58: Schindler’s List
It was one of the darkest hours in the world and amidst the horrors, Oskar Schindler managed to help save many lives from certain death. This week we’ll find out how much of it was actually true as we compare history with Schindler’s List.
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Books & Resources
Learn about USS New Orleans
- Schindler’s List (1993) – Synopsis
- Schindler’s List – Wikipedia
- Schindler’s Ark – Wikipedia
- Academy Awards Summaries
- Schindlers entire List
- Schindler Why
- History and the Holocaust — Oskar Schindler; The unexpected Hero
- Oskar Schindler – Schindler’s List
- The Girl in Red
- Itzhak Stern | Schindler’s List
- The Real Oskar Schindler
- Itzhak Stern – Wikipedia
- Amon Göth – Wikipedia
- Amon Goeth and Oskar Schindler
- Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp – Wikipedia
- Ynetnews Jewish Scene – Ring Jews gave to Oskar Schindler’s almost thrown to the trash
This past February, when La La Land was nominated for an amazing 14 Oscars, that tied 1950’s All About Eve and 1997’s Titanic for the most nominations in the history of the Academy Awards.
While All About Eve isn’t based on a true story, interestingly the man who wrote and directed that film was Joseph Mankiewicz. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because Joseph was the brother of Herman Mankiewicz, the man who co-wrote Citizen Kane with Orson Welles.
Of course, we’ve already covered Citizen Kane on this series, and we’ve also taken a look at the true story behind Titanic.
Although La La Land received all those nominations, it only ended up going home with six of those Oscars.
Only. As if that’s not an incredible achievement still.
It is, but it’s not quite as unique. There have been 12 films throughout history with six Academy Awards. That’s one less than yet another movie we’ve looked at on this podcast, Lawrence of Arabia, which won seven Oscars in 1962.
Another film with seven Oscar wins is the epic film we’re looking at today. Starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Kingsley with Steven Spielberg directing behind the camera, Schindler’s List took home seven Oscars in 1993 as it went on to take home almost $100 million dollars at the box office compared to only a $22 million budget.
There’s many films that deserve the title of Hollywood blockbuster, and Schindler’s List is certainly one of them. But as we’ve learned with so many other films I’ve mentioned that we’ve looked at on this podcast—Titanic, Citizen Kane and Lawrence of Arabia, for example—being Hollywood blockbuster doesn’t always mean it’s historically accurate.
In fact, sometimes it means quite the opposite. So how does Schindler’s List hold up to history?
The true story behind Schindler’s List
The movie begins in color as we see a Jewish family lighting the Shabbos candles. Zooming into the candle, the film slowly transitions into black and white before sending us back in time to 1939 when Polish Jews were forced into the Krakow ghetto immediately after the Nazis occupied the region.
This whole little introduction with the family singing in color and the people lining up to register for the Krakow ghetto may have been dramatized, but the spirit of what happened is very true.
Krakow is a city in southwestern Poland that dates back to the seventh century, making it one of the oldest cities in the region. It was also the second-largest city in Poland, making it home to many Polish citizens—including many Jews. Because of the large population of Polish Jews in the city, when the Nazis first overran the city on September 6th, 1939, it didn’t take long for them to round up all of the Jews.
Just days after they arrived, the Nazis ordered any Jewish person 12 years or older to identify with the Star of David armband, and began forcing them to work. Essentially using them for slave labor.
Back in the movie, after setting up the time and location, we’re introduced to the main character, Oskar Schindler, as played by Liam Neeson. We first meet him in a restaurant where he manages to go from sitting alone at a table to buying a drink for an SS officer and in no time at all, the entire restaurant is joining Oskar Schindler’s party.
We don’t really know if the specific party took place like we saw in the movie, but the plot line is actually quite true. By that, what I mean is that Oskar Schindler was quite adept at bribing and cozying up to Nazi officers to get their approval.
This is a common theme we see throughout the film, but it’s something that’s introduced here quite plainly.
Now before we jump back into the movie, let’s take a couple moments to learn a little more about the real Oskar Schindler.
Oskar was born in 1908 in Zwittau, which is now in the Czech Republic. Back then it was a part of the Austria-Hungary empire. Oskar’s family was wealthy thanks to his father’s business ventures, so it wouldn’t be too far off to say he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
Despite this, he didn’t coast through life on his family’s money. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Oskar’s father was a heavy drinker and quite the womanizer.
In 1936, Oskar worked in the Office of Military Foreign Intelligence for the German Army. That service was short-lived, as he left the German Army and in 1938, he joined the reserves for the Czechoslovakian Army.
In February of 1939, Oskar Schindler officially joined the Nazi Party. As the Nazis power grew, simultaneously his family’s business started to fail. Oskar went to work as a salesman for the business, trying to use his Nazi connections for his benefit.
That’s a very brief overview, but it brings us up to October of 1939 when Oskar Schindler moved to Krakow in Poland.
Why did he move there? Well, unfortunately it’s really hard to know people’s intentions sometimes. It’s not like there’s documentation for every decision. Despite this, most historians have surmised that he moved to Krakow to take advantage of a new, low-cost workforce that was emerging in the area. That workforce, of course, was the Jewish population that were being forced to work at the hand of the Nazis.
But others have suggested that may not have been the reason, instead suggesting that when Oskar moved to Krakow he didn’t know about what essentially was slave labor. Again, we run into the problem of not having every fact in someone’s knowledge being documented. So we may never know for sure.
In the movie, Liam Neeson’s version of Oskar turns to a Jewish accountant named Itzhak Stern to help him run his business. And by help, I mean to run his business for him. Probably the only comedic moment in Schindler’s List happens when Liam Neeson is sitting opposite Itzhak and explaining that he needs Itzhak’s help finding investors and running the business. Itzhak, who’s played the fabulous actor Ben Kingsley, says something to the effect of, “Well, if I’m finding the investors and I’m running the business—what are you doing again?”
Of course, and according to the film, as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Poland, it’s illegal for Itzhak to own a business, so Oskar would provide the legal ownership and help with the sales side.
Like many scenes, we don’t know if this particular meet-up actually happened, but the general spirit is true. The outcome of the meeting is pretty close to what actually happened in history.
Let’s start with Itzhak Stern. He was a very real person who was born in 1901, making him about seven years older than Oskar.
As we learned earlier, there’s some debate about whether or not Oskar moved to Krakow to take advantage of a cheap Jewish workforce. One of the reasons for that debate was because it was Itzhak Stern who made the suggestion to Oskar that he take advantage of Jewish labor.
For Oskar, the logic made sense. Jews didn’t have to be paid as much as Poles. For Itzhak, he seemed to have recognized that Oskar was different than other Nazis. Working for him would be better than whatever alternatives there were.
And so, just like the movie shows, a rather unorthodox partnership was formed between Oskar Schindler, an official member of the Nazi Party, and Itzhak Stern, a Jewish accountant.
While the movie makes it seem like Oskar was starting a business from scratch, in truth he actually bought a company called Rekord, Ltd., which was an enamelware business. Rekord was owned by Jews before Oskar bought it from them, and then he renamed it the Deutsche Emalwarenfabrik Oskar Schindler.
Again, we don’t have a lot of documentation into Oskar’s true intentions with his decisions here, but we can make some educated guesses.
First, since we know Nazis made it illegal for Jews to own businesses, it’s likely that whomever owned Rekord sold it to Oskar for next to nothing. After all, what’s the alternative? Give it up for literally nothing?
And as for the renaming, this is my own speculation, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Oskar did this in an effort to distance the company from its once-Jewish ownership. Ever the opportunist, Oskar knew the Nazis in power wouldn’t want to do business with a company owned by Jews—and it’s likely he didn’t want to take the risk that they might not want to be associated with a company that used to be owned by Jews.
Despite these speculations, one fact we do know is that Oskar did manage to secure some investment money from Jews in Krakow to build his business. That’s something that the movie shows pretty accurately.
Back in the movie, there’s a brief moment early on when we’re introduced to Oskar’s wife. She comes to visit Oskar in Krakow, knocking on the door to find another woman answering the door. This doesn’t seem to faze her, though, which gives us the implication that it’s not the first time Oskar has cheated on her.
Of course, the dramatization of that particular moment on screen likely wasn’t how it actually happened, but the spirit of the story is very true. Oskar Schindler married Emilie Pelzl in 1928, when Oskar was only 19 years old. It was a marriage that would last Oskar’s entire life. However, it was also a marriage that Oskar would never be faithful to.
Maybe it was because of his father’s womanizing or some other reason we’ll never truly understand, but Oskar had an untold number of mistresses throughout his life.
For example, in 1933, while still married to Emilie, Oskar had an affair with the secretary at his father’s business. Her name was Aurelie Schlegel, and together Oskar and Aurelie had two children, one boy and one girl. Or maybe it was one child. Oskar was convinced that the boy, who was the younger of the two children, wasn’t his. That boy’s name? Oskar Jr.
Back in the movie, there’s another moment where there’s a mix-up with paperwork that sees Itzhak Stern forced onto a train and nearly taken to a concentration camp. It would’ve almost certainly meant his death, but Oskar Schindler shows up just in time to convince the Nazi officers to let Itzhak go with Oskar.
During the dialog, one of the officers tells Oskar that it doesn’t really matter to them. Itzhak wasn’t really a person. As a Jew—this one, that one—none of them matter.
Although we don’t know for sure if the movie is entirely accurate here, again, the spirit is quite right.
Even though Oskar may have been a member of the Nazi Party, it wasn’t like it was a party-wide thing he was doing. So it was on Oskar to keep up with the necessary paperwork to ensure anyone else in the Nazi Party that he came across would leave Itzhak alone.
As for Itzhak Stern, he would later admit that he was suspicious of Oskar from the beginning. He was, after all, a Nazi. The alternative to working with Oskar, though, wasn’t great.
So the movie’s plot line where both Oskar and Itzhak had their own, separate reasons for wanting to work together is true.
Going back to the film, we’re introduced to another major character around this point. His name is Amon Göth, and he’s portrayed in the film by Ralph Fiennes.
He was a very real person.
While the movie doesn’t really have a lot of indication as to how much time is passing, we know from history that Amon Göth arrived in Krakow to set up the Plaszow concentration camp nearby. That was in 1942, and it was a position that Amon received as a reward for being what the SS considered an exemplary officer.
In the movie, there’s a scene where Oskar is riding horseback when he sees the ghetto in Krakow being overrun with Nazi troops. They’re rounding up the Jews and forcing them onto trains bound for Plaszow.
During all of the chaos, one little girl stands out from the rest. She stands out because she’s wearing a red coat—something unique in an otherwise black and white movie. It’s one of the few times we see color in Schindler’s List.
All of that is true.
As Oskar was watching from a nearby hill on horseback, he happened to see a little girl in a red coat. Well, he didn’t know for sure if it was a little girl—from that distance he could just tell it was a child in a red coat. But the mistress he was with at the time commented to Oskar that it must be a little girl because only a little girl would be so obsessed over a bright shade of red like that.
Just like what we saw in the movie, Oskar watched her as she walked aimlessly. Around her, people were being beaten and shot as the Nazis were lining everyone up to get on the trains. This was a truly eye-opening experience for Oskar.
Previously, he had seen the atrocities the Nazis were forcing on the Jews, but as he would later admit he thought they were isolated incidents. Seeing this mass rounding up and blatant murder of innocent people in the streets made him realize all of those incidents he’d seen before weren’t isolated.
While the movie shows Liam Neeson’s version of Oskar eventually riding away, in truth Oskar was sickened by what he saw. Sliding off his horse, he nearly threw up right there on the ground. He managed to keep his food down, though, and instead just stayed there—on his knees, hugging a pine tree.
He was in shock.
Although this isn’t in the movie at all, there was a PBS documentary called The Trial of Adolf Eichmann that actually offered some insight into who the child in the red coat might have been. It may have been the daughter of a man named Dr. Martin Földi. Dr. Földi would end up surviving Auschwitz and in the documentary he told the story of the selection process. As he explained, he and his twelve-year-old son were told to stand in a line to the right while his wife and their little girl, wearing her brand new red coat he had just gotten for her just days before, were to stand to the left. After a few moments, an SS officer forced his son away from him, telling the boy to go find his mother and daughter in their line.
Did he find them? We don’t know, but it’s not likely. Although Dr. Földi survived, those were the last moments when he saw his family.
Was this the little girl that Oskar Schindler saw? Honestly, we don’t know for sure. Maybe. But in all likelihood, probably not.
In 2000, one of the survivors of the Krakow Ghetto named Roma Ligocka wrote a book in which she explained that she was the little girl in the red coat. Her book is called The Girl in the Red Coat, and is definitely worth a read.
As an interesting side note, Roma didn’t know about any of this at all until she saw Schindler’s List herself. When she saw the little girl in the red coat, she was amazed and instantly knew that was her—even though there’s no way the filmmakers could’ve known. Some fifty or so years after the event, it was the movie that brought the real person forward.
While Oskar Schindler never learned about the true identity of the child in the red coat, just like the moment we saw in the film, it was an incredibly emotional experience. Seeing the brutal murders taking place was something that would forever change his life.
Sadly, the real events were also something that lasted much longer than what we saw in the movie. While the film implies the Krakow ghetto was cleaned out in a day, in truth it was an event that took place over a matter of years. However, the event we see in the movie most likely was in March of 1943, because that’s when there was a massive “liquidation”, as the Nazis called it, of the ghetto as the Jews were taken to Plaszow.
We didn’t really see this in the movie, but as these liquidations were taking place, Oskar would let the Jews who worked in his factory spend the night there to help avoid being rounded up.
Back in the film, in the camp at Plaszow, an indifferent Amon Göth starts off one of his days by taking a sniper rifle to his balcony and shooting people at random if they don’t appear to be working hard enough.
Sadly, this is true. We know from accounts of those who managed to survive that Amon Göth liked to spend many of his mornings on the balcony of his home overlooking the camp with his sniper rifle, shooting at children in the camp.
According to some, Amon wouldn’t have breakfast in the morning until he’d shot at least one person. We also know that Amon Göth’s role as the Camp Commandant earned him a nickname: The Butcher of Plaszow.
One example of Amon’s butchery was recounted at the trial for Adolf Eichmann after the war. If you’re listening with kids, you might want to skip ahead a bit. But in his statement, one of the Jews who had survived thanks to Oskar Schindler, a man named Moshe Beijski, testified:
“The case of Olmer, whose daughter lives in Jerusalem, and I know her. He was summoned by the Camp Commandant Amon Göth. The Camp Commandant had two dogs, Ralf and Rolf, and he set the dogs on him. The dogs ate him up alive. Possibly a little breath still remained in him. He shot him and he was killed. A group that appeared with food in its possession, a particular group of the Abladekommando, a unit which was in charge of the offloading of goods from the railway station—they found food in its possession. Then the camp commander, Amon Göth, came up and asked whose food it was. When no one answered, he took a young man whose name was Nachmansohn…and shot him. On the same occasion he shot another man, Disler. And then someone had a brilliant idea and said that they had brought the food. Then everyone received one hundred lashes. One of the men named Mandel remained lying there until the group was taken to the parade ground, and there everyone received his deserts. He himself had to count the blows, and if he made an error in the counting, he had to go back to the beginning. There was an instance with that group where one of the older men was beaten and cried out a great deal, and after that had to go to Göth and to inform him that he had received his punishment, and he thanked him for it. When he turned around, he shot him, and he, too, was killed.”
Torture and death were common in Plaszow. If you survived more than a month, you were considered lucky.
The next major plot point in the film is when Oskar strikes up an unlikely friendship with the man responsible for the murder he saw in the streets of Krakow.
This is true. Despite his disdain for the actions of the man, Oskar Schindler also knew that he’d have to deal with the man in charge, Amon Göth, if he wanted to try to save some of the Jews.
When Oskar approached Amon, he asked him if he could move some of the Jews to a sub-camp that’d be near his enamelware factory. His reasoning was that the physical location being closer to his business would help his workers get to work faster, and increase productivity.
Surprisingly, Amon Göth agreed. Of course, the bribery that Oskar also offered helped, too, I’m sure.
And so it was that Krakow Zablocie was set up. That was the name for the sub-camp of over a thousand Jews who worked at Oskar’s factory. It was one of seven sub-camps in the Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp. But it was obviously different than the others. At least, obvious to us now…Oskar did all he could to keep it from being obvious to the Nazis.
In the movie, we find out that even though he clearly doesn’t care about the life of the Jews in his camp, Amon actually has a crush on a Jewish girl. Her name is Helen Hirsch and in the film is played by Embeth Davidtz.
That’s true as well, although there’s more to the story.
By that, what I mean is that Amon Göth didn’t have one Helen, but two Helens. Helen Hirsch was a real person, and was indeed one of Amon’s maids. His other maid was a woman named Helen Sternlicht. Like the movie shows and like you can probably imagine from someone who doesn’t flinch at sniping prisoners in the camp, Amon didn’t treat his maids very well.
In the movie, the next big plot point happens when a Jewish woman and her child bring a cake they’ve baked to Oskar Schindler. They do so in front of a number of Nazi officers who witness Liam Neeson’s version of Oskar as he does something unthinkable to the officers—kisses the woman.
Later, Ralph Fiennes version of Amon Göth tries to explain it away to his superiors as Oskar simply being a womanizer. It doesn’t work, and Oskar is sent to jail.
As we’ve learned, the womanizer thing was true, but as far as we know Oskar never went to jail for kissing a Jewish woman. He did go to jail, though, so that part of the story is true. However, it was simply because of helping the Jews that he was sent to jail.
In fact, it was while he was in jail that Schindler’s list was created. So that would mean the scene that we see Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley sitting there typing up the list wasn’t true.
But probably the biggest change was that it wasn’t Itzhak Stern who wrote the list.
While we already learned that Itzhak Stern was a real person, the character of Itzhak Stern we saw on screen was actually a composite character. There were three men who went into the character Ben Kingsley played. One of them was, of course, Itzhak. The other two were Mieotek Pemper and Marcel Goldberg.
It was Marcel Goldberg who wrote the now-famous list of Jews who would be saved in Schindler’s factory. And he wrote this list while Schindler himself was in jail, so it’s not likely that Oskar had a lot of direct input on the names that went onto the list.
With that said, some have suspected that Marcel was open to bribery to get names onto the list. Even though he was of Jewish decent, by all accounts, Marcel wasn’t nearly as wholesome as the character we saw Ben Kingsley play on screen.
As if things weren’t bad enough at Plaszow, the movie is correct in showing that many of the prisoners didn’t stay there. While no one inside the camp could’ve known, but the tides of the war were turning. On June 6th, 1944, Allied forces landed in Europe for the massive offensive we now know as D-Day.
Meanwhile, the Germans were being pushed back on multiple fronts. To the west, the British, Americans and other Allies were pushing the Nazis out of occupied-France. To the east, the Soviet Union was making their own headway against the Nazis ever since they’d surprise-attacked their former allies in 1941.
With Plaszow being located near Krakow in Poland, the Germans knew it was only a matter of time before they’d be overrun by the Soviets.
So in July and August of 1944, the German high command ordered Plaszow emptied and large numbers of prisoners from Plaszow were transported to their death in other camps such as Flossenburg, Mauthausen, Stutthof and Auschwitz.
In the movie, Oskar Schindler goes to Amon Göth and asks if he can move his Jews to his own hometown of Brünnlitz. At the time it was a part of Germany, but today it’s in the Czech Republic.
To get some context, that’s about 155 miles, or about 250 kilometers, to the west of Krakow—away from the advancing Soviet Army.
Again, surprisingly, Ralph Fiennes version of Amon agrees and Oskar Schindler and the Jews working in his factory are allowed to leave.
That’s all true. When Plaszow was ordered to be emptied, Oskar knew what would await the Jews in other camps. It was now or never.
While the movie shows Oskar petitioning Amon alone, there was more than just one person to make that decision. Oskar used any and all of the connections he’d made throughout the war. He bribed. He begged. He even traveled to Berlin to try to convince contacts in Germany’s capital to let him take the Jews away from Plaszow.
And it worked.
About 25,000 men, women and children were murdered when they left Plaszow and went to Auschwitz. About 700 men and 300 women didn’t make that trip and instead went to work in a factory in Brünnlitz.
In the movie, there was an issue when the trains with Oskar’s workers leave Plaszow. The men make it to Brünnlitz fine, but the women and children don’t. They were accidentally sent to Aushwitz. A paperwork mix-up, the Nazis claim.
Angered, Oskar himself drives to Auschwitz to fix the situation.
That’s sort of true.
One of the trains leaving Plaszow headed for Brünnlitz was indeed diverted without any warning and instead arrived at Gross-Rosen. That’s much further to the northwest of Plaszow than Auschwitz was.
But the real Oskar didn’t go to the concentration camp to get things resolved. Instead, he went to the source—Berlin. And yet again, he bribed, begged and did whatever he could to yet again get the Jewish workers sent to Brünnlitz.
And it worked.
While the first of Schindler’s Jews were sent from Plaszow to Brünnlitz in July of 1944, the last of them didn’t arrive until November.
Oh, and in the movie, back at Plaszow, we see a scene where Amon Göth is burning massive piles of human bodies. As a wheelbarrow of human bodies passes by Liam Neeson’s Oskar Schindler, he notices the red coat. It’s the little girl from before.
Obviously we know now that’s not true. Fortunately, Roma Ligocka survived. But we can’t fault the filmmakers for that—no one knew who she was and with millions of Jews murdered during the Holocaust, the usual assumption wasn’t a good one.
The rest of that scene is true, though.
In January of 1945, with most of the prisoners already gone, the last of the prisoners were forced to march the 40 miles, or about 65 kilometers, from Plaszow to Auschwitz. Those who managed to survive this journey were murdered upon arrival.
Meanwhile, in Plaszow, the entire camp was dismantled. Any bodies that had been buried in one of the countless mass graves in the area were exhumed and burned. So that’s the pile we saw in the movie.
On January 20th, 1945, the Red Army reached where Plaszow had been and found only an empty field.
In the movie, Liam Neeson’s version of Oskar Schindler has an emotional speech after the announcement of the war’s end in his factory. For the first time, Nazi guards are allowed inside the factory to hear his speech. They take him up on his offer to leave instead of murdering the Jews before they leave.
Of course the speech itself was all fictionalized, but yet again the spirit of what we see on screen here is pretty accurate.
Technically, Oskar’s factory at this point was supposed to be making parts for the V2 bombs that Germany was using at the end of the war. However, his factory actually never produced anything. They managed to stay alive and refuse to build anything that might help the German Army continue their killing.
Despite not ever producing anything, they did a great job of looking busy. Oskar even went so far as to ask the Nazi Gestapo to send any Jewish fugitives to his factory so they could bolster war-time production. No production was bolstered, but the number of Jews in his factory rose.
In the movie, after the war is over, Oskar says he must flee. After all, he’ll be seen as a war profiteer. Before he does, though, Itzhak gives him a letter explaining what Oskar did to whomever he may come across with signatures of every person in the factory. He also gives Oskar a ring with the phrase, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire” on it.
We know this from one of the Jews who survived, a man named Jozef Gross, who was one of the Jews working in Schindler’s factory. According to Jozef’s son, Louis, the ring was made out of gold from the fillings of workers, lead and coins. So the scene we see where they pull teeth from one of the workers to make the ring is actually pretty accurate.
We don’t know if Oskar broke down like he did in the movie after receiving the ring. But his statements in the film are something that’s perfectly normal to feel.
Why didn’t I sell my car to pay for more bribes? That’s ten people’s lives. My ring, two more people at least. Can you imagine what that must feel like? To know there’s no way you could save everyone, and yet always feeling like you could’ve saved more. Even if it’s just one more life.
The movie comes to an end as we learn the fate of Amon Göth being hung. Then there’s a very dramatic scene at the end where we see the actors walking with the real survivors to place stones in tribute onto Oskar Schindler’s grave.
It is true that Amon Göth was hung.
On May 7th, 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allies. While technically this wasn’t the end of the war because Japan hadn’t surrendered yet, that’s the end of the war we heard about in the movie.
That same month, Amon Göth was arrested by the U.S. military and extradited back to Poland for trial. It didn’t happen right away, though. The trial lasted from August 27th to September 5th, 1946 and Amon was found guilty of being a member of the Nazi Party as well as being personally responsible for the imprisonment, torture, extermination, homicide, war crimes and for, “personally killing, maiming and torturing a substantial, albeit unidentified number of people.”
On September 13th, 1946, Amon was hung at the Montelupich Prison. That is just a few miles from the Plaszow camp in Krakow.
As for Oskar Schindler, he and Emilie, who had been by his side at the factory in Brünnlitz, fled to Argentina. They didn’t go alone, though. There were a number of Jews who went with him as well as one of his mistresses. For a number of years after the war, they lived happily on a farm there.
Then, in 1958, Oskar left his wife, Emilie, his mistress, who apparently was living with them the whole time, and the Jews who were living and working on his farm. He traveled back to Germany and spent the rest of his life traveling back and forth between Germany and Israel.
No one knows why he up and left his family in Argentina, but thanks to the countless number of bribes he’d had to hand out, the once rich man had been reduced to poverty. By the end of his life, he was living mostly on donations from the Jews he’d saved during the war.
Oskar Schindler passed away in 1974 in the town of Hildesheim, Germany at the age of 66. Even though he’d left his wife and mistress in Argentina, he wasn’t alone at the time of his death. His new mistress was by his side. She was the wife of his doctor.
Ever since the war, there have been a countless number of people wondering one simple thing: Why?
Why would a member of the Nazi Party risk their own life to save the lives of the Jews their party was murdering?
Unfortunately, Oskar never really gave a single answer. He was asked many times and his answers varied. Here’s a few of his answers that he gave when he was asked “Why?” over the years:
“I knew the people who worked for me. When you know people, you have to behave towards them like human beings.”
Or another one:
“There was no choice. If you saw a dog going to be crushed under a car, wouldn’t you help him?”
Another answer was given privately to one of the Jews that Oskar helped save, Murray Pantirer. As Murry recounted:
“He came to my house once, and I put a bottle of cognac in front of him, and he finished it in one sitting. When his eyes were flickering—he wasn’t drunk—I said this is the time to ask him the question ‘Why?’ His answer was, ‘I was a Nazi, and I believed that the Germans were doing wrong…when they started killing innocent people. And it didn’t mean anything to me that they were Jewish, to me they were just human beings, menschen—I decided I am going to work against them and I am going to save as many as I can’. And I think that Oskar told the truth, because that’s the way he worked.”
On a different occasion, Oskar explained how much he hated the Nazi Party he was a member of:
“I hated the brutality, the sadism, and the insanity of Nazism. I just couldn’t stand by and see people destroyed. I did what I could, what I had to do, what my conscience told me I must do. That’s all there is to it. Really, nothing more.”