In researching this documentation on the life of Oskar Schindler, I interviewed and corresponded with many of the Schindler Jews' who have become celebrated survivors of the Holocaust.
When Spielberg was asked why he used the American publication title Schindler's List in preference to the more widely known and original title, Schindler's Ark, (in America, this title was considered too religious.) he replied I want to make a lot about lists. He was right. The Schindler story is all about lists; there are right lists and wrong lists, long lists and short lists, personal lists official lists, and the lists of which, I attach most evidential value: the Madritsch list, and the Davar list
The List of Oskar Schindler is not as straightforward as one might think. Although it remains the framework from which everything radiates, it takes on different and perplexing guises as the Schindler story unfolds. What we must appreciate is that the list we identify with Schindler, i.e., the list of names he selected for the exodus of his Schindler Jews on the transport from KL (Concentration Camp) Plaszow to Brunnlitz in October 1944, should not be directly identified with the list that can be located in the archives at Yad Vashem. The Yad Vashem list is a German document drawn up from a list of names presented to them on behalf of Schindler and subsequently initially processed (with alterations and replacement names made for personal gain) by the Jew, Marcel Goldberg (69510) in the labour office of Plaszow and later in the administration department of Gross-Rosen Concentration camp.
However, it is not that simple. There are more complications before we may arrive at any sensible understanding of how the list or lists came into being. We can safely disregard the notion that Oskar Schindler personally dictated a list of his Jewish personnel for transfer to the safer camp at Brunnlitz. All the evidence suggests that he was away from Krakow at this time securing the factory in Brunnlitz.
The basis of Schindler's original list was the 300 Jews retained for decommissioning purposes in the Emalia factory when it was being closed down in August 1944. It was these Jews who were the first batch to be transferred to Brunnlitz. The remainder of his workers, some 800, had been sent to Plaszow. Apart from a small number of personally sanctioned Jews chosen by Schindler, the names of the remainder that were to make up the Brunnlitz transport were left in the hands of Marcel Goldberg (69510) and SS-Unterscharfuhrer (Corporal) Smith of the Jewish labour office in Plaszow. This is when the wheeling and dealing and the corruption took place and the corruption when diamonds talked. Some of the most distinguished community leaders were removed from the list and replaced by those who could pay. In the post-war analysis of Schindler's list there are added complications with claims and counter claims by survivors who profess to have had some part in the formulation of the list
The pro-forma type list perceived to be Schindler's, is in fact the standard form for the transport of prisoners filled in by the German authorities, in this case for Gross-Rosen. When the Schindler men arrived at Gross-Rosen from Plaszow they were selected in groups and processed accordingly. Each man received a number thus obliterating him as a person, before being transferred to the Schindler factory camp at Brunnlitz.
The scene in Spielberg's film where Itzhak Stern (69518) is shown typing the list at Schindler's dictation is the colourful imagination of a Hollywood film director. Stern, so far as my research indicates, was never an employee in Schindler's factory Emalia. One of the greatest misconceptions in the Schindler story, both in books, film, and in other literature, is that Itszak Stern worked for Schindler in the Emalia factory as his accountant. Stern never worked for Schindler. Schindler's accountant and factory manager was the Jew Abraham Bankier (69268). Bankier was the previous owner of Emalia under the commercial business name Rekord. Ousted from his own factory by bankruptcy, Bankier became the manager for Schindler and to many of the Schindler Jews that I have interviewed was the king-pin behind most of Schindler's activities. In Spielberg's Schindler's List, the characterisation of Stern should in the main be that of Bankier . This does not lessen Stern's contribution.
Schindler's women travelled from Plaszow, and instead of going direct to Brunnlitz, found themselves in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The bureaucrats of Auschwitz-Birkenau processed the women exactly as the men had been processed at Gross-Rosen, with one exception: the men were listed by consecutive numbering only and not by name alphabetically, whereas the women were listed by consecutive numbering and alphabetically. Gross-Rosen, Plaszow and Brunnlitz, were all satellite camps within a spreading arc of penal establishments working to a standard set of rules and regulations.
The lists for both men and women have been shown as appendices, together with my own translation (German - English) of the employments for each prisoner, male and female. To simplify matters further, the men's list has been restructured into alphabetical order for easy reference to the individuals concerned.
The list throws up many anomalies: name changes, dates of birth and occupations are not what they seem. Generally they are correct, but for a number of reasons some of the prisoners chose to give inaccurate information when requested to do so, whilst other inaccuracies were simply the result of typing errors by the German authorities.
The interviewing technique that I adopted was as follows: from the outset I was conscious that memory is not history. It stands to reason that much of the events described and dialogue recalled form a memoir - a compilation of recollections of incidents and conversations as elderly witnesses remembered them happening 50 years earlier. It has been a matter for the researcher to disentangle the mass of testimonies, which have for many reasons been exaggerated or mistaken in order to arrive at the probable true course of events. I was more comfortable in relying on written evidence made at the time, or immediately after the events described occurred.
Much of the dialogue came to me through the filter of translation, whether in the form of personal interviews with witnesses, or in dealing with documentation. Eye witnesses heard or spoke the original in one language and repeated it to me in another, often through an interpreter. Most of the time, the oral translations were just about adequate and mostly grammatically incorrect, as interpreter switched from direct to indirect quotations. Fortunately, the majority of witnesses forming the main core of my research spoke English.
I was not so fortunate when dealing with documentation that I extracted from archival sources in Israel, Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. Apart from English press reports and the odd book in English which referred to my subject, I was at the absolute mercy of friendly translators. Many of my translators were Schindler Jews who were spread far and wide, and were able to feed me further information when requested. I had to take advantage of every opportunity that presented itself, sometimes in very odd situations. I will give a brief example of one such incident. I had just secured some material from the archives in Svitavy, Czech Republic. Waiting at a bus stop I entered into conversation with a complete stranger who was keen to converse in English. I asked him to translate my documentation, which he did directly into my tape recorder, one eye on the lookout for the bus and one eye on the document.
Tape recorders were an essential part of my equipment when dealing with foreign language documents. I was heavily reliant on this practice, firstly sending the document to a translator who would translate the document onto tape. On its return the translation was transferred from the tape directly into print. All tapes have been kept to form the basis of my own archive. On some occasions I obtained independent clarification of a particular translation and have found that this practice has been able to prove the accuracy of the original translation.
The Schindler investigation which I commenced some 15 years ago was difficult. Although I was a trained investigator I lacked the back-up resources of more professional writers. However, on occasions luck did come my way: staying at the City Hotel, Tel-Aviv I left each day for Yad Vashem to interview survivors or other witnesses. At the hotel I met Yael Reicher (later the wife of the assistant manager). She was interested in my work and each day I would leave sheets of statements all in Hebrew and the following morning I would find all this material translated and left at the desk for my information. I thank you Yael.
Much of the information about this period comes from a detailed and lengthy report, documentation and observation (in German) by Dr. R. Ball-Kaduri. The documentation deals with both Schindler and Stern, and the protagonists surrounding them at this time.
In 1945, Ball-Kaduri represented a Jewish Agency dealing with the evidence of Holocaust survivors, and restricted his investigations solely to German speaking witnesses. Any matter that arose in other languages was passed over to another department. In 1956, he was working under the auspices of Yad Vashem and all the material I have referred to can be found in the archives at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
The information collated by Ball-Kaduri was received, firstly through the help of Stern, and later through direct communication with Schindler. There is a large quantity of very interesting documents. Some are originals, some photocopies. There are letters from Schindler to Ball-Kaduri, in which he writes about himself, which are of extreme value.
The accounts may be split up into sections which cover the period 1939-1945:
When Ball-Kaduri was compiling his report he had to use a special method. As he received them he found it impossible to write down Stern's statements in a chronological sequence. At the time of presenting his evidence, Stern was resident in Tel-Aviv and was the manager of a factory. It had been said that he was a first rate organiser and was an expert on factory statistics, but this did not appear to help him when relating the details of the war years with Oskar Schindler to Ball-Kaduri.
According to the Doctor, Stern would bubble over when thinking of the past. He spoke very quickly, and went into isolated incidents very vividly, just as they entered his mind at that particular moment. Stern lost any form of chronological sequence and had no understanding of the interviewer's difficulties.
Ball-Kaduri decided to take detailed notes in shorthand while Stern was speaking and then transferred those notes, that same evening or the next day, to a typewritten account. It was only after about five meetings with Stern that the Doctor started to see the whole of the extraordinary story Stern and Schindler had experienced. Through specific questioning the account became clearer.
These interviews lasted six months, during which time Stern would repeat an incident many times, until he was stopped. Nothing of importance changed throughout the repetition of matters. The report was completed in December, 1956, and signed by both Yitzhak Stern and Dr. Ball-Kaduri as a true statement of the events that took place during that critical time.
We have, in Stern's deposition, a unique insight into his dealings with Schindler. He provides an account which would otherwise be impossible for us to know.
|Herbert Steinhouse in Paris, 1949
as he wrote his original Oskar Schindler article: to the author 1995
Unknown to Keneally, Spielberg, Ball-Kaduri and other interested parties, another writer had stumbled on to the Schindler story over forty years earlier. In 1949, Herbert Steinhouse worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Company in Paris. Steinhouse was the first journalist to interview Schindler and Stern about their war-time exploits. Being the professional that he is, Steinhouse arranged several interviews with both Stern and Schindler, conducted under strict conditions. Translators of German and Yiddish were present and a shorthand typist recorded the interviews, verbatim. Also present was Al Taylor, a professional photographer who captured pictures of the most telling truth revealing the symbiotic relationship that had existed between Schindler and Stern since their first meeting on 19 November, 1939. Evidence of the love and understanding that existed between these two men has not been shown since, in writing or in film, the love and understanding that existed between these two men. Al Taylor does it, with one photograph of great symbolic tenderness.
|Itzhak Stern and Oskar Schindler Paris 1949
It is interesting how closely the article written by Steinhouse 50 years earlier supports Schindler's Ark by Keneally, who never met Schindler. The Steinhouse documentation makes Schindler even more extraordinary than either the book or the film, which both depict him as someone who started out wanting cheap labour in order to make money and who became a humanitarian in the process. The Steinhouse papers wrestle with the answer to the question that we all want to know; what made Schindler tick - why did he do what he did? Herbert Steinhouse's interviews would appear to have more validity than the speculative writing of both book and film.
The Steinhouse documentation is important for several reasons: for the corroboration it gives to the established record; for the further details and anecdotes not contained in either Keneally's novel or Spielberg's film and, most importantly, for the direct access it gives us to Schindler himself.
We cannot discuss Oskar Schindler without incorporating into the dialogue his contemporaries in Plaszow from that time, Julius Madritsch, Raymond Titsch and Oswald Bousco. These four, recognized by the State of Israel as Righteous Persons, occupy a unique place in the hearts and minds of the Jews formerly incarcerated in the ghettos and labour camps of Krakow and Tarnow. These four individuals, conspired together to lessen the hurt and deprivation of the Jews, interned in the most appalling circumstances. Much of my information comes from a personal record kept by Madritsch, original German documents of the time recording his dealings with the SS bureaucrats in Berlin. The Titsch documents, by way of affidavit, were made after the war by way of affidavit to counter allegations against his employer, Madritsch. The recollections of both men are important regarding Bousco, who was executed by the Nazis in Krakow.
The documentation dated 1938, deals with Schindler's arrest and interrogation in Svitavy on 18/19 August, 1938. The documentation of 1946 deals with the aftermath of the war, when the Czechoslovakian Government was tracking down known Nazis (Schindler included), and the arrest and interrogation of Joseph Aue.
My finding of these police reports was very significant. In Keneally's factual fictional account of Schindler, he appears to have skipped a chapter. I refer directly to the period when Schindler was engaged with the Abwehr in 1938, and was arrested and imprisoned on a capital charge of espionage against the Czechoslovakian state. Sentenced to death by hanging, he languished for some months in jail until Hitler took over the whole of Czechoslovakia at which time all political prisoners were released.
This material exposes Schindler's direct connection with the German security services and his appointment as second in command of the security services in Moravska Ostrava, a town on the Czech/Polish border. It also delineates his role in the recruitment of Joseph Aue as an agent and the transfer of Aue to the premises of J.L. Buchheister and Co, Stradom Street, Krakow. Keneally's reference to the Buchheister premises centres on the first meeting between Schindler and Stern on 19 November, 1939, Stern being the Jewish accountant working directly under Aue, the German-installed treuhander. Keneally nearly got it right, but for the missing piece in the jigsaw, i.e. this Czech security documentation. In short, Schindler was a high ranking officer of the Foreign Section of the Abwehr in Moravskar Ostrava and Krakow. Aue was a committed agent operating and residing at the premises of Buchheister which was used by the Abwehr for their under-cover work in Krakow. Stern would appear to have been ignorant of this.
This was of exceptional help. Not only because of her close personal relationship with Oskar, but also as a result of her direct involvement in his activities as an agent of the Abwehr in M. Ostrava and his early activities in Krakow. Emilie was also directly involved in the Brunnlitz camp and the incident concerning the Golleschau tragedy. My material originated with the help of Jon Blair, the film director who gave me access to a full schedule of interviews he had with Emily Schindler in Argentina in 1981. This was followed up by my own personal interviews with Mrs. Schindler in Israel and subsequent correspondence. My information has been further enhanced by the recent publication in Argentina of Emilie Schindler's memoirs.
The problem I had with this book was that I could not separate fact from fiction. Sources were not attributed nor was there an index from which to work from. Generally it is basically accurate, with parts painted in or out, for the sake of the novel. The research is impeccable. I deliberately put the Keneally book aside and worked from my own notes. I used his book to check my progress of events and the more I progressed, the more I was impressed with Keneally's research.
The Davar publication is of considerable importance regarding the Lists' controversial legacy.
The above quoted documentation (1-7) remains my main source of information covering a broad spectrum of the activities of Schindler between 1938 and 1945. There are many other documents and witness accounts encompassing the periods prior to, and after, the war years which will be incorporated into the text.
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