Schindler, Emilie (b. 1909)
Schindler, Emilie (b. 1909)
Czech wife of Oskar Schindler who helped him protect Jewish workers in Zablocie, Poland, from the Nazi concentration camps. Born Emilie Pelze in 1909 (some sources cite 1907) in Alt-Molstein, Czechoslovakia; daughter of a wealthy farmer; educated in an Austrian convent school; married Oskar Schindler (an industrialist); no children.
Emilie Schindler was 20 years old when she met her future husband, Oskar Schindler, on one of his sales calls in her region of Czechoslovakia. A handsome, fast-talking tractor salesman, Oskar quickly won her heart, and they married six weeks later, much against the wishes of her father. Emilie's new husband was charismatic, but he was also a heavy drinker and lifelong womanizer, which significantly disrupted their marriage.
As the Nazis ascended to power in Germany in the 1930s, Oskar joined the Nazi party and cultivated his political contacts. His influence in the party enabled him to buy a bankrupt enamelware factory in Zablocie, Poland, outside of Cracow. Although war profiteering was his initial motivation for staffing the factory with Jewish workers who would otherwise be taken to the concentration camps, Oskar soon experienced a change of heart. He spent a fortune supplying his Jewish workers with food and bribing Nazi officials to maintain a "hands-off" policy towards his factory. As the war progressed, he even risked his life to ensure that his 1,200-plus workers would remain safely within the protection of his factory.
Oskar's repeated infidelities led to the Schindlers' separation for the first three years of the factory's development—from 1939 to 1942—but Emilie played an equally active role in the saving of the Jews. The Soviet advance necessitated the factory's move from Zablocie to Brinnlitz, Czechoslovakia, in 1944. Incredibly, Oskar convinced the Nazis to allow the workers to move with the factory. There, Emilie hunted down medicine, vitamins and food on the black market to stock the factory's clinic and to increase the Jews' meager rations. One Jew saved by the Schindlers' sacrifices remarked of Emilie, "She kept us alive. She was equal to her husband in everything."
In 1945, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia was inevitable. Although fearful of being captured by Russian troops, the Schindlers waited until the Nazis had left the region, to ensure that the Jewish workers they left behind would not be killed, before fleeing themselves. Saying goodbye to their charges, they dressed in the striped uniforms of the workers and fled toward Switzerland, eventually crossing American lines.
When the war was over, the Schindlers were left penniless since the Soviets had confiscated their property and their personal possessions had been looted. In 1949, a grant from a Jewish relief group helped them emigrate to Argentina where they set up a farm to breed otters. Eight years later in 1957, with the farm mortgaged and failing and their resources at an end, Oskar returned to Germany, ostensibly to seek compensation for their war losses. He never returned and died of a seizure in Frankfurt in 1974. Emilie was forced to sell the farm and live on charity provided by a grateful Jewish community.
Film director and producer Steven Spielberg made a movie about the Schindlers in 1993. Based on the award-winning 1982 book by Thomas Keneally, Schindler's List garnered a number of awards and Emilie Schindler—86 years old and in poor health—began to receive attention at her home near Buenos Aires. She found this sudden popularity to be irritating, since her memories of her unfaithful husband were bitter and unhappy. In response to the movie, she published her autobiography, Where Light and Shadow Meet, in 1997, in which she presented an iconoclastic view of the man so many viewed as a hero.
Epstein, Jack. "Savior in the Shadow of Schindler," in San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle. February 20, 1994.
Neill, Michael. "An Angel looks Homeward," in People Weekly. Vol. 40. December 13, 1993, pp. 79–80.
Pettit. Jayne. A Place to Hide: True Stories of Holocaust Rescues. NY: Scholastic, 1993.
Schindler's List (film), starring Liam Neeson as Oskar and Caroline Goodall as Emile Schindler, directed by Steven Spielberg, 1993.
Malinda Mayer , writer and editor, Falmouth, Massachusetts