2 March 2017

Oskar Schindler (28 April 1908 – 9 October 1974)

I first heard of Oskar Schindler when the book entitled "Schindler's Ark" was published in 1982 by the Australian novelist Thomas Keneally.  More than a decade later in 1993, the film Schindler's List was released directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg and scripted by Steven Zaillian.  It was an unforgettable film which made quite an impression on me especially since it was based on a true story.

It is possible to visit the grave of Oskar Schindler which is located in the Mount Zion Catholic Cemetery in Jerusalem. According to the Wikipedia entry, he was a German industrialist, spy and member of the Nazi Party who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunition factories, which were located in occupied Poland and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. He is the subject of the 1982 novel Schindler's Ark, and the subsequent 1993 film Schindler's List, which reflected his life as an opportunist initially motivated by profit who came to show extraordinary initiative, tenacity and dedication to save the lives of his Jewish employees.

 In 1939, Schindler acquired an enamelware factory in Krakow, Poland, which employed about 1,750 workers, of whom 1,000 were Jews at the factory's peak in 1944. His Abwehr connections helped Schindler to protect his Jewish workers from deportation and death in the Nazi concentration camps. As time went on, Schindler had to give Nazi officials ever larger bribes and gifts of luxury items obtainable only on the black market to keep his workers safe.

By July 1944, Germany was losing the war; the SS began closing down the easternmost concentration camps and deporting the remaining prisoners westward. Many were killed in Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen concentration camp. Schindler convinced SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Amon Göth commandant of the nearby Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp, to allow him to move his factory to Brunnlitz in the Sudetenland thus sparing his workers from almost certain death in the gas chambers. Using names provided by Jewish Ghetto Police officer Marcel Goldberg, Göth's secretary Mietek Pemper  compiled and typed the list of 1,200 Jews who traveled to Brünnlitz in October 1944. Schindler continued to bribe SS officials to prevent the execution of his workers until the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, by which time he had spent his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases of supplies for his workers.

Schindler moved to West Germany after the war, where he was supported by assistance payments from Jewish relief organisations. After receiving a partial reimbursement for his wartime expenses, he moved with his wife, Emilie, to Argentina, where they took up farming. When he went bankrupt in 1958, Schindler left his wife and returned to Germany, where he failed at several business ventures and relied on financial support from Schindlerjuden ("Schindler Jews") – the people whose lives he had saved during the war. He was named Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1963. He died on 9 October 1974 in Hildesheim, Germany, and was buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, the only member of the Nazi Party to be honoured in this way.

 In case people who are unfamiliar with Judaism look at the above photograph and wonder why there are so many stones on the grave of Oskar Schindler instead of flowers allow me to explain.  I too had wondered the same thing and after doing some research on the internet I found out that leaving stones or pebbles is a Jewish custom after visiting a grave and serves as a sign to others that someone has visited the grave.  Stones are said to be symbolic of the lasting presence of the deceased persons life and memory.  

"Even when visiting Jewish graves of someone that the visitor never knew, the custom is to place a small stone on the grave using the left hand. This shows that someone visited the gravesite, and is also a way of participating in the mitzvah of burial. Leaving flowers is not a traditional Jewish practice. Another reason for leaving stones is to tend the grave. In Biblical times, gravestones were not used; graves were marked with mounds of stones (a kind of cairn), so by placing (or replacing) them, one perpetuated the existence of the site."

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