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HISTORY/ Oskar Schindler, too good a friend of the Jews to be a friend of the Communists

ANGELO BONAGURO discusses the figure of Oskar Schindler, who saved Jews during the Holocaust, but was then vilified by the Soviet Union because of that very action.

Schindler, played by Liam Neeson Schindler, played by Liam Neeson

Oskar Schindler was called "the swindler" – for a schindler-swindler pun – by the inhabitants of Svitavy, the Moravian town where he was born in 1908 and where Germans from the Sudetenland (the majority), Czechs and Jews lived together.

Oskar had a rather turbulent childhood. He already liked engines and social life, and he was a precursor to labor mobility. Even his marriage to Emilie Pelzl soon went into crisis, and his impetuous nature led him to have trouble with the law. When the wave of National Socialism spread from Germany to the Czech border regions, Oskar became a member of the Party of Sudeten Germans, a puppet of the Nazi Party. In order to continue the standard of living which he was used to, Schindler agreed to enter the Abwehr, German military intelligence, passing logistical and military information about Czechoslovakia and Poland. He was considered confidant and brave, and he earned large sums and made important connections that would serve him in the years to follow. In October 1939, following the invasion of Poland, he was sent to Krakow with the paradoxical task of monitoring the activities of other police forces of the Reich, in competition with each other. Meanwhile, he saw the opportunity to do business and get rich easily.

This is where we meet him in Spielberg’s famous film, when he engages in a risky game of chess with the Nazi regime in which the stakes were no longer a million Reichsmark, but his own life and the lives of his prisoner-workers.

However, in Czechoslovakia after the war, liberated by the Red Army and ending up in the Soviet sphere, Schindler was one of the three million Sudeten Germans indiscriminately suspected of collaborating with the enemy and expelled to Germany and Austria. An in absentia trial was begun against him, accusing him of having supported the Nazis and betrayed his country, and threatening him with life imprisonment or the death penalty, despite Wiesenthal’s interventions in his defense. The Marxist reading of history that celebrates the “glorious red partisan”, the one called to save the world, sees Schindler as “a former businessman who exploited prisoners” and who changed his attitude only at the end of the war in order “to be celebrated as a defender of the Jews even in Israel".