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Chapter Twelve

Jewish Resistance

 

Resistance paper

 

The liquidation of the Ghetto had left a lasting impression on Schindler. Months, even years later, he still had difficulty believing what he had seen. As he put it, he knew that he saw what he saw, but it remained beyond belief.[1] The liquidation of the Ghetto signalled, as in other Polish cities, the end of even the last shreds of hope for the Jews. Thousands were massacred, thousands were deported to labor camps and thousands to the death camps where the Final Solution was in full swing. In Krakow, miraculously, one-half of the Jewish population survived the liquidation of the Ghetto.

The newly erected barracks at Emalia were a great success. No longer did the Schindler Jews have to march the three kilometers from Plaszow camp to the Emalia factory and endure the harshness of the discipline in Plaszow. The punishments of 25 lashes disappeared, the persistent parading and the fear of the evil-eye of Goeth descending upon them now were in the past. Whenever the SS visited the barracks, Schindler forewarned them, allowing for the hasty disappearance of unauthorised artefacts. Even when Goeth made an impromptu visit to see Schindler, the shutters of the barrack windows were closed. No SS man ever walked into the barracks without Schindler's personal agreement.[2]

In accordance with requirements, his sub-camp had guard towers and an electrified fence, like any forced labor camp, and a small SS Garrison was assigned to it. But Schindler's talents to fool the official world by displaying a Nazi facade when his purpose required it made it possible for him to forbid the SS to enter his factory or barracks. When he had his sub-camp, it was, of course, easier for him to perform acts of kindness for his workers. He took to visiting the factory daily where he spoke to small groups of workers, reassuring them and giving them hope. How important his reassuring words were was brought to my attention by many of those interviewed.

In the Wundheiler documentation, she refers to the individual concern Schindler expressed for his workers:

“Among them was a 14 year-old girl, an orphan; Schindler gave her a weekly allowance for her personal necessities. He never gave the allowance personally, but asked someone else to deliver it to her. The girl, now of course an elderly woman, never doubted the reason. 'He did not want to embarrass me - he was always very considerate of other people's feelings.”[3]

The financing of the new barracks came out of Schindler's own pocket; the funds were procured by the various black market deals he operated. He was selling 80 percent of all goods produced on the black market. Food for the "works" kitchen--in fact, the entire food supply of the camp – was the result of more black-market sales and the bartering of rationed goods. Medicine and clothing were also acquired in this way.

A considerable expense was incurred by Schindler in paying enormous bribes to influential Party members, SS leaders, police and camp commanders, and other parasites in order to continue his activities. The things Schindler brought on the black market were diamonds, famous paintings, anything that had value[4] now, or in the future. Only in this way could he afford to bribe those people that he needed for his particular purpose. Three shifts were working 24/7. Throughout the duration of the Emalia, Schindler was paying five zloty per day, per worker, to the box office of the SS and the police. This was in addition to the usual bribes and favors.

Although the Emalia barracks were becoming overcrowded, he tried to keep families together. There were often conflicts of loyalty among the workers because their overwhelming desire was to keep their kin folk safe. Schindler employed disabled workers as capable workers, the old and infirm as machine operators, and the children as metal polishers. He falsified factory records, which can only be described as extremely reckless. Old people were listed as being 20 years younger; children were listed as adults; lawyers, doctors and engineers were registered as metal workers, mechanics, and draftsmen - all trades essential to the war effort.

One of Schindler's habits was that on entering the workshops he would light up a cigarette and then immediately stub it out and drop it on the floor, knowing that it would be picked up and used for barter. His workers accepted that they would receive harsh treatment from him in the presence of the SS. The workers would be sworn at, cuffed around the head, all actions appreciated by the SS. Goeth had given notice that an inspection of the Emalia factory would take place. Accompanied by a full retinue of high-ranking officials, Goeth walked with Schindler on a tour of the factory. Goeth noticed a poor Jewish wretch pushing a cart very slowly across the factory yard. Consistent with his erratic behavior he ordered his body-guard, SS-Unterscharfuhrer Franz Grunn, to shoot him! The unfortunate Lamus was taken and positioned against a wall, awaiting his fate. Schindler intervened with Grunn, pointing out that Lamus was an essential worker, the usual Schindler protestations. The promise by Schindler of brandy for Grunn made him relent and Lamus was dismissed. A witness to this extraordinary incident with Lamus was Benizon Florenz(69362):

“Grunn was aiming his pistol at Lamus when Schindler said, 'Why waste a bullet, he will die anyway. I have some real Martel in my office, let's have a drink.'”[5]

On another occasion, the SS visited Emalia with orders to arrest the Wohlfeiler family for falsifying and possessing Polish (Aryan) personal documents. This family of five had been betrayed by an SS informant. Incriminating documents were produced to Schindler, implicating the family. Schindler produced some of his best brandy. Three hours later, the two drunken SS investigators left empty-handed. Another prayer had been answered.[6]

Despite Schindler's friendship with Goeth, the persecutions continued. On a Friday, shortly after the Wohlfeiler affair, two orthodox Jews, the Danziger brothers, accidentally broke an old press in the factory. Again they were reported by an informant. Schindler was away at the time, and had no influence over the consequences that were to follow. The brothers were arrested and taken to Plaszow camp. Goeth issued orders that the brothers were to be executed by hanging. The gallows were already erected and 25,000 Jewish prisoners were paraded to witness the event. Schindler, who had now returned to Krakow, heard the news and went directly to Plaszow to see Goeth, taking with him various offerings of inducement, probably diamonds. He remonstrated with Goeth, telling him that the press was old and it was only a matter of time before it broke down completely. Goeth had listened and accepted Schindler's protestations. Whatever the reasons, the Danziger brothers were released and were taken back to Emalia. This is another example of Schindler acting spontaneously to events, his actions conceived and initiated by himself.[7] The Danziger incident was witnessed by many of the Schindler survivors ,including Bejski, Bau ,and Pemper. The three women of the Wohlfeiler family, numbered on the Madritsch list as Roza, 8022, Halina 8020) and Rena 8021, all worked for Julius Madritsch when Emalia closed. The men of the Wohlfeiler family all remained with Schindler—Henryk, 69330, Ignazy, 68842, and Roman, 69414. All six of the Wohlfeiler family survived with and because of Schindler.

It is not possible in this assessment of Schindler to ignore the Jewish resistance. Within and outside Plaszow camp, in the wake of the great wave of killings and deportations, the youth of the Jewish political movements began to organize armed resistance to the Germans. Deprived of family, they had gained their individual freedom, and no longer felt inhibited. The knowledge of the death camps and sense of death's inevitability pushed caution aside, and they prepared themselves for the final test.

The idea of self-defense had never been extinguished in the ghettos of Poland, and despite the destruction of the Krakow ghetto, and many like it in other parts of Poland, the Jewish youth maintained the idea of survival. The young and inexperienced, as well as the experienced, had realized in the early ghetto days that they were no match for the heavily armed SS. In addition, there was the knowledge of reprisals should there be any active offensive against their jailers. The cost of human life and misery under occupation for such actions would surpass any benefit. However, when it became clear to the underground that no option but death existed, the idea of resistance took on another aspect.

Again they realized that resistance would not save the remaining Jews under occupation, but at least they would redeem their honor. The resistance likened themselves to the suicidal stand of the Zealots of Masada, against Rome's imperial legions. Fatalism and the surrender to death haunted many young people. “We are going on the road to death, remember that,” said Aaron Liebeskind, Akiva activist in Krakow. “Whoever desires still to live, should not search for life here among us. We are at an end.”

At the head of the organization stood a united command: Heshek Bauminger and Benek Halbreich from Hashomer Hatzair; Dolek Lieberskind and Shimshon Dranger from Akiva; Gola Mire from Akiva and associate splinter groups; Abraham Laban-Leibowitz from Dror, and Elimelech Eisenstein from Akiva Beth (splinter group from Akiva). Each group also continued to act separately, but important decisions were made jointly.[8] The organization's accomplishments included many acts of sabotage and decisive tactics against the Germans. In October 1942, an attempt to assassinate the Gestapo informer Marcel Gruner and his wife occurred. Another warranted exploit of the resistance was the execution of Adams, of the Department of Press and Propaganda of the Generalgovernment. In September 1942 the ZOB [Jewish Fighting Organization) started to publish a Polish language journal, Democrat's Voice. In October 1942 the assault division GL to which the Iskra (spark) of the ZOB belonged, under the command of Jakub Halbreich, set fire to a garage on Wloczkow Street, where three cars and barrels of gasoline were stored. On December 24,1942 Iskra, headed by Idek Liber, bombed the coffee house Cyganeria on Szpitalna Street in Krakow. Eleven Germans died in this attack, and 13 were seriously wounded. Perhaps these attacks were futile, but they lifted the morale of the Jews to heights not experienced before.

In Krakow, the Jewish underground was able to penetrate to the heart of their people. The Akiva newspaper, Hechalutz Halochem, which published about 250 copies every Friday, included about ten typewritten pages and was distributed by pairs of fighters in Krakow. The paper, written in Polish, called for help and military intervention by the free nations in the war against the Germans and their collaborators. A copy even found its way into Schindler's Emalia. Victor Dortheimer and Roman Wohlfeiler (69414), both working in the factory, were reading the newspaper when Schindler suddenly walked into their workshop. Wohlfeiler hurriedly hid the newspaper behind a cupboard. Schindler, by some sixth sense, went directly to the cupboard and removed the paper, saying, “You are stupid, do you know what would happen if you are caught.”[9]

 

Footnotes
  1. Wundheiler.
  2. Return
  3. Irene Schek (76431) statement in the Blair film.
  4. Return
  5. Wundheiler.
  6. Return
  7. Leopold Pfefferberg (69006) Blair film.
  8. Return
  9. In 1945 Forenz met Lamus, who asked for Schindler's address, and asked Florenz to give his regards and thank Schindler for saving his life. (Statement by Florenz in Yad Vashem)
  10. Return
  11. Roman Wohlfeiler (69414) and Halina Wohlfeiler (76486) both interviewed by the author. See also Ball-Kaduri documentation. Here as elsewhere, when Schindler's 'own report' is mentioned, the author is referring to Schindler's report of his activities that can be inspected in the archives of Yad Vashem and published in Grossmann, K.R.: Die Unbesungenen Helden. Frankfurt: Ullstein, 1989.
  12. Return
  13. See Keneally 235/6
  14. Return
  15. Interview by the author with Dr. Bauminger and Shlomo Schein, Israel.
  16. Return
  17. Recollections by Wohlfeiler and Dortheimer of the incident to the author.
  18. Return

 

Acronyms
WRN ( Wolnosc-Rownosc-Niepodleglosc) - Freedom-Equality-Independence, cryptonym of PPS (Polska Partia Socjalistyczna - Polish Socialist Party during the war).
SL ( Stronnictwo Ludowe) - The Peasant Party).
PS ( Zwiazek Polskich Syndykalistow) - Union of Polish Syndicates.
BUND (Zydowska Partia Socjalistyczna) - Jewish Socialist Party in Poland.
ZKN ( Zydowski Komitet Narodowy) - Jewish National Committee.
RPZ ( Rada Pomocy Zydom) - Relief Council for Jews. Cryptonym `Zegot
ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Wojskowa) Jewish Fighting Organization

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