“Who saves one life, saves the whole world.” Oskar Schindler and other saviors of the Jews

Oscar Schindler. Source: yadvashem.org

“Aiding the Jews”

From the very beginning of the story of “Jewish accomplices” it is worth deciding what awaited virtuous Germans in case of exposure.

According to Samson Madievsky in the book “Other Germans”, in the criminal law of the Third Reich there was no such direct concept as “aid to Jews”, but of course they could have persecuted for such reasons. For this, articles were used on “desecration of the race”, on forgery of documents, currency and economic crimes, assistance in illegal border crossing or assistance in escape from concentration camps. There was also a closed intradepartmental decree of the Imperial Main Directorate of Security (RSHA) dated October 24, 1941, according to which “persons of German blood” who publicly “maintain friendly relations with Jews” were subject to “preventive detention” for educational purposes. In severe cases, they could send them to a concentration camp for three months. Most of the types of aid to Jews were brought under the decree, which was viewed as sabotage of “the measures of the imperial government to exclude Jews from the national community.”

Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler. Still from the movie “Schindler’s List”

With regard to servicemen showing undue mercy to Jews, the sanctions were, of course, much harsher. Since April 1942, everyone who helps Jews in some way were to be considered Jews for all the ensuing consequences. Particularly harsh were the measures in the SS troops, largely responsible for the Holocaust program itself. Himmler expressed himself quite unambiguously in relation to all those who doubt the methods of the final solution of the Jewish question:

To act without leniency against those who believe that, based on their interests of the armed forces, they should oppose in this case. In fact, this kind of people only want to support the Jews and their gesheft.

It is worth recalling that there was no serious punishment (up to execution) for refusing to exterminate Jews in the SS. This is just a post-war invention of the executioners who tried to justify their own sadism and mass executions. At the same time, even among Himmler’s watchdogs, there were people capable of compassion.

In 1943, the death sentence was passed to SS Unterscharfuehrer Alfons Zündler, who deliberately allowed several hundred Jews to flee at a collection point in Amsterdam. In particular, he took prisoners for a walk and “did not notice” how some of them did not come back. Then he simply forged accounting documents. But the Unterscharführer escaped execution: he was first sentenced to ten years in prison, and later generally confined himself to the SS penal battalion. It is believed that the Gestapo simply did not disclose the full scope of Zündler’s work. In total, according to the researcher Beata Kosmala, only 150 court decisions were made in Hitler’s Germany against the “Aryans”, whose cases can be interpreted as “complicity to the Jews.” What does this mean? About the small proportion of humane people among the Germans of that time, ready to risk their freedom and even their lives for the sake of the Jews? About the weak work of the punitive organs of the Third Reich, unable to track such violations of the regime? Or about the loss of part of the court archives and not the most painstaking work of Kosmala? Be that as it may, only three people were executed for humanity to the “lower race”. The victims were Anton Schmid in 1942 – for the removal of more than three hundred Jews from Vilnius, Feldwebel Osald Bosco in 1944 – for facilitating the escape of hundreds of inhabitants of the Krakow ghetto after its liquidation, and locksmith Kurt Fuchs in 1945 – for saving three concentration camp prisoners during the “march of death”.

When it comes to saving Jews in occupied countries, the situation here was more tragic. For “aiding the Jews” the Germans shot “non-Aryans” without trial or investigation. Nevertheless, there were also heroes here. For example, the righteous man of the world and an active participant in the French resistance, René de Norois, saved several hundred Jews from genocide by secretly transporting them to Switzerland and Spain. He managed to survive, after the war he became a prominent birdwatcher and died at the age of 100.

German diplomat and “righteous man of the world” Georg Ferdinand Dukwitz. Source: ru.wikipedia.org

Personal belongings of Danish Jews. Source: maxim-nm.livejournal.com Author: Maxim Mirovich

The story of confronting the Holocaust during World War II cannot be complete without mentioning the transfer of about 7.2 thousand Danish Jews and several hundred of their relatives of non-Jewish origin to Sweden in September 1943. The Danes can rightfully be proud of this operation forever: they became the only country occupied by the Germans, but resisted the extermination of Jews. German diplomat Georg Ferdinand Dukwitz was aware of the SS plans to take Jews to concentration camps and ghettos throughout Europe and warned the Danish underground workers about this. For nearly three weeks at night, fishermen in their boats took Jews to neighboring neutral Sweden. Not everyone was saved. The Nazis nevertheless arrested 500 Jews and took them to the Theresienstadt ghetto.

“Shameless idiot” and “Born hypocrite”

Oskar Schindler gained worldwide fame as the savior of the Jews, largely due to the release of the Oscar-winning drama “Schindler’s List” in the early 90s. It makes little sense to retell the detailed story of Oskar Schindler within the framework of this article: everything has long been described in other readily available sources. Therefore, we will focus on the most important milestones of his in many ways unique life.

The most important achievement of the German entrepreneur was 1,098 (according to other sources, 1,200) saved lives of Jews from the Krakow ghetto. In 1939, he organized an enterprise for the production of enameled dishes and ammunition for the Wehrmacht, in which he was helped by extensive ties with the command. In addition to saving Jews and treating them humanely, Schindler was not famous for special beneficence. He drank with a German officer, dragged after the Poles and squandered large sums of money in gambling. The future “Righteous of the World” took the Jews to the plant only because they were much cheaper than Polish workers. After the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, in which the “Schindler Jews” lived, the businessman had to establish contacts with the SS executioner Hauptsturmführer Amon Goeth. From the ghetto, the Jews were transported to the Plaszow concentration camp near Krakow, where Goeth was the chief. Schindler’s business flourished, bribing nearby military leaders and keeping a contingent of Jewish workers in his factory as best he could.

Oskar Schindler was arrested three times: for close relations with Jews and Poles, and for giving bribes. Each time he was rescued from the Gestapo by his wife Emilia, who turned to her husband’s influential friends. The wife, by the way, did not consider her husband a hero until her death. In many interviews, she called him an adventurer and a risky person (for which she had good reasons: in 1957, Schindler left his wife and returned to Germany). In some conversations, after the death of her husband, Emilia described Oscar as “a shameless idiot” and “a born hypocrite.” At the same time, Emilia Schindler notes, in many ways contradicting herself:

In my eyes, he will always remain an extraordinary person, attractive, cheerful and helpful. At times he treated me with real feeling. However, this was not a faithful husband, and before our marriage, and after he changed many women. I cannot forgive him for that. I cannot forget how, having suffered a fiasco in business, he left me in Buenos Aires with only debts. I lost everything: my farm, my house, my savings. Even today I have a thousand dollars of his debt …

When the Red Army approached Krakow at the end of 1944, Amon Geth received an order to take all Plaszow prisoners to Auschwitz. Schindler, in various ways, secured the transfer of his Jews to his own factory in Brunnlitz in the Sudetenland. When all the moments with the leadership of the camp have been discussed, suddenly 800 of its workers are sent to certain death in the camps of Gross-Rosen and Auschwitz. Schindler and his secretary had to negotiate the transfer of Jews to Brunnlitz, cajoling the top of the local SS with bribes and expensive gifts. According to legend, this is where the businessman spent all his savings. But it was worth it: a train with three hundred living people still left Auschwitz. This was the only case in the history of the death camp …

As mentioned above, after the war, Schindler settled in Argentina, but in this country he did not succeed. He left, lived in Germany, then in Israel. He failed to organize a business in peacetime, and in recent years the entrepreneur lived in poverty, mainly due to gifts and donations from the Jews he saved and their relatives. In Israel, in 1963, a tree appeared in the Alley of the Righteous in honor of Oskar Schindler, and in 1974 he was buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. On June 24, 1993, Oskar and Emily Schindler were awarded the honorary title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Schindler’s funeral and his grave in Jerusalem. Source: yadvashem.org

Steven Spielberg made his film about the German savior of the Jews based on the book by Thomas Keneally “Schindler’s Ark”. The book, and even more so the film, very freely treats the real life of Schindler, embellishing reality and keeping silent about part of his biography. For example, the fact of his recruitment by German intelligence in 1935. But this does not matter, because, as the Talmud says, “whoever saves one life, saves the whole world.”

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