Oskar Schindler (April 28, 1908 – October 9, 1974) was an ethnic German industrialist.
Schindler was also a German 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 munitions factories, which were located in what is now Poland and the Czech Republic respectively. He is the subject of the 1982 novel Schindler’s Ark, and the subsequent 1993 film Schindler’s List, which reflected his life as an opportunist initially motivated by profit who came to show extraordinary initiative, tenacity, and dedication in order to save the lives of his Jewish employees.
Schindler grew up in Zwittau, Moravia, and worked in several trades until he joined the Abwehr, the intelligence service of Nazi Germany, in 1936. He joined 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 prior to the invasion of that country at the start of World War II.
In 1939 Schindler obtained an enamelware factory in Kraków, Poland, which employed around 1,750 workers, of whom a thousand were Jews at the factory’s peak in 1944. His Abwehr connections helped Schindler protect his Jewish workers from deportation and death in the Nazi concentration camps. Initially Schindler was interested in the money-making potential of the business. Later he began shielding his workers without regard for the cost. 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.
As Germany began to lose the war in July 1944, the Schutzstaffel (SS) began closing down the easternmost concentration camps and evacuating 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 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 slaughter 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 Germany after the war, where he was supported by assistance payments from Jewish relief organizations. After receiving a partial reimbursement for his wartime expenses, he moved with his wife 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 for financial support on his 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 and died on October 9, 1974.