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
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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