Oskar Schindler was made famous with Steven Spielberg´s 1993 film, Schindler´s List. An ethnic German industrialist and member of the Nazi Party, he is credited for saving the lives of over 1200 Jews during the holocaust in World War 2. His bravery and generosity left him penniless, but he was given the honour of being the only member of the Nazi Party to be buried in Jerusalem.
Before the war Schindler had worked as a German spy and was imprisoned in Czechoslovakia. He was freed in 1938 under the terms of the Munich Agreement. When the German´s invaded Poland in September 1939, Schindler recognized a business opportunity and bought a disused enamelware factory in Krakow which he called Deutsche Emaillewaren-Fabrik.
Assisted by his Jewish accountant, Itzhak Stern, Schindler amassed a workforce of around 1000 Jewish workers who were available for cheap labour. He treated them well however, and they did not suffer any of the restrictions and atrocities their fellow Jews were suffering in the neighbouring Plaszow concentration camp.
As the Nazi screw tightened on Jews, Schindler went out of his way to help his workers. The turning point came after he witnessed a raid on the Krakow Ghetto in 1943 where German soldiers were rounding up Jews to ship them off to Plaszow. Some of the deported men and women that were taken worked for him. He was appalled by their murders.
This startling event prompted him to re-focus the status of his factory to “a business essential to the war effort” and whenever any of his employees were threatened with deportation he won exemptions for them by claiming they were “essential” workers and needed by the firm.
As Russian troops closed in on Krakow, the Nazi´s planned to close all factories that were not directly involved in the war effort and deport Jews to the nearby Auschwitz Concentration Camp. When Schindler heard the news he switched the production from enamelware to anti-tank grenades. The SS however, still planned to close down his factory, but he managed to persuade officials to move his 1200 Jewish workers to a factory in Brunnlitz, Sudetenland.
In October 1944, Schindler successfully relocated 1200 of his Jewish workers Brunnlitz where he is thought to have purchased a factory to produce hand grenades and parts for V2 rockets although it is believed that most of the output was deliberately faulty. After the war Schindler found refuge in the US zone of Austria and escaped prosecution by dressing in prison clothes and carrying a letter testifying to his heroics. By saving his Jewish “friends,” and spending a fortune on bribes and goods from the black market he was destitute. All his business attempts after the war failed and in 9174 he died penniless.
Before his death he had asked if he could be buried in Jerusalem saying, “My children are here.” His request was granted and his grave can be found in a Franciscan Cemetery on Mount Zion, with a German inscription on his gravestone that reads: "The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1200 Persecuted Jews." You can learn more about Oskar Schindler by visited the museum dedicated to him in Krakow.