Teaching the Holocaust with Primary Sources
Introduction: Nuremberg Race Laws | Kristallnacht | Ghettos
Concentration Camps: Dachau | Bergen-Belsen | Auschwitz
Righteous Among the Nations: Gies | Schindler | Winton | Grueninger
Primary Source and Analysis Tools | Library of Congress Resources
Primary Source Sets | PDF Version
A gambling, womanizing, war profiteer who was a member of the Nazi party hardly seems like someone who would be interested in the plight of the European Jews during the Holocaust, but Oskar Schindler helped save 1,200 Jews from certain death.20 Born into a middle-class Catholic family, Schindler was expected to take over the family farm machinery plant but when he did it fell into bankruptcy. He married, but was a playboy with a desire to make money. Oskar arrived in Krakow, Poland in 1939 hoping to make his fortune by taking over an enamelware factory confiscated from its former owner, a Jew.21 By employing Jewish slave labor, many German entrepreneurs made financial fortunes. They paid the Nazi government for slave labor, but at a fraction of the costs of non-Jewish labor. Schindler's business producing kitchenware for the German Army grew quickly. By the end of 1942, the factory expanded in ammunition production.21 The plant employed 800 men and women, 370 of which were Jews from the Krakow ghetto.21 Schindler became friends with high ranking SS officers, attending parties and socializing with them and seemed no different than any other wealthy German.
The brutal treatment of the Jews expanded. In the summer of 1942, Schindler witnessed the horror of a German raid on a Jewish ghetto.22 Watching the sadistic treatment that the Nazi troops unleashed against the innocent people moved something in Schindler, "Beyond this day, no thinking person could fail to see what would happen," he said later, "I was now resolved to do everything in my power to defeat the system.22
Schindler's goal to amass a large fortune diminished with the human desire to protect those Jews who worked for him. Schindler's business had obtained the status of essential to the war effort and he used this advantage hiring Jews he claimed necessary to keep the business running. He was not beyond falsifying papers, listing children, housewives and lawyers as expert mechanics to disguise unqualified workers.21 He bribed guards and SS officials willingly to provide better treatment for his workers. The entire time that Schindler's ammunition plant was operational, it only produced one load of live ammunition. The rest was faulty.
In 1943, Germany began to destroy the ghetto's population. Several thousands of surviving Jews were taken to Plazow, a forced labor camp ruled by SS commandant Amon Goeth. Goeth was ruthless and conditions at Plazow were brutal. Oskar Schindler was a drinking buddy of Amon Goeth and convinced Goeth to convert his ammunition factory into a sub-camp of Plazow. This meant his workers would not have to return to the devastation now considered normal life in Plazow.
Working for Oskar Schindler meant Jewish workers were relatively safe from the torture and death of the Holocaust. They were provided with food, clothes and care when ill. However, befriending the Jews was risky and Schindler was arrested many times on suspicion of corruption. Officials were never able to charge him.
20. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Oskar Schindler,
21. Yad Vashem, The Righteous Among the Nations, Schindler's List, Oskar
and Emilie Schindler, Germany. Accessed 8.8.12.
22. The Jewish Virtual Library, Oskar Schindler, (1908-1974), Accessed 8.9.12