to their operations as it provided them with ammunitions.
Whenever the SS officers threatened to deport the Jews to Auschwitz he resisted arguing that such an act would affect the running of his company and the war materials would not be produced. He used false records to save children, housewives and lawyers by referring them as mechanics and metalworkers. He did this to protect the incapacitated people, children and the unqualified people in general. He greatly risked his life and his business by agreeing to protect these Jews. He was severally questioned by the Gestapo’s and sometimes even arrested but he would never let them suffer in the hands of the Germans. At one time in 1943 he agreed to take a very risky journey to meet the American committee for the Joint Jewish Distribution. He traveled all the way to Budapest and met Hungarian Jewry representatives. (Byers A.2005; 160)
By this time the ghetto’s population which was about 17,000 had been reduced to 4000 or less due to the deportations that were ongoing. The warnings and alerts that he made to the representatives of the Jewish community in Budapest fell on deaf ears. They could not believe his story. They said that Germans were human beings like others and that they could not do such a thing.
In 1943 march, (Sydnor C.W. 1995; 175) the whole ghetto was being destroyed completely and those who remained were forcefully taken to the Plaszow labor camps somewhere outside the Cracow city. The officers who were overseeing this liquidation were his drinking mate like Amon Goeth. Though very brutal, he convinced him to set a sub-camp for his workers in his factory. Schindler believed that if he was allowed to put them there, then would be able to keep them alive with the food that he bought in the black markets with his own money. With Goeth by his side the company was saved together with all the workers inside. The SS guards were told not interfere with factory’s business. During the evacuation, those Jews who were strong enough to work were taken to Plaszow labor camp. While the weak ones were executed or sent to the death camps.
Schindler’s idea of starting his own camp bore fruits after successfully promising Goeth some payment if he cooperated with him. This factory was called Emalia. Inside here, the Jews were now saved. Though could not get enough food they led normal life unlike those in Plaszow. In keeping the SS guards away from his factory he bribed them regularly. In 1944 the status of Plaszow labor camp changed with the advancement of Russians. It ceased to be a labor camp and became a concentration camp. Its occupants now were ferried to the death camps like Auschwitz camp which had about 20,000 men, children and women.
After Schindler was given a notice to evacuate, he reasoned with the supreme command and was allowed to continue running the company he had started at Brunnlitz with his wife in Sudetenland. All the workers in his Zablocie factory camp now had to be removed from that place and taken to Brunnlitz. These workers plus some others who were from Plaszow camp were to be transferred. In total, they were about eight hundred men among them were 700 Jews were taken to Gross Rosen while the 300 women were taken to Auschwitz. This was contrary to Schindler’s wish and when he learned this he moved with speed to secure his people. He managed to have those at gross Rosen camp released. He also sent personal secretary to Auschwitz to talk with the military commanders so that they could release the women. He succeeded in having them released but on condition that he would pay 7DM pro capita on daily basis to the Gestapo officers.
In the extermination camp no such a big group was ever allowed to come out alive and this group was the first one. Few people escaped these gas chambers. Schindler operated black market businesses just to keep the Jews alive. He was almost arrested two times after it was alleged that he was involved in the black dealings and other forms of corruption. He was suspected after the SS guards and the commandant like Geoth were found with money & jewellary supposedly belonging to the Jews. Schindler was even arrested on suspicions that he had a relationship with Goeth who was in jail for being involved in activities connected with the black market.
Schindler finally managed to convince these Germans on his innocence but it was because he was helped by his colleagues who occupied big position on the government. Immediately he was set free, he started trying to see how the captured women would be released; he made them see how essential these workers were to his factory. They let them go after giving them diamonds as bribes. After this event, he almost refused to produce the materials that the government needed infact no useful shell was produced by his factory on pretext that his factory was reestablishing itself but he was doing this with a motive of punishing them. He made sure that all the shells did not meet the required standard.
Schindler who was very sensitive to the rights of the Jewish people tried everything he could to ensure they got what they needed and that they were save from evident particularly on two occasions. The first one was about hundred and twenty Jews who had been working in a quarry that was operated by the German’s Earth and Stoneworks Company at Goleszow a branch of Auschwitz camp. (Roberts J.L.1996; 36-58) With the advent of Russians in 1945, these men had to be transferred westward in cattle driven wagons. This journey took them seven days without anything to eat or to drink. Some succumbed to death before they reached Brunnlitz where Schindler’s factory was located. When Schindler saw them, he was very touched. He tried hard to convince these officials how badly he needed those people but when the cargoes were opened about a dozen bodies was frozen.
The SS commandants wanted to have these bodies incarcerated as it was the Nazi’s tradition custom but Schindler had to seriously argue with the SS officials to have them buried decently according to the Jewish burial rites. He wanted to burry these bodies in catholic cemetery that was located in his own plot. Finally a hundred were terribly sick and emaciated because lack of enough food. Others suffered from frostbite and had to be put on medication and well fed for sometime. He ensured that none of them was put to work in that condition.
Schindler sometimes was forced to do the unthinkable. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when he stopped exploiting the Jewish community for his personal gains to become a protector of all those that were in danger of being either heavily punished or killed. There was a time when in as much as he could have wanted, he had no other option apart from doing what he was told. Especially when he was told to list all those Jews he would like them saved. He found himself on the horns of the dilemma unable to decide what to do but eventually he selected some individuals who were to be separated. He prepared a list of about 1100 people including his workers and others from Plaszow camp. The rest were either sent to death chamber or to the Auschwitz. (Jeremy R.2002; 42-97)
Shortly before the end of the 2nd world war, Schindler secretly went back to German before the Russians who were quickly advancing into Moravia caught up with them. He hid himself and went in to one of those territories that were under the mandate of the Allied forces. By this time, things were not going as he wanted them to be because his factory was almost collapsing.
The beginning of the end of his company showed itself when he was made to move from Krakow to Brunntz. He deliberately refused to produce quality products so as to punish the government. This continued for the next seven months and yet he was making no profit. Another thing was the fact that whenever he had to part with some cash as a bribe. This slowly led him to bankruptcy.
After the 2nd world war, he tried all that he could to revive his business but with no avail. He even tried to go to Munich to see whether he would prosper again but nothing was forthcoming. At this time, he was completely broke and had to rely on Jewish organizations for his upkeep.
Immediately, after Germany was defeated by the allied forces on 8th may 1945, Schindler broke the news to his workers. He gave them a small lecture asking them not to seek revenge for what the Nazi’s had done to the Jewish community at large. He asked them to observe a moment of silence in reverence of those who lost their lives in that holocaust. He showed his appreciation of all those who helped him in saving the Jews by thanking them even though they were not present.
Before he left his Jews who regarded themselves as Schindler’s children he was given a letter by them so that in case he was arrested in future for his deeds, he would use it in attesting his good win and his heroic deeds that he did during those trying moments. In thanking him they also gave him a gold ring that was made by one of those who were imprisoned on it were inscribed that any person who protects the life of human being it is as if he was the whole world had been saved. Afterwards he headed to the east to save himself and his wife from the advancing Russians. The Jewish that were left in the factory alone were later released by a certain Russian officer who was a lone ranger.
After receiving some money from the Jewish distribution committee in 1949 due to work he did in saving Jews and in refunding him for the lot he had spent in protecting the lives of the Jews, he proceeded to Argentina and settled there after he bought a piece of land. In the next one decade, (Paldiel M.1993; 166-168) he totally relied on the money that he received from Jewish’s organization’s. Later in 1958 he left his dear wife in Argentina and himself returned to live in West German. In Germany the Jews gave him money and used some of it in setting up a business of cement at Frankfurt. This also did not prosper and in 1961 it collapsed. From then onwards he lived on the small pension that he was given by the German government and the money that he was given by the well wishers.
Schindler’s postwar period was of drinking alcohol, chasing women and trying various businesses that never succeeded. At home he was despised and criticized by many people because of protecting the Jews. His motive of protecting them is something that remains a mystery to many. Even his closest friends cannot tell why he did that. He was an extraordinary person who was able to rise above the racial differences to help people who were not Germans like him and more so he did that work passionately. It was the height of humanity. No matter how this catholic womanizer and an alcoholic did behind scenes his determination to protect the Jews covered all these evils.
After his business collapsed, Schindler received an invitation to go to Israel. This was first time to land on the soil of Israel. He was pleased to see how he was received as opposed to how he was treated in his motherland. Going to Israel became the source of his happiness as from that firs t time, he would go to Israel during the spring time to have a nice time with Jewish society whom he saw and regarded as his own offspring. (Crowe DM.2004; 529)
Many of the survivors pay their tribute to Schindler for example a survivor by the name Murry who started a construction firm after the world war II dedicated a number of New Jersey’s street to their savior Schindler. According to him, he saved the Jews because he was appalled by the insanity, brutality and sadism portrayed by the Nazi’s. He said that his conscience would not allow him to stand aside and assume that nothing was happening and thus he had to do what ever he could to save these people. One day Bronia Gunz recalls how Schindler told them to dig graves so as to hoodwink the SS officers but promised to do anything in has power to save them. He went away for few days only to return with a paper proclaiming they were saved and that there was no need of digging graves.
In the early part of his life Schindler greatly exploited the labor of the Jews. He was motivated by Stern who was a Jewish businessman and an accountant that it was cheaper to buy Jews than to buy poles. Before the onset of the First World War, Schindler was greatly driven by his passions. He was particularly driven by desires to get rich quickly. This is the reason why he started befriending the Jews who at that time lived in ghettos and were in desperate need for money. He set up his factory at that city to enjoy the availability of cheap labor. At this point, Schindler was by no means justified to exploit the Jews by paying them peanuts. There was no external pressure whatsoever that forced him to do so.
Later, as the Second World War broke out, the Jews in Polish Corridor started being executed by Germans who wanted this region to be occupied only by them. It is these beastly actions which were executed with a lot of ruthlessness that made Schindler to choose the course of action he took. He took it upon himself to offer these Jews work because all those who were not doing any useful work were either taken to Plaszow where they were forced to work while the weak ones were executed in gas chambers. At this time Schindler’s actions of obtaining cheap labor could be justified because if he did not offer them jobs then it means they would have been killed. Therefore, it is because of their status as employed workers that they escaped the gas chambers. (Simpson P., 2007)
Another thing is that, there is no way that he could have paid more than he did and yet their dues were given to the Reich but not to them. Also if he gave them what they deserved then, it would have been upon themselves to look for food and yet the outside environment was very volatile. No Jews would have walked freely in those towns. It should be remembered that the money the money that they could have been given was the same that was used to bribe the Nazi’s and to build the factory camp.
I can conclude this essay by saying that no matter how bad Schindler’s actions were; like womanizing, drinking and even divorcing his wife for other women, his later part of life erodes all the evils that he did in his past life. He did an action that no other German would have done. He was able to rise above the politics of racism just to save lives. The reason why he did that remains a mystery to many and it is yet to be resolved. That is why he is celebrated as a hero in Israel just like others who have become heroes due to their extraordinary deeds.
Brecher, E.J. Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors. New York. Dutton. 1994: 48- 102
Byers A. Oskar Schindler: Saving Jews from the Holocaust. Enslow. 2005; 160
Crowe DM. Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life War Activities and The True Story Behind The List. West View Press. 2004; 529
Czech- German Declaration. 2006. Retrieved on January 30, 2008 http://eudocs.lib.byu.edu/index.php/Czech-German_Declaration
Fogelman E. Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. New York: Doubleday. 1994: 51-78
Jeremy R.: Oskar Schindler: Righteous Gentile. New York Rosen Publishing Group. 2000; 42-97
Paldiel M. Oskar Schindler: In the Path of the Righteous Gentile Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. Hoboken N.J: Ktav Publishing House 1993; 166-168
Roberts J.L. Oskar Schindler San Diego: Lucent books 1996: 36-58
Sydnor C.W. Schindler Oskar: In World Book Encyclopedia Chicago: World Book 1995; 175
Steinhouse H. The Real Oskar Schindler. Saturday Night Magazine. April, 1994. Retrieved On January 30, 2008
Simpson P. Schindler’s List: St James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. 2007. Retrieved on 30th January 2008