SCHINDLER, OSKAR ° (1908–1974), one of Israel's *Righteous Among the Nations, made famous by Thomas Keneally's novel and Steven *Spielberg's 1993 film Schindler's List. He was a Nazi and a war profiteer and yet essential to saving the lives of more than 1,000 Jews.
Schindler was born in Svitavy (Zwittau) in what after World War i became Czechoslovakia. In the mid-1930s Schindler joined Nazi Germany's military counterintelligence agency, the Abwehr, as a spy. He was arrested by the Czechs in 1938 for spying and after his release as part of the 1938 Munich Accord, helped with the invasion of the rest of Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1939. After World War ii began, Schindler moved to Cracow, Poland, where he took over a former Jewish enamelware factory, Emalia, with the idea of making as much money as he could. At the instigation of his Jewish factory manager, Abraham Bankier, Schindler began to hire more and more Jews. Over time, he gained a reputation for treating his Jews well and in the fall of 1943 met with Jewish Agency representatives in Budapest, who convinced Schindler to act as a go-between for them in Cracow. Over time, his motivations changed and he became determined to save his Jews. By this time, Schindler had transformed Emalia into a subcamp of the nearby Plaszow camp, commanded by the monstrous Amon Goeth. When ordered by Goeth to close Emalia in the summer of 1944, Schindler instead got permission to move 1,000 Jews and the armaments wing of Emalia to Bruennlitz near his hometown. Though Schindler had nothing physically to do with the writing of the famed Schindler's List, there would have been no lists (one for men, one for women) without his Herculean efforts to transfer these Jewish workers. Between October 1944 and May 1945, another 98 Jews would be taken in by Schindler at Bruennlitz. During this period, he spent almost all of the money he had made in Cracow to save 1,098 Jews.
After the war, he and his wife, Emilie, who was with him at Bruennlitz, fled first to Bavaria and then to Argentina, the latter move with the help of a generous grant from the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Successful and innovative in wartime, Schindler was never able to duplicate that success or even a measure of it in his postwar life. Schindler returned to Germany in 1957 to apply for reparations for his lost factories from the West German government and never returned to Argentina and Emilie.
He was nominated to be in the first group of Righteous Among the Nations in 1962 though this nomination was withdrawn because of charges that he had stolen property and harmed several Jews during the war. Schindler became particularly close to the large community of Schindler Jews in Israel during this period and spent some of the happiest moments of his life in Israel. After his death in Hildesheim, West Germany, in the fall of 1974, his body was transferred to Israel, where he was buried in the Latin Cemetery on Mt. Zion. He and Emilie were named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1993.
E.J. Brecher, Schindler's Legacy: True Stories of the List Survivors (1994); D.M. Crowe, Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of his Life, Wartime Activities and the True Story Behind the List (2004); T. Keneally, Schindler's List (1982).
[David Crowe (2nd ed.)]