Oskar Schindler (immortalized in the movie Schindler’s List), was a German industrialist and Nazi Party member who saved 1,200 Jews from the Holocaust. He employed them in his enamelware and munitions factories in Poland and in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. His connections to the Abwehr and Wehrmacht helped him protect his Jewish workers from being sent to an extermination camp. He also used bribes to Nazi officials (and also luxury items he procured on the black market) as well. Initially he was more interested in making money and thought the Jews were cheaper to use for labor than the Poles.
With his factories deemed essential to the war effort, he was able to help his Jewish workers. He not only sought exemptions for them but also their wives and children. He was also able to claim Jewish workers with disabilities for exemptions as well. He expanded the Krakow facility to include a kitchen, dining room for workers, and an outpatient clinic. When he learned of the planned deportation of Jews from his Wehrmacht contacts, he had the workers stay at the factory to prevent them from coming to harm. He witnessed the Nazi’s doing this, changing his view forever about them. From that point on, he decided to save as many Jews as he could
With the establishment of the Plaszow concentration camp in 1943, the camp commandant SS-Hauptsturmführer* Amon Göth wanted to move all factories inside his camp. Göth, a sadist and feared by everyone, was convinced by Schindler not to do this. And he allowed Schindler to build a subcamp to house his workers keeping them safe and fed from random executions. With the Red Army approaching in July 1944, Schindler learned of plans to close all factories not related to the war effort. He switched the enamelware factory to making anti-tank grenades and moved it to Brunnlitz. However there were two harrowing episodes for his workers. 700 on his list were initially sent to a concentration camp before being re-routed back to the factory in Brunnlitz. 300 hundred women on his list were sent to Auschwitz and were in danger of being killed. Schindler, since his regular connections did not work this time, had to send his secretary with bribes of luxury items and food so that they could be freed. Schindler would continue to pay bribes and help Jews he found until the end of the war.
Schindler was broke by the end of the war and accepted assistance from Jewish organizations. He emigrated to Argentina in 1949 but his business ventures were unsuccessful. Back in Germany in 1958, he did not have much luck either and went bankrupt in 1963. He also suffered a heart attack as well. He remained in contact with many Jews he had met during the war and received support from them as well. He died on 9 October 1974 and is buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. He is the only member of the Nazi Party to be honored in this way.
A tree was planted in his honor in 1962 on the Avenue of the Righteous. In 1993 he and his wife Emelie were named Righteous Among the Nations. This award, bestowed by the State of Israel, is reserved for non-Jews who took active role in saving Jews from the Holocaust. The book Schindler’s Ark (Schindler’s List in US) by Thomas Keneally is a historical novel based on Oskar Schindler. The book was adapted into the 1993 movie Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg.
*The SS rank and rate structure was different from regular Wehrmacht owing to their origins as a separate unit initially as personal bodyguards to Hitler. The Hauptsturmführer was equivalent of a captain in most armies. In the SS, it meant he was the head storm leader of a company sized unit.