Friday, February 17, 2017

Good Nazis (Pt.II)

Yesterday's post featured the story of John Rabe, a businessman in the 1930s who was also a member of the Nazi party. I made the claim that, despite his affiliation with a political party created by some of the most despicable people who ever trod the earth, Rabe was himself a good man. It's not too much, I don't think, to say that he and the missionaries who helped him save the lives of some 250,000 Chinese in 1937, were heroic.

The Nazi I want to talk about today is better known than Rabe, perhaps, because of the 1993 Stephen Spielberg movie made about him. The man was Oscar Schindler and the movie, which I highly recommend, was Schindler's List.

Like many ordinary people who do heroic things, Schindler was complex. He was a spy and a member of the Nazi Party, but he's honored today in Israel for having sacrificed his entire fortune to save the lives of some 1200 Jews.

Here are some highlights of his story:
Schindler was born in 1908 and became 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 was an opportunist initially motivated by profit who came to show extraordinary initiative, tenacity and dedication in saving the lives of his Jewish employees.

he joined the Abwehr, the intelligence service of Nazi Germany, in 1936 and the Nazi Party in 1939. Prior to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, he collected information on railways and troop movements for the German government. He was arrested for espionage by the Czech government but was released under the terms of the Munich Agreement in 1938. Schindler continued to collect information for the Nazis, working in Poland in 1939 before the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II.
Oscar Schindler
In 1939, Schindler acquired an enamelware factory in Kraków, 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-Hauptsturmführer Amon Göth, commandant of the nearby Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp, to allow him to move his factory to Brünnlitz 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 once lamented that it was a source of deep anguish to him that he wasn't able to save more lives than he did.

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.

Many Nazis were inhuman - a stunning fact when one considers that they were spawned by one of the most highly cultured and civilized nations on earth - but some, a few, perhaps, deserve to be remembered for their courage, humanity and goodness. John Rabe and Oscar Schindler are two such men. If you've never seen the movie Schindler's List in which Liam Neeson plays Oscar Schindler you really should watch it. It's an unforgettable story.