But of course there was another choice. To do nothing. There always is another choice–it’s the basis of all internal conflict–which of course is the stuff of great drama. If all the elements play out correctly, the drama becomes legend. And so it was with Oskar Schindler. A simple well to do businessman–one very brave and compassionate human-being, who stood up to the evil and mighty Third Reich, and saved the lives of hundreds of Jews during the Nazi holocaust. The sinner become saint . . . and legend. It would cost him. Oskar Schindler would give up citizenship to his beloved Germany, lose his fortune, and die a broken man, in complete and abject poverty. His only complaint was that he wished he’d been able to do more. No one would even know of his heroism, at least on any wide-spread scale, until years after his death. Schindler would receive few accolades in his earthly life. But eventually his deeds became public and recognized, and the legend that was Oskar Schindler would give rise to an enduring monument and symbol of his pluck and courage. That monument would be in the form of what is arguably the most important motion-picture ever made: Schindler’s List.
Oskar Schindler (April 28, 1908 – October 9, 1974) was an ethnic German. An industrialist and member of the Nazi Party, he is generally credited with saving the lives of at least 1,200 Jews, by employing them in his enamelware and ammunition factories. Schindler was born and grew up in Austria-Hungary–now The Czech Republic. He worked in several trades during his early years, and eventually joined the Nazi Party in 1939. At first he was a German spy, collecting information on railroads and troop movements for the German government prior to the occupation of Czechoslovakia. In 1939, Schindler bought an enamelware factory in Krakow, Poland. It employed around 1,750 workers. At least one thousand of those were Jewish. It was here that the horrors of the Third Reich became apparent to Schindler. Here was his call to action. At first Schindler was interested only in making money from the business. But as time went by and he witnessed the plight of the Polish Jews, he changed. Finally he began shielding his Jewish workers from deportation and death in the concentration and extermination camps. He did this without regard to cost or personal safety. On one occasion, the Gestapo came to Schindler demanding that he hand over a family with forged identity papers. “Three hours after they walked in,” said Schindler, “two drunk Gestapo men reeled out of my office without their prisoners–and without the incriminating documents they had demanded. He established a factory in Austria, moving his entire work force there. It was supposed to make tank shells for the Nazis, but by buying and bribing officials, he somehow managed to make no shells whatsoever. Schindler spent the money he was given by the Germans to buy food and medicine for his Jewish “family.” As time went on, Oskar Schindler would bankrupt himself by giving gifts and bribes to Nazi officials to get them to turn their heads. He gave away his entire fortune. Somehow he managed to survive the war along with his workers. After the end of the war, he moved to West Germany, where he was financially supported by assistance payments from Jewish relief organizations. Schindler tried his hand at farming in Argentina, and failing that, returned to Germany in 1958. It did not go well for him there either, with much Nazi sentiment surviving the war. Again he was supported by the “Schindlerjuden,” or “Schindler’s Jews,” the people he had saved during the war years. His “family” was not ones to forget a debt. At the end of the war, Schindler found himself on the ill-side of German extremists, and his German citizenship was revoked. In 1962, he was invited to plant a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous in Jerusalem, which brought his story to the German press, and as a result was harassed in the streets by Nazi sympathizers, who considered him a traitor. Oskar Schindler passed away at age 66, the result of liver disease. He is buried in Mount Zion Cemetery, Jerusalem, Israel. The gravestone reads: “Righteous Among the Nations.” It is in Hebrew. The German portion says: “The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1200 Persecuted Jews.” His grave site is piled high with stones–each representing a visit, and a respect paid, from hundreds and hundreds of his surviving Schindlerjuden. He was not a perfect man. Hard drinking and hard living, and a womanizer as well, Schindler was a sort of anomaly within a paradox–a departure, for just once in his life, into the realm of decency and Grace. A Grace that would never be forgotten by the one thousand, two-hundred Jews he saved–men, women and children, who for a time, lived in hell–under the hand and protection of God–and Oskar Schindler. For surely, it was to duty to God, that Schindler was called–in the form of service to his fellow man–at the frequent peril of his own life. In 1993, Director and Producer Steven Spielberg undertook to bring the story of Oskar Schindler to the big-screen. It was successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. He created a masterpiece, magnificent both in the scope and breath of the harrowing tale it weaves, and sheer raw and undiluted talent of all the actors and creative people involved with it. Liam Neeson stars as Schindler, in what is, to my mind at least, the performance of his career. Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, and Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth are also standouts. It is a difficult movie to watch. I have personally only managed it once myself–and I doubt that I will ever be able to watch again either. It just takes too much out of me. I am not alone in that. Spielberg, after buying the rights to the original book (Schindler’s Ark) tried to give the movie away to other directors. He said that he didn’t feel competent to make a holocaust movie. The other directors turned him down. Good thing they did too. No other person on the earth could have done a better job with it than Spielberg. I firmly believe it was the purpose for which he came to the planet. Spielberg forsook all salary for directing the film, believing it would flop. Holocaust movies, it seemed, did not usually do well at the box-office. Schindler’s List, the movie, would turn out to be much like the man–a paradox, an anomaly, and a rule-beater . . . and almost beyond argument–the most important motion-picture ever made. Winner of seven Academy Awards, and nominated for five more . . . Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Nominated Best Actor (Liam Neeson) Nominated Best Supporting Actor (Ralph Fiennes) Nominated Best Sound, Nominated Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Nominated Best Costume Design. I challenge all to see it. To take that darkest of all possible journeys, to the very dark side of the human soul. Beware . . . you may never come all the way back. Thanks so much for reading. Next time, a little more light and friendly subject–what is the best Wyatt Earp movie–Tombstone or Wyatt Earp? Until then . . . Goodnight.