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June 1, 2010

Did Oskar Schindler save 1,200 Jews from “certain death?”

I’ve been reading about 80-year-old Leon Leyson, who is the youngest survivor of the Jews saved by Oskar Schindler during World War II.  Leyson was only 13 years old when his name was put on Schindler’s List.  Here is a quote about the famous Schindler’s List from the Ottowa Citizen newspaper web site:

“Leyson owns the distinction of being the youngest on Schindler’s List — the famed roll containing the names of approximately 1,200 Polish Jews Schindler saved from certain death by employing them in his factory.”

It is generally accepted that the Jews on the famous Schindler’s List would have been sent straight to the gas chambers at Auschwitz if they hadn’t been saved by Oskar Schindler. But is this really true?

The 1993 movie Schindler’s List was based on a novel written by Thomas Kennealy; the book was originally entitled Schindler’s Ark.  The novel was renamed Shindler’s List after the movie came out.  In the fictional story in the novel, Kennealy wrote that the women and children were “accidentially” sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and they would have been gassed if Oskar Schindler hadn’t saved them.

One of the most dramatic scenes in the movie shows Oskar Schindler at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp where he has gone to personally rescue the women and children on his List who, according to the movie, were mistakenly sent to the death camp.

Scene from the movie “Schindler’s List”

Schindler did not personally make up the List of Jews for his factory, as it was portrayed in the movie. David Crowe wrote a book entitled Oskar Schindler, in which he revealed that the movie scene, shown in the photo above, is pure fiction.

According to Crowe, Oskar Schindler had no role in preparing the famous list, other than giving SS-Hauptscharführer Franz Josef Müller some general guidelines for the type of workers he wanted on the list. Amon Göth had been arrested by the SS on September 13, 1944 and was in prison in Breslau when the list was prepared, but this is not mentioned in the movie.  Göth just disappears in the movie and no one notices that he is gone. (Amon Göth was the Commandant of the Plaszow camp who shot prisoners from his balcony in the movie.)

David Crowe wrote that the person responsible for the preparation of Schindler’s List was Marcel Goldberg, a corrupt Jewish prisoner, who was a member of the Ordnungdienst, the Jewish police force in the camp. Goldberg was the assistant of SS-Hauptscharführer Franz Josef Müller, the SS man responsible for the transport lists. Only about one third of the Jews on the list had previously worked in Schindler’s factory in Krakow. The novel, Schindler’s Ark tells about how Goldberg accepted bribes from the prisoners who wanted to get on the list.

In his book Oskar Schindler, David Crowe wrote:

“… watch how Steven Spielberg traces the story of Marcel Goldberg, the real author of Schindler’s List, in his film. He begins in the early part of the film with Goldberg sitting near Leopold “Poldek” Page and other Jewish black marketeers in Krakow’s Marjacki Bazylika (church) as Oskar Schindler tries to interest them in doing business with a German. What follows throughout the rest of the film is the subtle tale of Goldberg’s gradual moral degeneration. Schindler, for example, gives Itzhak Stern first a lighter, then a cigarette case, and finally a watch to bribe Goldberg to send more Jews to his factory from Plaszow.”

Here is the true story of what actually happened:

After Germany conquered Poland in 1939,  Oskar Schindler purchased a factory in the city of Krakow, where he employed Jews from the Krakow ghetto.  When the Krakow ghetto was closed, all the Jews were sent to the nearby Plaszow labor camp which was just outside the city of Krakow.  Schindler got permission to turn his factory into a sub-camp of the Plaszow camp so that he could continue to employ Jews; he built barracks at his factory for the Jews who were then transferred from the Plaszow camp to his sub-camp. After the Plaszow labor camp became a concentration camp, Schindler’s  factory sub-camp was then under the authority of the WVHA, the economic office of the Nazi concentration camp system.

Oskar Schindler was making a fortune during the occupation of Poland during World War II.  Schindler was hiring Jews in his factory and paying lower wages than what he would have had to pay Polish workers.

By 1944, the Nazis were only allowing munitions factories to become sub-camps in their concentration camp system.  Schindler’s factory in Krakow had two parts; one part of his factory made enamel pots and pans for the German army, but he was also producing munitions for the German military.  The Nazis did not want to open a munitions factory that would be a sub-camp of Gross Rosen, so Schindler had to bribe them to allow him to open a munitions factory near his home town of Brünnlitz in what is now the Czech Republic.

When the Plaszow camp was closed in 1944, all the men were sent to the Gross Rosen concentration camp, including the Jews on Schindler’s List.  All the women had to go to Auschwitz temporarily because Gross Rosen was a men’s camp that had no barracks for women. After the barracks were built at Schindler’s new sub-camp, the Jews on his List were sent there, including the women who had been temporarily staying at Auschwitz.  In real life, Schindler sent his secretary to Auschwitz to make sure that his Jews got on the right train, but he didn’t go himself.

What if Schindler had just closed his munitions factory in Krakow and not bribed the Nazis to allow him to move it to Brunnlitz?  What would have happened to the prisoners on his famous list?  Would they have been sent immediately to the gas chambers?  No.  The men would have been sent to the Gross Rosen concentration camp which did not have gas chambers.  The women and children would have been sent to Auschwitz which was only 37 miles from Krakow, but they would not necessarily have been gassed.  There were numerous survivors of Auschwitz, including old women and little children.

Old women in the barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Old women walking out of Auschwitz-Birkenau

Children leaving Auschwitz-Birkenau after it was liberated

The food for the prisoners in Oskar Schindler’s sub-camp was provided by the Nazis, but Schindler spent his own money to buy extra food and medicine for them.  His workers had a better chance of survival than they would have had in any other camp, but even then, some of his workers died of disease.  The Plaszow prisoners who did not get on Schindler’s List were not condemned to “certain death.”

16 Comments

  1. New evidence published two Czceh Republic historians show that Schindler’s second factory had HIGHER death rates than the Gross Rosen camp. You have to look at the length of time it was open, the number who stayed there to find the true death rates. It seems he only started treating the Jews better once he realized the war was over and he needed to create a “saviour” image to avoid war crime tribunals.

    Comment by Corey — June 12, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

    • I should think that people who survived thanks to his endeavors knew best. Those historians probably weren’t there. Jews that have kept his memory alive all these years surely were. He couldn’t keep everyone alive. But he tried, and that’s what matters.

      Comment by tanja — July 2, 2015 @ 2:08 am

  2. […] On June 1, 2010, I blogged about Leon Leyson and Schindler’s List here. […]

    Pingback by youngest survivor on Schindler’s List has died at the age of 83 « Scrapbookpages Blog — February 10, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

  3. She said that they assigned her and some others for work in that factory. Never wanted to go into to many details though. As I said, she was very young (22) and pretty. Somehow I did not think I should press her to talk about something she obviously did not want to talk about… But she did say that inmates of the camp were gassed… and that she was one of the lucky few to escape that destiny.

    Comment by tanja — July 10, 2011 @ 6:54 am

  4. My grandmother spent a little more than two years (from some time in 1943 until the coming of the Allies) in the concentration camp not very far from Berlin. She was young and healthy (not a Jew but a Bosnian Serb), so she was put to work in some ammunition factory. So I had a chance to hear a lot of things from someone who had that experience and by some miracle lived to tell about it. And yes, there was a program of extermination; the “final solution” was not a concoction of Hollywood screenwriters: Jews, Slavs, Gipsies were EXTERMINATED. There is no other word for it. For some, it’s all water under the bridge now, but for people who had been there and somehow managed to survive, that was an ongoing nightmare for the rest of their lives. “Nazi gassings never happened.” Yeah, right…

    Comment by tanja — July 9, 2011 @ 11:42 am

    • The camp that was not far from Berlin was Sachsenhausen, which had a gas chamber. How did your grandmother manage to avoid being gassed?

      Comment by furtherglory — July 9, 2011 @ 7:48 pm

    • Tanja, I agree entirely. People can nit-pick at the semantics of who ‘may’ have been sent here or there and then ‘may/may not’ have been gassed. What is historical fact; evidenced by statements of SS guards ‘we followed orders’, SS officers ‘we followed orders, citizens of many european countries ‘what could we have done…we would have been shot ourselves if we’d have stepped in to save someone’. Millions were systematically murdered by industrial mechanisms of gas overs and prior to the gas ovens there were executions of horrendous proportions across Europe by the nazis, predominantly against Jews (6m) and another 6m of other ethnic minorities; serbians, gypsies, etc., etc.,

      Schindlers Ark is a portrayal of what happened. Those that survived under the Schindlers Ark were there to witness it. Who the hell are we to nit pick at their horrendous experiences. When I was at university there was an elderly lady in our group trying to understand Nazisism; she and her mother fled Germany when emmigration was allowed, but was stopped at the border. They went into hiding for 2.5 years. Her 86 year old mother still shook and trembled at the sight of a swastika…and then you have the deniers who are wonderfully self-righteous in their indignation of knowing nothing about it, but summising what they think they know…and ignore the evidence around them.

      Comment by mogsey — February 10, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

      • You wrote: “Schindlers Ark is a portrayal of what happened” Schindler’s Ark was written as a novel. A novel, by definition, is a book of fiction. What happened in the movie “Schindler’s List” is fiction.

        Comment by furtherglory — February 11, 2013 @ 10:48 am

  5. I don’t believe that the counsel of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem would declare Mr. Oskar Schindler to be a righteous man, and invite him to plant a tree at the avenue of the righteous, and come back to visit on numerous occasions. The individual at the top who believes the holocaust to be a “hoax” is a sadly misinformed person, and I’ll pray for you that one day you your eyes are opened to the same truths that everyone else has unfortunately had to endure with regard to the murder of six million Jews, also known as “The Holocaust” the most certaintley DID take place. I’ll pray for you that one day your eyes are opened wide enough for you to come to accept

    Comment by BrandonW. — May 20, 2011 @ 9:11 am

  6. “The vast majority of the people who entered Auschwitz “survived” because there was absolutely NO extermination program”

    I read this website carefully and almost took it seriously until I read the above quote. Obviously the author is very uneducated or a member of Aryan Nation himself. The above statement is ridiculous and shows a gross negligence of reporting what really happened and what Auschwitz really was about.

    Comment by Thomas — September 18, 2010 @ 11:16 am

  7. Himmler ordered ‘marches’ to the West from the camps, that were in the path of the Red Army. Many died along these marches. 25,000 died who had been incarcerated at Stutthof.

    Comment by paolosilv — June 18, 2010 @ 12:13 am

  8. well everybody was broke after the war because the Reichsmark was worthless and the country was more or less flattened.

    Comment by lgr — June 2, 2010 @ 7:51 pm

  9. Oscar Schindler was going to Israel for reunions with his “List” before the brouhahaha with the thomas keneally book or the film.
    Searching the NY Times archives brings up an article from the early 70s, IIRC.
    So there was some genuine affection between the people who worked in his factory and him.

    As I understand they may handgrenades, there is a claim that all their handgrenades were sabotaged and none of them worked. I would be surprised if there was any German Wehrmacht document that would support that claim, however.

    Comment by littlegreyrabbit — June 1, 2010 @ 7:50 pm

    • In the movie, the machines in Oskar Schindler’s factory were set so that the munitions would not be the correct size or something like that. I read somewhere that Schindler used the money that he had made in his previous factory to buy munitions on the black market and sell them at a loss to the Wehrmacht. There might be some truth to this story because after the war, Schindler was broke. The Jews that he saved took care of him financially for the rest of his life. They also saved Schindler from being charged as a war criminal for having a sub-camp in the German concentration camp system.

      Comment by furtherglory — June 1, 2010 @ 10:20 pm

  10. The Jews on “Schindler’s List,” just thirty miles to the east of Auschwitz, also chose to collaborate and went w-e-s-t eagerly also rather than hang back, or hide, or go east to be “liberated” by the Soviets. Their last months of the war were spent in what is now the Czech Republic making ammunition (all supposedly “defective and useless” by their postwar accounts) for the Nazis until they were “liberated” by Soviet troops in May of 1945. Of course, they could have been “liberated” six months earlier and put to work making ammunition for the Allies–but they had all chosen to collaborate with the Nazis instead.

    The vast majority of the people who entered Auschwitz “survived” because there was absolutely NO extermination program. No one had even tried to kill them. Clearly, the Nazis could NOT possibly have been mass murderers as many of those same Jews alleged, WIESEL especially, after the war.

    Let’s escape to German territory! If OSKAR SCHINDLER had really been a clever savior of his jewish workers, he could have simply found any number of places for his favorite 1,000 Jews (the chosen among the chosen) to hide from the SS for a few days until Soviet troops arrived and “liberated” them all. But he and they chose instead to flee west with the Nazis and SS, even going to or past Auschwitz just thirty miles to the west from Krakow and Plaszow. In effect, they ALL chose to collaborate instead of be “liberated” by Soviet troops who were so near. “Liberation” is what supposedly happened, after all, to the Jews who were NOT on Schindler’s List. Is there any doubt about that? And those “liberated” Jews did not have to fear Auschwitz or any other horrors at the hands of the Nazis once they were “liberated” by the Soviets—right!!

    Friedrich Paul Berg
    Learn everything at http://www.nazigassings.com
    Nazi Gassings Never Happened!

    Comment by Friedrich Paul Berg — June 1, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

    • Are you from Arizona or South Carolina?

      Comment by sjones — June 17, 2010 @ 7:47 pm


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