During World War 2, millions of Jews died in the Nazi death camps, but Oscar Schindler’s Jews miraculously survived Hitler’s genocide. The boy Moshe Rosenberg was one of them.
In his book The Boys – Triumph Over Adversity Sir Martin Gilbert tells how Moshe Rosenberg, then 16 years old, was being whipped one day at the KZ camp Plaszow by Nazi guards for daring to take a rest while road-building. After twenty-five lashes the whipping unexpectedly stopped. The boy looked up – and he saw Oscar Schindler. “I’ll take care of this one,” Schindler told the guards, and proceeded to drag the boy to a nearby stable.
Moshe Rosenberg later recalled: “Loud enough for the Germans to hear, he shouted What’s this shit? Then he threw some food wrapped in paper and walked out. It was his way of smuggling food to the Jews. Without him stepping in, the guards would have beaten me until I was dead.”
A few months later, while he was working in Schindler’s factory DEF, Moshe Rosenberg sat down for a moment. At that very moment Schindler came in to the factory, followed by the SS Commandant Amon Goeth. Rosenberg later recalled how Schindler “raced ahead of Goeth, grabbed my jacket and slapped my face, shouting, Get back to work! It was an act. Schindler never hit anyone or raised his voice. If Goeth had found me sitting down he would have shot me on the spot.”
On another occasion a young Schindler-worker Isak Pila had made the mistake of falling asleep under a table at the factory the same day that Amon Goeth came by for an inspection. When Goeth saw the sleeping young man, he told Oscar Schindler to kill him instantly. Schindler desperately tried to find a way out and hit the boy on one side of the face, then the other. Finally he said to Goeth, ‘He’s had enough. I need him. We’ve got a war to win. This can always be settled later ..’
Schindler’s usual technique but Amon Goeth complied – and Isak Pila survived.
In his book Schindler’s Ark Keneally tells the story of the Danziger brothers, who cracked a metal press one Friday. Oscar Schindler was away on a business trip and someone denounced the brothers to Amon Goeth. They were immediately arrested and their hanging advertised in the next morning’s roll call in Plaszow.
Oscar returned at three o’clock on Saturday afternoon, three hours before the execution. News of the sentence was waiting on his desk. He drove to the SS headquarter at once, taking cognac with him and some fine kielbasa sausage. He found Goeth in his office and no one knows the extent of the deal that was struck that afternoon.
It is hard to believe that the SS Commandant was satisfied simply with cognac and sausage. In any case, he was soothed by Schindler, and at six o’clock, the hour of their execution, the Danziger brothers returned to Schindler’s factory in the back seat of Oscar’s plush limousine.
Poldek Pfefferberg was instrumental in publicizing the story of Oscar Schindler. He and his wife Ludmilla were saved by Schindler – the rest of his family was not as lucky. Almost 100 perished including his parents, sister and brother-in-law.
One day, in November 1939, a man knocked on the door, and Pfefferberg thought it was the Gestapo. It wasn’t. It was Oscar Schindler, a German businessman who had purchased an enamelware factory that had been confiscated from Jews. Schindler had come to ask Pfefferberg’s mother, an interior designer, to redecorate his new apartment.
“I was hiding in the next room”, Pfefferberg later said, “but listening to Schindler, I knew he wasn’t Gestapo. Even then I could tell he was a good man. I began to talk to him and we became friends.”
He began to work a little for Schindler, procuring rare commodities for him on the black market. In 1940, he met Ludmila Lewinson, and the two were married in the Crakow ghetto, where Jews were confined. They subsequently worked for Oscar Schindler in his factory.
Schindler promised the Jews who worked for him that they would never starve, that he would protect them as best he could. And he did, building his own workers barracks on the factory grounds to help alleviate the sufferings of life in the nearby Plaszow labor camp. He gave safe haven to as many Jewish workers as possible, insisting to the occupying Nazi officials that they were essential workers, a status that kept many from certain death.
“Oscar Schindler was a modern Noah”, Pfefferberg said, “he saved individuals, husbands and wives and their children, families. It was like the saying: To save one life is to save the whole world. Schindler called us his children. In 1944, he was a very wealthy man, a multimillionaire. He could have taken the money and gone to Switzerland … he could have bought Beverly Hills. But instead, he gambled his life and all of his money to save us …”
After the Liberation in Mai, 1945, Poldek and Ludmila had gone first to Budapest and eventually to Munich where Poldek – a physical education instructor before the war – organized a school for displaced children. Oscar Schindler, too, had settled in Munich where his best friends, the people he regarded as “his children”, were the Jews he had helped survive.
It was there, in the midst of a card game, that Poldek Pfefferberg made his promise, vowing he would tell the world what had happened, how even on the days when the air was black with the ashes from bodies on fire, there was hope in Crakow because Oscar Schindler was there: “You protect us, you save us, you feed us – we survived the Holocaust, the tragedy, the hardship, the sickness, the beatings, the killings! We must tell your story …”
Poldek Pfefferberg spent 40 years trying to drum up interest in the Schindler-Story – and the story was told so the whole world knew it by heart.
Mejzesz Puntierer – today Murray Pantirer – was the only one of his family to survive. He lost both his parents, two sisters and four brothers during the war, all murdered by the Nazis.
He himself was saved because Oscar Schindler gave him work at his factory, provided him with food and protected him from the Nazi reign of terror. Murray Pantirer later recalled the time a prisoner stole some potatoes:
“An SS man put a potato in his mouth. He had to stand outside like that in the cold weather, and it was written on him ‘I’m a potato thief.’ When Schindler saw it, he took the potato out of his mouth, and said to the guy, ‘go back to your work.’ And he told the SS man: In my camp you don’t do those things.”
During World War 2 Abraham Zuckerman spent his teenage years in Nazi concentration camps, never hearing about Oscar Schindler until he was sent as a worker to his factory, known as Emalia, at Plaszow in 1943.
“The moment that I arrived, I knew that my life had changed,” Abraham Zuckerman later recalls. “There was food and mountains of potatoes. One never went hungry …”
“The movie showed one thing, but there were other things that he did in camp, little things,” says Zuckerman. “He was a chain smoker, so he used to take a puff and throw it away. For the survivors, the people who were smoking, it meant a lot to them to pick it up and have a puff. He would do it on purpose, knowing that people would pick it up.”
He couldn’t just give them cigarettes or extra food because there were Nazi guards in the factory who might squeal if they witnessed behavior deemed too humane; indeed, says Zuckerman, Schindler was arrested a couple of times because somebody reported him.
Despite the conditions, Oscar Schindler was always a perfect gentleman to the inmates, he says. “He bowed to you, and he said good morning to you,” Zuckerman says, which may not sound like much of a favor, but to those beaten-down Jews, that small acknowledgement of their dignity gave them enormous hope.
Abraham Zuckerman has devoted himself to memorializing Oscar Schindler. Zuckerman published his memoirs in 1991. His “A Voice in the Chorus” is a moving and powerful addition to the library of works on the holocaust.
Bronia Gunz spent World War 2 largely under Schindler’s protection: first at Plaszow and later, at the factory in Brinnlitz, Czechoslovakia.
She later recalled how Schindler told the prisoners to dig graves to deceive the Nazis. But he assured them he could save them and then he disappeared for days. “We were digging the graves and thinking: This is the end” Gunz said. Then Schindler returned. “One day this beautiful, gorgeous man shows up with a piece of paper, and he says: Saved, no digging anymore … ”
By 1944, when the workers on Schindler’s list were transferred to Brinnlitz, their feelings of security were unshakeable. “Doubts? No, never!” insisted Bronia Gunz. “He was for us like God.”
Rena Ferber – today Rena Finder – was only 10 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland. Her father was killed at Auschwitz and she and her mother were sent to KZ Plaszow.
They began working at Emalia, Schindler’s enamel and ammunition factory. The conditions in Schindler’s factory were more humane than Rena and her mother would have encountered in any other circumstance during the war. She later recalled that Schindler “treated us with kindness and respect … Schindler bribed Goeth and others to get food and better treatment for the Jews during a time when all Germans were killing the Jews.”
She later told how a Nazi guard was about to shoot her for mistakenly breaking a factory machine – and Oscar Schindler intervened: “He said: You idiots, this little girl could not break that machine ..”
“He was wonderful,” Rena said of Schindler: “He was tall and he was handsome and he had a twinkle in his eye. He was our hero and our God. How can you say thank you for someone who saved your life? .. I wish he were here today so I could hug him and kiss him.”
She said: “I would not be alive today if it wasn’t for Oscar Schindler, my Mother survived and so did my grandfather. It’s a tragedy that Oscar Schindler died young before the world could acknowledge his heroism. His country men considered him a traitor, to us he was our God, our Father, our protector.”
In his book Witness The Making Of Schindler’s List Franciszek Palowski tells about Janina Olszewska, who had worked for Oscar Schindler at his office and had known him well during World War 2. She later told that Schindler not only saved Jews but also helped many Polish people.
When her husband was arrested and sentenced to death for his work with the Polish underground, Schindler miraculously got him out of the prison and thus saved his life.
Janina recalled once when a friend came to her in tears – the Nazis were taking her son to slave labor in Germany. She asked Schindler for help and he arranged the boy’s release, employing him in his factory till the end of the war.
On another occasion an escaped Polish prisoner from Auschwitz showed up at Janina’s. When Schindler was asked for help, he hired the man as his chauffeur.
Helen Beck, then Hela Brzeska, No. 18 on Schindler’s List, was torn from her family as teenager and was 15 when she was thrown into KZ Plaszow a kitchen help. She later recalled the SS Commandant Amon Goeth as being “incredible bloodthirsty – he would walk the line with his dogs and order them to rip people apart. And after a few minutes of torture, Goeth would shoot them in front of everyone …”
At an evening line up in Plaszow the Nazi guard smacked Helen so hard, the girl collapsed and the guard ordered her death. But she was spared, saved by Oscar Schindler as she suddenly was enlisted in his work forces. Today, she still doesn’t know how Schindler did it. But the next morning in Schindler’s factory, the tall man with soft blue eyes and a Nazi lapel pin walked by her and said: Just keep working, keep working.
Helen later recalled when she worked in the kitchen at one of Schindler’s parties. At the end of the party, in front of some of the top Nazis, Schindler asked the Jewish servants to come out and take a round of applause for their hard work and good service. Scared, they came out and to their surprise, the drunken Nazis applauded them.
Only after the war, as Helen searched for her family, did she learn that she had lost six of her nine siblings, along with her parents.
Helen Beck later said: “We gave up many times, but he always lifted our spirits … Schindler tried to help people however he could. That is what we remember.”
Anna Duklauer Perl had her name on Oscar Schindler’s List – No. 76235, Anna Duklauer, Metallarbeiterin or metalworker it says in German next to her name.
Long before Steven Spielberg ever heard of him and decided to make his movie, Oscar Schindler’s name was kept nearly as close to Anna Duklauer Perl’s heart as the names of her own children and grandchildren. For almost five decades, she never said much about the Holocaust or the salvation of becoming one of Schindler’s Jews. She later said: “I just told them that, without a man named Oscar Schindler, I wouldn’t be here.” But she didn’t tell them the whole story until Spielberg’s movie was made.
In 1942 Anna, barely 20 years old, was sent to the forced labor camp of Plaszow. Here the conditions of life were made dreadful by the SS Commandant Amon Goeth. She didn’t think she would survive very long, she was beaten regularly and her life was almost unbearable.
Then one day in the laundry, in the spring of 1943, she was approached by a small Jewish man who told her he needed women to work in the factory. Oscar Schindler’s factory. “I don’t know why I was chosen that day,” she later said, “It’s a question I’ve asked myself hundreds and hundreds of times. Why me ? Why was I chosen to live ?”
At first, Anna did not want to go and leave her sister Erna. “But she begged me. `Go. With Schindler, there is life. You must go`”, Anna later said.
At Schindler’s enamelware factory DEF Anna worked 12 hours a day, alternating her time between making pots and pans and working in the kitchen preparing meals. But she was away from harassment and the killings. At Schindler’s factory, nobody was hit, nobody murdered, nobody sent to death camps.
Anna Duklauer worked at Schindler’s factory until the Liberation. “Schindler was a good man. You could tell that … Schindler and us grew together. And in the end, he gave away all his money.” Anna later said.
Over the years Anna heard bits of news about Oscar Schindler from others on “The List”. Unloved and unrecognized at home, he reached for the bottle. He had become an alcoholic during the war and struggled to wean himself off the habit. “He was like in the movie”, Anne said, “Very handsome. A ladies’ man. And he had this huge ring. We used to say you could see him coming from the light of his ring.”
She didn’t remember the exact day, but it was sometime in 1974 when she heard that Oscar Schindler had died. “I think a little bit of us all died, too”, she said, “If it weren’t for Oscar Schindler, we wouldn’t be here.”
Another time at Schindler’s factory, during an inspection by Amon Goeth and his SS officers, the attention of the visitors was caught by the sight of the old Jew, Lamus, who was pushing a barrow too slowly across the factory courtyard, apparently utterly depressed. Goeth asked why the man was so sad, and it was explained to him that Lamus had lost his wife and only child a few weeks earlier during the liquidation of the ghetto. Goeth ordered his adjutant Grün to execute the Jew “so that he might be reunited with his family in heaven,” then he guffawed and the SS officers moved on.
Someone from the metal hall rushed up to Oscar Schindler’s office and alerted him. Oscar came roaring down the stairs and reached the yard just as the SS man ordered Lamus: “Slip your pants down to your ankles and start walking.” Dazed, the old man did as he was told.
Schindler called out desperately:”You can’t do that. You are interfering with all my discipline ..” The SS officer just sneered. Schindler continued, blurting out the words:”The morale of my workers will suffer. Production for der Vaterland will be affected.” The SS adjudant took out his pistol, ready to shoot.
“A bottle of schnapps if you don’t shoot him”, Schindler almost screamed, no longer thinking rationally.
“Stimmt!” To Schindler’s astonishment, the SS man complied. Grinning, the officer put the gun away and strolled arm in arm with the shaken Schindler to the office to collect his bottle of schnapps. And old Lamus, trailing his pants along the ground, continued shuffling across the yard, waiting sickeningly for the bullet in his back that never came.
On another occasion, three SS men walked onto the factory floor without warning, arguing among themselves. “I tell you, the Jew is even lower than an animal,” one was saying. Then, taking out his pistol, he ordered the nearest Jewish worker to leave his machine and pick up some sweepings from the floor. “Eat it,” he barked, waving his gun. The shivering man choked down the mess. “You see what I mean,” the SS man explained to his friends as they walked away. “They eat anything at all. Even an animal would never do that.”
Stella Muller, today Stella Müller-Madej, owes her life to Schindler’s list. She was 14 but registered as being 2 years older and as a metal worker – all so she could survive as essential for the war industry. Both she and her parents would not have survived World War II without it. Aided by notes, diaries and a vivid memory, she managed to capture her recollections of the wartime period in a book: Through the Eyes of a Child, which has been published in eight countries. The book deserves a place next to Anne Frank’s Diary. She later told:
‘What I’ll say is nothing poetic, but I will repeat till the end of my days that the first time I was given life by my parents and the second time by Oscar Schindler.
In ‘44 there were around 700 women transported from Płaszów, 300 of whom were on his list, and he fought for us like a lion, because they didn’t want to let us out of Auschwitz. He was offered better and healthier ‘material’ from new transports, unlike us, who had spent several years in the camp. But he got us out .. he saved us ..’
In Holocaust Testimonies, edited by Joseph J. Preil, the survivor Aaron Schwartz recalls Plaszow and the slaughter of the Kracow ghetto:
“When I came to Plaszow the first day, they put me in a group where we were digging a huge grave .. they brought in trucks, with children, from infant to twelve years old. They were all killed .. when the children were brought in, they were shot, right in that grave ..
A little girl, a beautiful blond girl, sat down in the grave, dressed in an Eskimo white fur coat, was all bloody, and asked for a little bit of water .. this child swallowed so much blood, because it was shot in the neck. And then it started to vomit so terribly. And then it lay down and it says, “Mother, turn me around, turn me around.” ..
This child did not know what happened to it. It was shot, it was half-dead after it was shot. And this child sat down in the grave, among all the corpses, and asked for water .. it was still alive. There was no mother, just children brought from the Cracow ghetto.
So this little girl lay down, and asked to be turned around. What happened to it? I do not know. It was probably covered alive, with chlorine .. I am sure, because they did not give another shot to that girl ..”
Over one million children under the age of sixteen died in the Holocaust – she was one of them …