These 18 Facts Reveal the True Story of Schindler's List
These 18 Facts Reveal the True Story of Schindler’s List

These 18 Facts Reveal the True Story of Schindler’s List

Larry Holzwarth - November 25, 2018

These 18 Facts Reveal the True Story of Schindler’s List
A British officer examines a captured Panzerfaust anti-vehicle weapon, for which Schindler relocated his factory to produce its explosive warhead. Wikimedia

12. Schindler began “producing” arms for the defense of Germany

By the late autumn of 1944, Schindler had opened a new factory in Brunnlitz, ostensibly for the production of anti-tank grenades for the defense of Germany. In order to maintain what was in fact a charade, Schindler had shipped from Plaszow raw materials and the machinery from his factory to the new location. As with other German industrial plants, the flow of raw materials was hindered by the destruction of the transportation network wrought by the allied bombing. The absence of production caused Nazi officials to question the efficiency of Schindler’s new plant, as they did with other manufacturers of needed war materials. Schindler was aware that it was necessary to maintain the appearance that his plant was productive, and contribute to the war effort if the workers under his protection were to survive the war.

To maintain appearances, according to some historians, Schindler purchased finished products on the black market and listed them on his books as materials finished in his factory. During this time several textile plants relocated to the Sudetenland, where there was a shortage of labor, and Schindler arranged to transfer workers from the remaining camps in Poland, including Auschwitz, to address the labor shortage. By the end of 1944, food for the workers, who were by then slave labor rather than employees, was provided by the SS and was insufficient to maintain health. Rations were subsidized by Schindler. He traveled to Krakow and closer to the approaching Eastern Front to obtain the armaments he presented as his own, food, and other necessary materials to maintain appearances before Nazi officials.

These 18 Facts Reveal the True Story of Schindler’s List
Wilhelm Canaris ran the Abwehr through most of the war, and was one of the influential German leaders who helped shield Schindler. Wikimedia

13. Schindler’s wife Emilie aided him in protecting his workers

The activities attributed to Oskar Schindler were in actuality a conspiracy involving many people, some of them unwittingly. In Nazi Germany under the eyes of the Gestapo and SS, many people participated in activities of defiance while distrusting their do-conspirators, unwilling to share too much information out of fear of being discovered through interrogation and torture. Pemper, Goldberg, Canaris, and several others were of this category. Another individual who willingly aided Schindler was his wife, Emilie, who also tolerated his womanizing and frequent bouts with drunkenness, which continued throughout the war. Years later Emilie revealed to her biographers her awareness of his philandering with secretaries and other women, including some of the Jewish women under his protection, but she nonetheless participated in the activities to protect his workers.

By January of 1945, after the collapse of the final German offensive on the Western Front, Emilie was protecting trainloads of Jews which had been bound for Auschwitz, sheltering them within the armaments factory at Brunnlitz. Workers deemed unfit by the Nazis at factories and mines were dispatched to the east to be killed in the winter of 1945, even as the Soviet armies began discovering the extermination camps. With Oskar, Emilie used black market goods, diamonds, gold, and other valuables to bribe officials as the Soviets approached, and in the collapse of the German government, Nazi officials hoping to escape Europe and the consequences of their crimes became more and more susceptible. At the same time Schindler was aware that as a former member of the Abwehr and a card-carrying member of the Nazi party, as well as an employer of slave labor, he would be subject to arrest by the Soviets and the western Allies. He chose the latter.

These 18 Facts Reveal the True Story of Schindler’s List
Schindler fled with his wife (and one of his mistresses) to the Americans in 1945, fearful of capture by the Russians due to his membership in the Nazi Party. Wikimedia

14. Schindler fled for his life from the Soviet Army

As Nazi Germany collapsed, Schindler made preparations to protect himself from being classified as a war criminal. He solicited letters from Goldberg, Stern, Bankier, and others describing his activities protecting his workers. Throughout the war, Schindler had retained his car, and in it he and his wife departed Brunnlitz for the west, followed by one of his trucks, which carried several of his workers and one of his mistresses. In the Czech town of Budweis, he was temporarily detained by Soviet troops, who seized the car, but allowed them to pass, in response to a bribe. The Schindlers finally reached the American lines, where Schindler’s documents were examined by American officers, who arranged passage for him to Switzerland. They remained there until the fall of 1945, when they relocated to American occupied Bavaria.

Schindler was not charged with war crimes for employing slave labor, as were other German industrialists, but in post-war Germany, he was virtually destitute. Schindler had lived in luxury during his tenure in Poland and Czechoslovakia (the car he used to flee the Soviets was a Horch, a prestigious vehicle in pre-war Germany) but he claimed that he had spent his entire fortune through bribery and his other activities protecting his workers. His entire fortune had come from the sale of products to the government of Germany and its allies during the war, used by the German military. In Bavaria Schindler began accounting for his expenses, which included bribery of officials, food for his workers, construction of the sub-camp in Plaszow, travel, and so forth. The sums provided by his primary customer, the Nazi government were not included.

These 18 Facts Reveal the True Story of Schindler’s List
After fleeing to Switzerland with the assistance of the Americans, Schindler returned to Germany and attempted to gain compensation for his expenses during the war. Wikimedia

15. Schindler sought reimbursement for his expenditures

After the war, Oskar Schindler claimed to have spent over a million dollars of his own money in his efforts to protect the workers he employed, as well as others. Most of his expenses came, according to his own claims, from the building of the sub-camp at Plaszow and the expenses of the black market and bribery. During his escape to the west, Schindler used diamonds to bribe Soviet officials, and he still held some in his possession when he arrived in Switzerland, as well as gold. In 1948 Schindler presented his claims to the New York based American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, requesting that he be reimbursed for personal expenses of just over $1 million. Included in his request were supporting documents from various Zionist groups and some of the workers he had protected.

Schindler was awarded $15,000. Many of the expenses he had listed were unsupportable. Travel for the purpose of being awarded war contracts (he was undeniably a profiteer, originally leasing the factory for that purpose) was not considered as being protective of the Jews he employed. The fact that he employed Jewish workers at all being because they were less expensive, with their wages as well as their rations set by the German government, was also a factor. As Schindler struggled to recover from the war and the loss of his factories and fortune, several of the workers he had protected rebuilt their lives. They became known collectively as Schindlerjuden (Shindler’s Jews). One of them was a former officer of the Polish Army who had worked for Schindler since the earliest days of the enamelware factory, Poldek Pfefferberg.

These 18 Facts Reveal the True Story of Schindler’s List
Schindler’s Krakow Enamelware Factory became a museum and tourist attraction. Wikimedia

16. The story of Schindler’s List began to emerge long after the war.

In 1939 Oskar Schindler hired an interior designer to decorate his new apartment in Krakow, as his wife had not yet joined him there, and his time was soon occupied by the acquisition of the enamelware factory. From her he learned of her son, a Jewish Polish army officer held prisoner of war by the Germans. Schindler hired the young man, Poldek Pfefferberg, to join his staff at the plant. Pfefferberg stayed with Schindler throughout the war, traveling with him to Brunnlitz when the factory was moved, and became a highly skilled worker. Following the war Pfefferberg lived in Budapest for a time, followed by a period in Munich, before finally traveling to the United States in 1948, where he adopted the name of Leopold Page and eventually opened a leather goods shop in Beverly Hills, California. There he attempted to garner the interest of film and television executives in Schindler’s story.

Eventually, Page managed to tell the story to the novelist Thomas Keneally, who wrote the historical novel Schindler’s Ark (which was published as Schindler’s List in the United States). By the time Page related the story, Schindler had been dead for six years, though his wife, Emilie, was still very much alive. Schindler’s Ark was dedicated to Pfefferberg, who reverted to using that name later in life, and who described his motivation for telling the story as a desire to, “give him immortality”, referring to Schindler. Schindler’s story had already been told by other survivors and by Schindler himself in interviews, but it was the book by Keneally and the subsequent film based on the novel which made it famous. One writer, Herbert Steinhouse, interviewed Schindler in 1948 and subsequently described him as being,” A repentant opportunist (who) saw the light and rebelled against the sadism and vile criminality all around him.”

These 18 Facts Reveal the True Story of Schindler’s List
Among Schindler’s failed business ventures after the war was the breeding of coypu, a large rodent with fur similar to that of the beaver. Wikimedia

17. Schindler after the war failed to find success

During the war, Schindler became a successful businessman through the act of war profiteering and the use of forced labor. After the war, he was unsuccessful in virtually everything he set his hand to, often unable to make a living. In 1949 he traveled to Argentina, where he failed as a chicken producer and later in an attempt to raise coypu, a large rodent which at the time was valued for its fur. Having failed in Argentina and still beset with his lifelong habit of excessive alcohol consumption, he abandoned his wife Emilie and returned to Germany in 1958. There further business enterprises ended in failure, including a cement factory which went bankrupt despite the ongoing construction boom in post-war Europe. By 1963 he was reduced to living on contributions given him by surviving Schindlerjuden and other charitable groups. He died in 1974.

His wife remained in Argentina for most of the rest of her life, occasionally visiting Germany and other places. She survived on pensions paid to her by Israel and West Germany. In Argentina, she was given 24-hour police protection due to threats from anti-Semitic groups. Many survivors credited her with being the true impetus behind Oskar Schindler’s protection of his workers, with one, Maurice Markheim, going so far as to say, “Behind the man, there is the woman, and I believe she was the great human being”. In the summer of 2001, she visited Berlin, dying there in October after suffering a stroke. She was buried in Germany, her husband had been buried in Israel. In 1999 Emilie told an interviewer on German television, “I saved many Jews too. More than he did”, in reference to her husband.

These 18 Facts Reveal the True Story of Schindler’s List
Citizens of Weimar are forcefully confronted with the crimes of the Hitler regime by United States Military troops and police in 1945. US Army

18. Fact and fiction regarding Schindler’s list

The truth about Schindler’s List, as with the exact number of Jews which were saved through his efforts, and those with whom he conspired, is impossible to pin down. Oskar Schindler was a member of the Nazi Party, an opportunist who profited from war contracts, bribery, and the use of forced labor. Long after the war was over he fled his debtors in Argentina and returned to Germany, abandoning his wife to deal with the creditors on her own. Some survivors gave her greater credit for their protection, others attributed their ability to live through the war to Oskar, though acknowledging Emilie’s support. Schindler was a philanderer throughout his marriage, an alcoholic throughout his life, and based on his ability to persuade his Nazi superiors to accept his bribes, a born salesman.

The various tales of who actually prepared the list of the survivors who were sent to Brunnlitz all indicate the Schindler was little involved. Emilie claimed late in life that she had written much of the lists, Pfefferberg claimed it was Oskar, Goldberg claimed he had provided the names to Pemper, Pemper that he had written the lists with Goldberg’s assistance. What is known for certain is that 1,200 Jewish men, women, and children survived the war by being relocated to Schindler’s factory and that hundreds, if not thousands, survived due to his other activities throughout the Nazi regime. Both Oskar and Emilie were named as Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel in 1993. Oskar Schindler is the only member of the German Nazi Party to be buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews”. Peter Longerich. 2010

“The Real Oskar Schindler” Herbert Steinhouse, Saturday Night. April, 1994

“The Importance of Oskar Schindler”. Jack L. Roberts. 1996

“Oskar Schindler” Bruce Thompson, ed. People who Made History. 2002

“The Third Reich in Power”. Richard J. Evans. 2005

“The Krakow and the Plaszow Camp Remembered”. Malvina Graf. 1989

“The Man Behind the Monster”, Richard Corliss, TIME Magazine. February 21, 1994

“Oskar Schindler”. Entry, The Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Online

“Mietek Pemper”. Obituary, The Telegraph. June 15, 2011

“The Road to Rescue: The Untold Story of Schindler’s List”. Mietek Pemper. 2011

“Oral history interview with Mietek Pemper”. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (audio collection). January 28, 1983. Online

“Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind the List”. David M. Crowe. 2004

“Emilie Schindler: An Unsung Heroine”. Louis Bulow. 2001

“Myth, Reality, and Oskar Schindler”. Brett Jenik, Quadrant Magazine. June 1, 2010

“Oskar Schindler: The Untold Story”. Stuart Anderson, Forbes magazine. March 19, 2014

“Leopold Page, Who Promoted the Story of Schindler, Dies at 87”. Douglas Martin, The New York Times. March 15, 2001

“After the end of WW II Oskar Schindler went bankrupt trying to raise chickens in Argentina”. Tijana Radeska, Vintage News. September 12, 2016.

“Schindler’s bitter widow dies aged 93”. Kate Connolly, The Guardian. October 7, 2001

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