|Oskar and Emilie spying|
So, how reliable is Tom Keneally's book Schindler's List? His research is scrupulous. However, there are gaps which have, in my opinion, resulted in a slight ambiguity, particularly with Schindler's dealings with the Abwehr in the period 1938-9. My purpose is to bring the events back on course and, where necessary, source the material already researched by Keneally. I will endeavor to enhance the evidence from my own inquiries, and perhaps as a result, we will have a clearer understanding of the man himself.
It was during this opening barrage of German military expansion that we come to the opening phase of Schindler's wartime activities. This was his recruitment into the Abwehr. Keneally touches on these activities, Spielberg implies them, and Steinhouse was not aware of them. Other writers and film makers who have worked with the Schindler story have relied on one basic source for their information-- that is, Keneally's book.
1935 saw the German intelligence agencies collaborating with the security offices from Austria and Hungary. Czechoslovakia and Poland were high on the agenda for political infiltration, and it was at this time that Schindler became active and a spy for the Third Reich.
On June 24, 1937 Hitler signed the plan Fall Grün (preparation for war directive). On receiving the order, Canaris instigated a web of coordinated actions to penetrate Czechoslovakian Security in Moravia, Bohemia, and the Sudentenland border areas.
The winter of 1936/7 was, for Schindler, that moment from which everything would radiate. The past would become insignificant and the future uncertain. New Year celebrations in 1937, a select hotel in the suburbs of Berlin, would bring the unemployed and frustrated man from Svitavy face to face with the top echelon of the Wehrmacht Military Intelligence and with his own personal destiny.
It began in late December, 1936, when by chance Schindler met an old girlfriend, Ilse Pelikan, whom he had known whenhe was a driving instructor in Mahrisch Schonberg. Ilse invited Schindler to a New Year's celebration party to meet friends whom she identified as high-ranking officers of the German Wehrmacht. We can only speculate what went on at this New Year's party, but knowing the character of Schindler and his love for pretty women and a good time, it is not difficult to imagine that towards the end of the celebrations he would have been at the center of things and by then known to all as Oskar. The opening of Spielberg's film, Schindler's List, shows the easy-going Schindler mixing with high ranking SS and Wehrmacht officers.
According to Mrs Sophia Stern, after the war, Schindler told her husband, Itszak, that it was at this New Year's Party that he had been introduced to a man very high up in German Intelligence Services, who was celebrating his fiftieth birthday and the second anniversary of his appointment as the Chief of the Abwehr. This man was probably Wilhelm Canaris.
|Wilhelm Franz Canaris
January 1, 1887 - April 9, 1945
When Schindler was in trouble with the SS in Krakow, it was the Canaris factor that afforded him immediate release.
Schindler's immediate acceptance by this elite company indicated to him what was to follow. Ilse Pelikan, knowing Schindler to be one of those committed Germans awaiting deliverance by the Fuhrer, had invited him to work for the better good of Greater Germany. Schindler knew he was being propositioned as a gatherer of intelligence. A few days later Schindler returned to Svitavy, dismissing his night out with Pelikan as just another good night out. Whatever Schindler thought of this offer can only be considered in the light of his subsequent actions.
Many months later, Schindler was to meet another lady from a previous friendship, Gritt Schwarzer, an hotelier in Rumberg, a village just inside the Czech border. Schindler had been closely involved with Schwarzer (like Pelikan) some years previously and was surprised to receive a letter from her. Schwarzer suggested they meet for old time's sake, and suggested the Juppebad Hotel at Ziegenhals, which required crossing of the Czech/German border. When Schindler said there would be difficulties because of security documentation, he was assured that it had been taken care of. He was about to be recruited into the Intelligence Services, the Abwehr.
The Political situation in Europe was at boiling point. In March 1938, Hitler had marched into Austria to the welcome and open arms of the population. All eyes now turned to Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was a state of nationalities, not a national state. Only the Czechs were genuine Czechoslovaks; the others - Slovaks, Hungarians, Ruthenes and Germans - were national minorities. The three million Germans, Sudeten Germans, were closely linked to the Austrians by history and blood. The Anschluss had stirred them to ungovernable excitement. Hitler was threatening to liberate the German minority in Czechoslovakia and the German minority was beckoning him to do so.
On March 28, 1938, Hitler received the Sudeten representatives and appointed Konrad Henlein, their leader, his Viceroy. They were to negotiate with the Czechoslovakian government. In Henlein's words, We must always demand so much that we can never be satisfied. Henlein's party was to be a third force in the politics of the country and would remain legal and orderly, preying on the disaffection of the German populace. Schindler, like many of the Sudeten Germans, joined up with the party that promised plenty. He now worked as a salesman for his old employers, the Electrical Company in Brno, and moved about the area securing business from like-minded sympathizers of the New Order.
Hitler had his eyes on Czechoslovakia, and the watching world seemed impotent to deal with the situation. The momentum of German expansionism was unstoppable and Jews who had fled Germany and Austria to the safety of Czechoslovakia trembled and prayed to the Almighty.
Schindler's Abwehr activities can be divided into two distinct phases: first, his initial engagement on the July 2,1938; second, his activities in the Svitavy and Brno area. This period was catastrophic for him, resulting in his arrest and a death sentence. The second phase deals with his release from prison brought about by Hitler's take-over of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, when all political prisoners were released.
On July 1,1938, Schindler set off from Svitavy for the Czech/German border to meet Gritt Schwarzer at the Hotel Juppebad. Despite assurances from Schwarzer, he was unable to cross the frontier without papers and sought the assistance of a local publican named Folkel. That night Folkel showed Schindler the route across the border to avoid the German customs post. The crossing went via the rear of the local church, across fields and into Germany. Schindler telephoned Gritt Schwarzer at the Hotel Juppebad, and she arranged transport for him to the hotel. At the hotel he met Peter Kreutziger, an agent of the Abwehr, who opened up a docket on the table and addressed Schindler. Do you want to join us, the German Information Service? The driving instructor and poultry keeper from Svitavy, lured by the money, power and other promises well beyond his dreams, agreed to join.
Schindler must have been one of the most inept spies recruited by the Abwehr. By July 18, 1938, he had been arrested and charged with capital offences against the Czech State. Schindler had made very basic mistakes. His brief was to obtain political and economic information that would be of use to the Wehrmacht: railway installations and fortifications and troop movements on the Czech/Polish border around Ostrava. He was to make contact with like-minded sympathizers and use these contacts to obtain information. Results of his activities were to be filtered back via Gritt Schwarzer at the Hotel Juppebad.
Schindler's first mistake was that he didn't move out of his immediate home area. He lived in Svitavy and worked in Brno. He was well known to everyone, including the police. The naive Schindler approached his first assignment by recruiting a Sudeten German police officer named Prusa. Prusa worked for the Criminal Investigation Department in Brno and was an alcoholic, in debt, and separated from his wife. After several days Prusa agreed to join Schindler. Abwehr agent Kreutziger, Schindler, and Prusa travelled the area looking at likely targets for closer inspection. Unknown to Schindler, Prusa had reported the facts to his superiors, which resulted in the Czech Security Service monitoring Schindler's activities. Schindler was set up, and on the evening of July 18, 1938, at the Hotel Ungar in Svitavy. Schindler and Prusa met in the bar of the hotel. In the course of Prusa handing over material to Schindler, the Security Service arrested him. Schindler was taken to Svitavy police station and on the following morning to Brno for interrogation.
Immediately, the CSO raided the Schindler home and searched for other incriminating evidence. Mrs Schindler stated that the police returned on several occasions but were unable to find anything. Then, according to Mrs Schindler, the police returned and went directly to the bathroom where from behind a bathroom panel they found plans of Czech military establishments. Schindler had done a deal whereby, cooperating with the CSO, he would receive certain considerations. It was apparent that he was under a great deal of pressure to co-operate. The CSO had threatened to arrest his wife and father unless he co-operated fully. This he apparently did.
Emilie Schindler contacted Kreutziger. He was aware of the arrest but declined to help. In August 1938, Schindler appeared before the Court in Brno and pleaded guilty to offences of betrayal against the State. He was sentenced to death. (The warrant and conviction of Schindler were never rescinded and attempts immediately after the war to arrest him were considered a priority. This is the reason why he never returned to his home town, Svitavy.)
|Schindler's arrest documentation Brno 1938 obtained by the author|
In October 1938, Germany moved into the Sudetenland and all political prisoners were released. Having escaped the hangman, Schindler resumed his duties and was promoted to deputy commandant of the Abwehr in Moravska Ostrava on the Czech/Polish border.
We now move into the second phase of his Abwehr activities, which encompass facts hitherto unknown. This period clarifies the work of Schindler and the role of Mrs Schindler and Joseph Aue.
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