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Biography of the Author

Robin O'Neil

The Author: Honorary
Research Fellow UCL,
Salisbury UK Robin O'Neil

Dr. Robin O'Neil is a former police major crimes investigator who worked at the cutting edge of major criminal investigations in the United Kingdom and Central Europe. Formerly of Scotland Yard, the Metropolitan and Home Counties Police. service, he then took up the challenge of academia. After obtaining his Masterís and Doctorate with University College London, he now specializes in the investigation of Nazi war crimes and the destruction of the European Jewish communities 1933-1945. He is a regular lecturer at Universities in the United Kingdom, United States, Israel and Eastern Europe


Introduction:

“The Final Solution”, Nazi Germany's plan for the extermination of European Jewry, turned the eastern occupied territories into a mass grave for six million Jews; men, women and children. Rising from the ashes and learning the tragic lessons of the Holocaust, the State of Israel chose never to forget. By a special Knesset (Israeli Parliament) law, Yad Vashem was established in 1953 to enshrine and preserve the memory of the six million Jews annihilated and the thousands of flourishing communities destroyed.

On 15th August 1953, the Knesset unanimously passed the “Martyrs and Heroes” Remembrance (Yad Vashem) Law, which outlined the objectives of Yad Vashem and its organisational framework. Section 1 (9) deals specifically with commemorating the high-minded Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews.

That recognition carries with it the privilege of planting a tree in the Avenue of Righteous Gentiles, and the award of a medallion inscribed, in Hebrew and French, with the Talmudic's words: “Whosoever saves a single soul, it is as if he had saved the whole world.”

In 1963, Oskar Schindler was nominated a “Righteous Person”, only the third individual to receive the privilege of planting his tree. His contemporaries, Julius Madritsch, Raymond Titsch and Oswald Bousco, were likewise recognised.

The Speaker of Israel's Parliament wrote:

“It is our duty to discover these knights of morality, to establish contact with them, to pay them our debt of gratitude and to express to them our admiration for their courage…these few saved not only the Jews but the honour of man.”

 
Julias Madritsch:
Aryan factory owner
in the Krakow ghetto
  Raymond Titsch:
Aryan factory manager
for Madritsch

The Jews had given a name to the Holocaust - “Shoah” (“I will give them an everlasting name.” Issiah 56.5)

The “Shoah” was a turning point in history, a logical progression of the persecution of the Jews dating back over a thousand years and culminating in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, where on 20 January, 1942, the bureaucratic destructive process was determined. The final seal of approval came in a two paragraph letter from Goering to Heydrich in July, 1941, with orders to proceed with the “Final Solution.”

The wheels of destruction slowly started to turn. Nothing was committed to writing, and with no specific plan, all left to inferences and invention conjured up in the minds of the architects and technicians of human destruction. The Jews had lived for centuries with discriminatory edicts: “firstly, you may not live amongst us as Jews”; then, “You may not live amongst us”; and finally from the Nazis, - “You may not live”[1]

When, in 1942, Jews in the whole of Poland were being rounded up and sent to extermination camps, Oskar Schindler distanced himself from Nazi racial policy. He operated his own rescue mission to save as many Jews as possible, by taking them with him, when he moved his factory from Poland to Czechoslovakia. To some, his actions were that of a saint. To others, he remained a Nazi who made money from Jewish slave labour. He remains a controversial figure, an enigma of his times.

A letter dated 9 September, 1956, from Oskar Schindler to Director Dr Ball-Kaduri at Yad Vashem, shows the essence of the man's character and thinking; the conflict between obedience and conscience which he experienced in 1939, and the decision he took to follow the latter regardless of the consequences that might result from his dangerous and adventurous existence.[2]

Schindler:

“In judging my actions, I want people to keep in mind, that in all my decisions, I acted as a free human being who had everything life could offer. In critical and hopeless situations, I was often able to inspire weaker characters and pull them along with me.

Let me give you a few details about myself and my change of opinions. I will try and explain some of my actions as well as it is possible in the circumstances in which I now find myself.

Ultimately, I am a German. When the Prussians marched in and occupied the Sudetenland, my homeland; when they made a colony of it, pillaged it like enemy territory and used the inhabitants as second-rate people only finding use for them as cannon fodder; when the last of my Jewish school friends and acquaintances emigrated as quickly as possible, I started thinking. The memory of a happy childhood, spent with those friends, became for me, a moral obligation that drove me on.

Then, when I experienced the German occupation in the Protectorate and in Poland for a few months, I knew clearly that I and a million other non-Reich Germans were being taken for a ride by the convincing propaganda about a 'New' Europe with nationalistic and economic advantages. I was not going to become subordinate to a bunch of sadistic murderers and deceitful impostors, who surreptitiously got the government of a very straight and ordinary nation on their side.

This realisation may have been in many German minds, but because of the fear of being ruined professionally, or disadvantaged economically, they kept quiet in spite of their doubts and carried on as if nothing had happened because it was easier and safer to do so.

Thank God I had the courage to see the consequences of this disastrous time and jumped off the band wagon to save what it was still possible to save. A large number of like-minded people, mainly former Austrians, allied with me. It was important to remember, that this change did not take place after 20 July 1944, (the attempt on Hitler's life) when all frontiers had broken down, and many had given up. It started four years prior to this date, when the German Blitzkrieg made the world hold its breath. The political uncertainty of the war years put me under enormous mental pressure. My upbringing to respect orders, to be obedient and follow the law, made me battle with myself, until I finally buried all those instilled doctrines.

I was not going to be uncritical anymore. I was going to follow my instinct and judgment, to do something for humanity and to make room for compassion.

Like-minded friends, and the sight of the daily suffering, helped me to overcome all my conflicts. I am not a religious man, far from it. As an immoderate man, I have far more faults than the average person, who modestly goes through life.

“Respect for humanity”, as Albert Schweitzer says; I could hold and defend it.

Who could understand the inner conflict I felt, after sending a dozen women to the SS “super humans”, to whom alcohol and presents had already lost their attraction? Some of the women knew what was asked of them, although they were only aware of fragments of my difficulties. The pain I experienced was certainly not jealousy, but disgust with myself. To throw pearls before the swine and say that the end justifies the means was poor comfort to me.

When the German war success neared its end and friends repeatedly called to persuade me to leave with them for Switzerland, take all my possessions with me and leave everything else to chance, (for example, the destruction and extermination, which was relentless), I found that morally I could not do this. Instead I drove to Krakow taking my reserves of dollars and bought large quantities of food and medicines, which I dispatched as express goods to my camp at Brunnlitz in new ammunition boxes I registered as ammunition parts.

In the last months of the war I paid hundreds of thousands of Marks to the SS. as wages for totally senseless work, but it kept the gangsters satisfied and left me in peace.

What would have been said if I had gone to Switzerland? The survivors of my factory would have said, “He was quite decent but a pity he had to run away.” I know some quite decent people, who today live far better than me, but who failed when it was important.

And what of my wife Emily? I wonder if the wives of any of those so-called “decent men” would have travelled 300 kilometres in the bitter cold weather, with a case full of Schnapps, a case far too heavy for her, to exchange the contents for medicine in order to help those starving and suffering Jews from the Golleschau transport who had lost their last spark for life through German barbarism. For my wife, this task was self evident. Whenever there was a need to help people in peril, she would care regardless of the dangers. She had the courage to treat SS leaders as Butlers and Valets. “I felt the Jews were being destroyed - I had to help. There was no choice.”

Oskar Schindler

The 1982 publication of Thomas Keneally's non-fiction factual novel, Schindler's Ark, (re published later as Schindler's List) and the 1993 release of Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List, have brought world-wide prominence to the Holocaust in general and to Oskar Schindler in particular as the embodiment of all those who risked their own lives to save Jews and other victims of the “Final Solution..” The Holocaust and Oskar Schindler both remain inexplicable in their entirety, but I hope my efforts may shed light on one aspect of those terrible times…

In Dr. Luitgard N. Wundheiler's analysis[3] of Schindler in 1986, she poses the question “Why, then, is Oskar Schindler not better known? Why is he never mentioned together with Raoul Wallenberg, Elizabeth Abegg, or Andre Trocme?” Ten years later we scratch our heads over Abegg and Trocme but are more conversant with Wallenberg and Schindler.

Among the “Righteous”, now commemorated at Yad Vashem we ask ourselves, “How does he fit in with all these other heroes, how was he different, what makes us sit up and take notice?” Dr. Moshe Bejski, himself a Schindler survivor, put it quite plainly, “Schindler was different for two reasons, (1) his exploits were on a very large scale, and (2), and he carried them on for a very long time.[4]

The story of Oskar Schindler is not the history of a man born to be a hero, like Raoul Wallenberg but rather the story of a common - even a base man. Before the war, Schindler had been something of a ne'er-do-well; after the war he was a financial failure. And yet under the right circumstances he became a saviour. It is only the presence of monstrous evil that makes Oskar Schindler a good man; finally, an exceptional one.

Whilst many of us would like to think we would have acted in similar fasion towards an oppressed people of whatever race, the difference was that Schindler found himself in a position of some authority and power, and this, together with his charisma, enabled him to influence the events that unfolded before him.

During the entire course of the war, so far as and the many hundreds of Jews who were touched by him are concerned, not one single Jewish life was lost by unnatural causes. As Dr. Wundheiler remarks, “and if a human being with so many shortcomings could do that, is there any one among us who can say: “I am not good enough or powerful enough to help? It is uncomfortable to know about Schindler because he stirs our conscience precisely because of his weaknesses.”

My purpose is to re-examine and analyse the novel “Schindler's List” by the author Thomas Keneally. Keneally's novel is without notation of primary and secondary sources. This leaves us at the mercy of the writer as to the credibility of the facts surrounding Schindler's activities during the Holocaust. I also consider that it is important to accurately document Schindler's story, due to the many publications and films now being produced, which wholly rely wholly on the Keneally book as. source material.

I propose to write this account biographically and to proceed in chronological order. I will cover the span of years from 1908 to 1945. Each section will be sub-divided into chapters, analysing Schindler's behaviour within the historical context of the times. I will introduce new evidence, challenge existing “facts”, and offer my own assessments and opinions.


Footnotes

  1. Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, London 1985, 8
  2. Return
  3. Dr. R. Ball-Kaduri: References to this document will be made to the English translation, 1-103. If we take a cynical view of this letter we could be forgiven for thinking, “He would say that, wouldn't he”. Ten years after the war, down and out, and grasping for survival, what should we make of this letter in the context of what actually happened during the war period? My own view, and which I think is born out by the evidence I am about to set out, is that Schindler's testament is an understatement of his activities. It is a summary of his feelings. It gives us a glimpse of the true Schindler, an ordinary human being with ordinary successes and failures.
  4. Return
  5. Dr. L.N. Wundheiler, Oskar Schindler's Moral Development during the Holocaust. Humbolt Journal of Social Relations, Vol. X111, No. 1-2 (1985) 1-20.
  6. Return
  7. Dr Moshe Bejski interview with the author, Jerusalem and London 1995.
  8. Return

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