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Chapter Four

Schindler in Krakow

You were a Jew if you went to the synagogue” Adolf Eichman

 

Oskar Schindler
Oskar Schindler

 

On arriving in Krakow, Schindler and his team went directly to his apartment in Straszewskiego Street[1], not far from the Wawel Castle. Schindler had bought the apartment from some wealthy Jews, and its luxurious furnishings included porcelain vases, Persian carpets, and heavy velvet curtains. The windows opened to the Planty: a series of parks which followed the contours of the old walls near the Wawel fortress. This was the apartment to which Schindler would take his women friends, in particular the lady Amelia (or 'Ingrid' in Keneally's book), and a Polish girl called Victoria Klonowska. Amelia was with the Abwehr, while Klonowska improved Schindler's relationship with the Gestapo[2]. When Emilie visited the Krakow apartment, his lovers disappeared. Emilie knew the situation and chose to ignore it.

Mrs Schindler's activities in regard to her husband's have been seriously neglected by most commentators. I intend to include as much information as possible to restore the balance as her influence on her husband was, at times, crucial to his thinking. In her memoir she refers to her husband's love of Krakow. He often talked to her about the flourishing area of Kazimierz, a cultural and economic center of Jewish Krakow. Emilie was particularly taken with the 700 year-old Gothic cathedral which incorporated the tomb of King Casimiso Jagiello, created by the German sculptor Veit Stoss.

During one of Mrs Schindler's initial visits to Krakow, she was overcome with serious back pain which nearly paralysed her. Polish doctors were unable to help her, but her husband, with his contacts, had her referred to specialists in Berlin at the Auguste Hospital, to which only the aristocracy and high-ranking German officers had access. Her personal doctor was Professor Kurt Enger, who diagnosed a serious problem with her spine. Emilie spent several months in the hospital and later in convalescence in Austria. During this long period, her husband never wrote or visited her. When Emily returned to Krakow, Oskar met her, holding a bouquet of flowers. He apologized, giving the weak excuse of curtailment of traveling documents. He showed no interest in her medical condition[3].

Joseph Aue stayed with Schindler in the Krakow apartment for about three months during which time Schindler took him to the offices of the Treuhander[4], who were supervising the takeover of Jewish premises. Schindler introduced Aue to Walter Muschka, an agent of the Abwehr but also the head of the Trust Office. Schindler told Muschka that Aue was an administrator from Moravska Ostrava and should be placed in a suitable business. Aue, who had now been given the name Sepp Aue, was handed over to another agent and trust administrator, Ervin Kobiela. Kobiela suggested to Aue that he take over the import/export business of the Jew Salomon Buchheister at 15 Straddon Street, Krakow.

Ervin Kobiela took Aue to the Straddon Street location, where he was introduced as the new administrator. Kobiela ordered the owner, the Jew Salomon Buchheister, out of the premises. The remainder of the staff were all Jews who helped Aue to understand the running of the business. The chief accountant at the firm was Itszak Stern (69518), who had worked for Salomon Bucheister since 1924. On Stern's advice, Aue immediately re-engaged Salomon Bucheister, who became just another worker; however, he was treated respectfully by Aue[5].

Aue's immediate behavior had aroused Stern's curiosity. Although he had begun Aryanizing the firm and firing some of the Jewish workers in accordance with instructions, Aue, at the same time, left the discharged Jew's names on the social insurance registry, thus enabling them to maintain their all-important worker's identity cards. He secretly gave these hungry men money as well[6]. Such exemplary behavior could only impress the Jews and astonish the wary and cautious Stern. Only at the end of the war was Stern to learn that Aue was Jewish, that his own father had been murdered in Auschwitz in 1942[7], and that the Polish he pretended to speak so poorly was actually his native tongue. Aue had already taken on the guise of a double agent.

Not knowing all this, Stern had no reason to trust Aue. Certainly he could not understand the man's presumption when, only a few days after having taken charge of the import-export firm, on November 19, 1939, Aue brought an old friend, who had just arrived in Krakow to see Stern. Aue had said quite casually, “You know, Stern, you can have confidence in my friend Schindler.” Stern said nothing, but exchanged courtesies with the visitor and had answered his questions with care[8].

There was an interesting development in the relationship between Aue and Stern. Aue gave Stern a document which he had received from the Reich Secretary of State, Eberhard Von Jagwitz of the Economic Ministry. This document set out the policies to be adopted in the Aryanizing of Jewish businesses. It contained confidential information concerning questions on Jews and the intentions for all Jewish businesses, including Buchheister's[9].

Some days later, Schindler returned to Buchheister's specifically to see Stern. He asked his advice on opening up a business. Stern was able to take advantage of the information he had seen in the Ministry document and advised Schindler to lease or, better still, buy but not become a trustee. Stern had realized that, from a very Jewish point of view, an owner was not limited to the number of Jews that could be employed[10]. Schindler was impressed by Stern's analysis and left to think it over.

At the Schindler apartment it was a continual round of entertaining high-ranking officers of the SS, Wehrmacht, and Abwehr. Although Emilie kept very much in the background, she speaks of endless discussions with these gentlemen on Nazi policy. Major von Kohrab, Chief of the Polish section of the Counter-Intelligence Service, had become a close friend of Schindler. According to Mrs Schindler, it was von Kohrab who introduced her husband to Abraham Bankier (69268), the bankrupted owner of Rekord in Lipowa Street. Schindler, after discussions with Bankier and Stern convinced himself that it was Rekord he had to play for.

Again, on Stern's advice, Schindler went ahead and applied to the Polish Commercial Court where he obtained a short lease of the bankrupt Rekord Company, at 4 Lipowa Street. With most of the Krakow Trust Administrators also in the pay of the Abwehr, Schindler had no difficulty in concluding the transaction[11].

 

 
Abraham Bankier (69268) 1950   Itzhak Stern (69518) 1950[12]

 

Abraham Bankier was now bankrupted and unemployed. He was surprised when Schindler approached him and invited him to help re-tool his lost factory for producing enamelware. The factory was renamed Deutsch Emailwaren Fabrik [the German Enamel Works (D.E.F)], hereafter called Emalia[13]. Before moving on with the Schindler's activities in Krakow I would like to set out the political and social realities in Krakow at that time.

Within just one month of the German occupation, an independent Poland ceased to exist. On October 12, 1939, the Generalgovernment, with Krakow as its capital, was established. In the old Krakow Royal Palace, the Wawel, government meetings of the “New Order” headed by Governor Dr Hans Frank[14], were held.

The regional network of the Generalgovernment administration closely paralleled the regional machinery in the Reich. There were four District Governments in Poland in 1939[15]. The Governor of the Krakow District was SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Otto Wächter[16].

Heading the Police Security apparatus in the Generalgovernment was Higher SS and Police Leader SS-Obergruppenführer Frederick Wilhelm Krüger[17]. The RSHA, now under their new security umbrella, worked out of 2 Pomorska Street. Krakow. SS Chief of Operations was SS-Oberführer Scherna; and SD Chief of Operation was SS-Obersturmführer Ralph Czurda. The Abwehr's local Commander was Lieutenant Martin Plathe. SS-security services were very much their own master,s working out of their offices in Kattowice, Oprava, and Breslau. The old rivalries among the SS, SD Gestap,o and the Abwehr continued despite the act of agreement of the Ten Commandments. The Mayor of Krakow at this time was SS-Obersturmbannführer Pavlu, and his deputy, Sepp Rohrl.

We arrive at a very important juncture of what I would call “where loyalties lie.” The questions I would like to put are these: Was Schindler still an agent of the Abwehr in 39/40, and if he was, what was he doing buying up the 'Emalia' factory? Why hadn't Schindler been transferred to other duties once Krakow was secured? To find the answers to these questions I think we must look back over the role that Canaris was playing within the German High Command. All the evidence shows that there was a certain faction of the German High Command that were against Hitler. To the likes of Canaris the SS, SD, and Gestapo were an anathema. Despite the patching up of their differences in the past, the personal rivalry between Heydrich and Canaris festered again without respite, each more suspicious of the other. The patching over of old disagreements had now collapsed into open warfare.

Since 1938, Heydrich had kept a secret file on Canaris, named “Schwarze Kapelle” (Black Orchestra)[18]. This file contained incriminating evidence against Canaris regarding his suspected disloyalty to the state. Heydrich had been reluctant to use the material, fearing a collapse in confidence within the armed services. The file gathered weight over the years and was eventually used to bring down Canaris in 1944 (after the attempt on Hitler's life. Canaris was executed-- shot against a wall like a lame dog-- and the Abwehr dissolved. The residue of the Abwehr was swallowed up in the elephantine structure of the RSHA.

To answer my own questions about Schindler I am inclined to agree with Keneally: Schindler was deliberately placed in Krakow by Canaris as a “spy on the wall,” to watch over the SS, SD, and Gestapo and filter reports back to Canaris' headquarters. Canaris was a very powerful man, and this would explain how Schindler was able extricate himself from the various situations he found himself in when the Gestapo arrested him on no less than three occasions. Schindler had a trusted procedure that went into effect the moment danger loomed[19]. Within hours of a cry for help, Schindler would benefit from the full force of his backers. The local SS Chiefs were unable to resist the countermanding orders from above.

What of the Jews in Krakow at the end of 1939?

A decree dated November 11, 1939 concerning the Judenrat in the Generalgovernment was issued by the Governor, Dr. Hans Frank. It set out the regulations for the formulation of the Judenrat and the appointment of an Elder of the Jews. There followed an explosion of edicts under the pen of Dr. Wächter, which amounted to the strangulation of civil rights in the ghettos of Poland.

The Judenrat, or Jewish Council[20], composed of 24 members, was set up by edict December 1939. On the face of it, the Judenrat was supposed to fulfil the pre-war functions of the Jewish community; but, in fact, its main occupation was to serve the Germans. It was very convenient for the Germans to have their orders carried out by the Jews. From its very inception, the Judenrat was controlled by the Gestapo. All inquiries and prosecutions were administered by Department 111, Room No. 302, Pomorska Street.

The Judenrat's duties included general administration, statistical data, lists of residents, registration of stores, distribution of food, and fuel for the Jewish inhabitants of Krakow, and later the Ghetto. In addition to these duties, the Judenrat had its own publishing house to print the many regulations of the occupying authorities. The Jews welcomed this last vestige of control over their beleaguered people

As the German occupation tightened its control, and the implementation of forced labour squads began, the Judenrat met to soften the ferocity of the German demands. To avoid arbitrary abductions or dragnets, several Jewish leaders suggested the establishment of quasi-autonomous Jewish councils to fill the quota of workers fixed by the Germans. The Krakow Judenrat suggested that, to prevent Germans seizing Jews from the streets for labor, it would set up a labor registry available to the Germans when needed. The Police Chief, Wilhelm Krüger, liked this idea and issued a decree on December 2, 1939, empowering all the Judenraten to organize forced labor columns. Apparently, the Warsaw Jews had a similar idea[21].

During the period of forced expulsion from the city, The Chairman of the Judenrat, Mark Bieberstein, and his Council tried to obtain permission for more Jews to remain in Krakow and took the course of bribing officials. The bribe was detected by the Gestapo with tragic results[22]. The Krakow Judenrat allocated 200,000 zloty for this purpose. Bieberstein and the Housing Secretary, Chaim Goldfluss, approached contacts within the German Administration and in return for money the administration was to permit 10,000 Jews of Krakow to remain unmolested. Too many people knew about this proposed deal with the result that Bieberstein and Goldfluss were arrested on bribery charges. Bieberstein was sentenced to two years' imprisonment in the Montelupich prison, Goldfluss to six months in Auschwitz, and the German intermediary, a Volksdeutsch named Reichert, to eight years' imprisonment. After his release from prison Bieberstein was sent to Plaszow camp, where he later died.

The Judenrat policy had become one of institutional compliance and the Judenraten became “implements of the German will,” moving Jews through the various phases of what was to become the destruction process. Each Judenrat in the occupied territories had its own way of doing things, and its relationships with its Jewish community varied from one to the other. Many of the Krakow Judenrat officials were accused of abusing their authority by favoring relatives, tampering with labor lists, and generally enjoying a far higher standard of living than that of their own community. In the Krakow German newspaper Krakower Zeitung 1 March 13, 1940, a Dr Dietrich Redecker reported that on a visit to the Judenrat office he was struck by the contrast between its carpet and plush furnishings and the squalor of the Jewish quarters in Kazimierz[23].

With the end of military government on October 25, 1939, the civil administration, pervaded by the SS, fell upon the Jews. Measures already in place in Germany and Austria were now applied to the annexed and occupied zones of Poland. Dr. Otto Wächter was now issuing decrees from the Wawel Castle:

“November 18, Special signs to be carried by Jews in the entire district: 'All Jews above 12 years of age should carry visible signs, namely a white band with a blue star of David on their right arm of their outer garments.'”

This instruction also contained a definition of the term Jew as the Nazis understood it: “He is a Jew who either is an adherent of the Judaic faith and everyone whose father or mother are or were of Judaic faith.” The Germans cut through this definition when it suited them: “You were a Jew if you went to the synagogue.” The problem posed by those Jews from mixed marriages, “Mischlings,” was never adequately solved.

In December, obligatory work for Jews was enlarged by the decision that every Jew 12-60 years' old had to work for two years in a compulsory labou camp. The successive orders obliged Jews to hand over their automobiles and motor cycles (December 4), forbade them to change their residence (December 11) and to travel by train in the Generalgovernment (January 26, 1940).

The workers at Buchheister's continued as usual and awaited the next turn of events. On the morning of December 3, 1939, Schindler made a further visit to see Stern. On this occasion there was a clear message to all those present. In a raised voice he addressed Stern, “Now it's starting, Jews will be surrounded and murdered. The Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, Josefa and Izaaka Streets, are going to know all about it[24].”

 

Schindler with his Jewish workers in Emalia
Schindler with his Jewish workers in Emalia

 

Schindler (second from left) with his Polish staff in Emalia 1940
Schindler (second from left) with his Polish staff in Emalia 1940

 

To emphasize the quality of his information, Schindler kept the entire night shift of Jewish workers at his factory until it was safe for them to go home[25]. Schindler's action to warn the Jews gives us an early indication of his attitude both towards his fellow Nazis and to the Jews generally.

Apart from this initial meeting of Schindler and Stern in December 1939, they were not to renew their relationship on a more positive level until March 13, 1943, when the ghetto was liquidated and Stern was moved to Plazow concentration camp. It was Schindler's view that the Jews had to be saved and that Itzhak Stern was to be the tool to bring this about[26].

The Stern / Schindler relationship was founded on this early warning and was the pivotal axis that, in my opinion, was to decide the destinies of both Schindler and the Jews that remained with him. The relationship was bonded by mutual respect, a friendship which lasted until Stern's death in Tel-Aviv in 1969. It is said that on hearing of Stern's death, Schindler collapsed and shed tears like a child[27].

 

Footnotes
  1. Krakow, Westring, inner Stadt 23/111
  2. Return
  3. Mrs. Schindler's memoir: Schindler had a long term relationship with Klonowska. Oskar appears to have got his women's loyalties mixed up, i.e. Klonowska, according to Mrs Schindler, was with the Gestapo (anti-Canaris) and the lady Amelia with the Abwehr. I think we must accept that even love can override individual loyalties. Who was spying for whom?
  4. Return
  5. Ibid.
  6. Return
  7. The term 'Treuhander' appears to have been an innovation brought in by the Germans at the outbreak of hostilities. From the many regulations published in occupied Poland between 1939 and 1944, there appear to be no directives directly concerning the characteristics of a 'Treuhander'. The only requirements for this position were that the 'person' had to be capable of guardianship, according to the general principles in being at the time. Only German and Austrian citizens, and later the 'volksdeutsche' were acceptable for this position. Hereafter Trust Administrator - Treuhand Office/Trust Office.
  8. Return
  9. Ball-Kaduri
  10. Return
  11. Ibid.
  12. Return
  13. Czech Security Document -Aue
  14. Return
  15. Ball-Kaduri
  16. Return
  17. It was the policy of the RSHA to aryanise not just the ownership of companies, but also the management and workforce. The sooner the Trust Administrators filtered out the skilled Jewish employees the better. Ball-Kaduri, 16. Keneally, 51. For further information on the policy of aryanisation and the procedures, see Raol Hilberg, Documents of Destruction, London, 1972, 25.
  18. Return
  19. Ibid.
  20. Return
  21. Within a matter of months, Schindler had bought the factory outright for a reported sum of 300 RM. Victor Dortheimer interview with the author, 1996.
  22. Return
  23. Yitzhak Stern (69518). His account of the times and in particular his dealings with Schindler are of the utmost importance. Born Krakow, Poland, January 25,1901. His father was called Menachem and his mother was Perla, nee Hirschberg. Chief Accountant for the Jewish-owned export-import firm of J.L. Buchheister and Co., 15 Stradon Street, Krakow, a position he had held since 1924. He lived until the war at Gruene Gasse 28, Krakow. He married a Solicitor, Sophia Backenrot in 1945. Stern was the Vice President of the Jewish Agency for Western Poland and a member of the Zionist Committee in Krakow. Survived the war with Schindler and for a time lived with him in Paris. Emigrated to Israel in 1948). Interviewed by Herbert Steinhouse about his war experiences in 1948 which were later published in the book by Thomas Fensch, Oskar Schindler and his List, Vermont, 1995, 270 pages. Stern also published a small booklet, Oskar Schindler the Humanist, Tel-Aviv, 18 pages, written shortly before his death in the summer of 1967.
  24. Return
  25. Keneally goes along with these initial facts. Spielberg replaces Bankier with Stern.
  26. Return
  27. Dr. Frank had begun his political career in the Third Reich as a Dragoon in the Sturmabteilung (SA). A Lawyer by profession, he gave free legal service to Nazi Party members. He was rewarded by being appointed as the first Bavarian Minister of Justice, then Reichsminister without portfolio. In October, 1939 Hitler charged him with exemplary powers to oversee the cleansing of Poland of Jewish culture and the suppression of the civil population. Dr. Frank was only answerable to Hitler directly, over all matters. Frank was a moody autocrat who displayed sentimentality and brutality. He was powerful but vain. He was one of the principle architects of the destruction process in Poland.
  28. Return
  29. After the outbreak of war with Russia, (June 22nd 1941) the German army overran Galicia, and this area became the fifth district. (Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews, London, 1985, (3 vols.) Vol. 1, 197. Hereafter, Hilberg).
  30. Return
  31. Otto Gustav Freiherr von Wachter, born 1901, was the son of General Josef Freiherr von Wachter, an Austrian Minister of the Army. He joined the Austrian Nazis and took part in the futile Nazi attempt, of July, 1934, to seize power in Austria. He fled to Germany, where he dropped his title of nobility and became a German citizen. After the invasion of Russia in 1942, Wachter moved to Lvov where he remained until dislodged by the Russians in 1944. He presided over the ghettoisation of the Jews in Krakow and Galicia districts, and over the deportations of the Jews in Galicia and Italy. Wachter died in Italy in 1949 under the protection of Bishop Alois Hudal. (Raol Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims and Bystanders. The Jewish Catastrophe, London, 1991, 46/47. See also Hilberg, Vol. 3, 1108
  32. Return
  33. Replaced in 1943 by Koppe. Rumoured killed on the Eastern front. No trace post 1945.
  34. Return
  35. Rupert Butler, Gestapo, London, 1992, 168/9. One of the powers behind the throne of Heydrich was Walter Schellenberg (1910-1952), who rose to be head of SS Foreign Intelligence. As such, he was charged with drawing up the Sonderfahnungliste-GB (Special Search List for Great Britain). It was Schellenberg who had engineered the downfall of Canaris, after the attempt on Hitler's life, the so called bomb plot. Schellenberg knew that the concept of a unified intelligence service was favoured by Kaltenbrunner (Heydrich's' successor) the bomb plot on Hitler was the green light for the SD to go for Canaris. Both Himmler and Kaltenbrunner, in their furore of vengeance, soon unearthed damning evidence against Canaris. Their investigators had found a safe in the basement of the Abwehr headquarters at Zossen. They unearthed meticulous notes made by Canaris's own hand. Here were details of the Vatican exchanges, together with a sensational revelation that Oster (Canaris's deputy) and others had betrayed the plans of the German High Command for the invasion of France and the Low Countries.
  36. Return
  37. Coded message from Schindler's secretary (Victoria Klonowska) was sent direct to Canaris Headquarters. See Keneally 70.
  38. Return
  39. After the invasion of Poland, Heydrich issued a decree dated 21.9.1939, (2 parts). (1) Under heading 'The Jewish Question in Occupied Territories.' Set out preliminary measures against the Jews (2) Dealt with the establishment of Jewish Council of Elders (Judenrat) to facilitate the evacuation of Jews from countryside to town. Document marked 'Secret.' See Gutman, Pattern of Jewish Leadership, 169.
  40. Return
  41. See Hilberg, Vol. 1 250 214. Entries by Czerniakow for October 19-20 and November 2, 1939, in Hilberg, Staron, and Kermisz, eds., Warsaw Diary, 84, 86-87.
  42. Return
  43. Source - Alexander Bieberstein (Brother of Mark), Extermination of Krakow's Jews, Warsaw. 1946. Extract translated by Leo Aftergood, London, 1995 (Brother of Bertha Aftergood, (76201). See also Keneally, 88/9 - He has got it exactly right.
  44. Return
  45. (1)Keneally, 88. (2) The Holocaust raised some of the most acute moral issues ever faced by humanity. Moral judgements and dilemmas can be seen in their most striking form in connection with the Judenrat For a comprehensive appraisal of the Judenrat, see Isaiah Trunk's Judenrat New York, 1972
  46. Return
  47. Ball-Kaduri, 17. See also Keneally 63. Keneally suggests that Schindler obtained his information from like minded sympathisers in the offices of the SD and SS.
  48. Return
  49. Ibid
  50. Return
  51. (Statement of Stern, well after the war -Ball-Kaduri)
  52. Return
  53. Mrs Stern to the Author, 1995
  54. Return

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