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Chapter Three

Prelude to War


Oskar Schindler in Krakow, 1940
Oskar Schindler in Krakow, 1940


In October 1938 Schindler was released from prison. He received new orders from the Abwehr, and with his wife, Emilie, moved to a flat in Moravska Ostrava[1]. He was now operational as the Second-in-Command of the Moravska Ostrava Abwehr office[2].

The Abwehr building in Moravska Ostrava[3] shared offices with sections of the Gestapo, SD, and Kripo. Karel Gassner was Head of the Abwehr in Moravska Ostrava was, with Schindler as his deputy. Schindler's team in the field were Alois Girzicky, Ervin Kobiela, Hildegarde Hoheitcva, and Hans Vicherek, all of whom were engaged in collecting and assessing information from a number of sources, sub-agents acting on their behalf on the Polish border[4].

When Emilie Schindler was asked whether her husband was a Naz,i she gave this reply:

“My husband was not at all a Nazi. He had nothing to do with the SS; he worked for the Wehrmacht, for the German military. It had nothing to do with the Nazis. He had to join; otherwise, he could not have existed and lived at all. He never performed any function for the Nazis. He was directly under the protection of the German Wehrmacht, not the SS[5].”

Mrs. Schindler cannot be criticised for misunderstanding the question. She has always accepted that her husband was a member of the NSDAP (Nazi Party), her problem was that in her understanding, 'Nazi' was synonymous with 'SS', (Shutztaffeln). Mrs Schindler was so right when she says, “He was directly under the protection of the German Wehrmacht”[6].

Schindler took his counter-intelligence work seriously. According to a memoir by Mrs. Schindler, her husband brought home to their flat in Moravska Ostrava three cages of pigeons to be used for carrying messages. He installed them in the loft and his wife was expected to feed and clean them daily. Schindler, characteristically, soon lost interest in this new venture and Mrs. Schindler, tired of looking after them, resorted to desperate measures: she opened the cages and allowed the pigeons to fly away. Much to her dismay, the pigeons returned to the roof of their apartment and she was soon getting complaints from neighbours[7].

The Schindler's apartment in Moravska Ostrava was run by their housekeeper, Viktorka, an excellent cook and loyal servant to the Schindlers. Emilie recalls that at a dinner party at the apartment, an impeccably dressed high-ranking officer of the Wehrmacht arrived. He slowly took of his gloves, hat, and overcoat and was shown into the living room, where he occupied a plush green velvet chair. Her husband and the officer were engrossed in political talk most of the evening. Suddenly, the officer stood and toasted the Fuhrer, and proceeded to throw one of Emilie's best crystal wine glasses against the piano breaking it into many pieces. Emilie castigated the officer and chalked up her first act of defiance against the Third Reich[8].

It is important to clarify the relationships between some of these departments and, in particular, the personal relationship between the Chief of the German Security Police (the SD), Richard Heydrich, and Wilhelm Canaris. From his Headquarters[9], Heydrich concentrated his efforts on those whom he considered to be the state's dangerous potential enemies: those within the Party and the police.

Heydrich forged a working relationship with his old acquaintance, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr. Heydrich was convinced that within the Abwehr there were “reactionaries,” men with old ideas and attitudes who would need watching. But as the SD and the Abwehr were in the same business, they had to get along because a good working relationship was essential.

Although a professed National Socialist, Canaris was known to dislike the cruder excesses of the Nazis and was not reluctant to say so. In short, Heydrich and Canaris did not get on. They were both suspicious of the other side and protective of their own power bases. An intermediary[10] was brought in, resulting in an agreement based on what has since become known as the “Ten Commandments.” In essence, the document drew a line between the rival intelligence agencies of the Wehrmacht (Abwehr) and the SS. This uneasy truce shielded Canaris from interference by the SS, and established the Abwehr's predominant role in espionage and counter espionage [11] .

I believe that Canaris was crucial to the future activities of Schindler. Canaris had surrounded himself with like-minded men with a commitment to the “cause,” but who opposed the excesses of racial persecution engineered by Heydrich and the SS. Canaris was Schindler's insurance and the ace card which he used later in the war when he was in trouble.

Also living in Moravska Ostrava was an unemployed half Jew named Joseph Aue[12] . Brought up as a German-speaking Czech, he was now earning his living buying and selling Polish money. His main area of business was with the Jews who were leaving the country. Aue's main outlet of money changing was Mrs. Bohdanova, who owned a fur shop in Tesin in the suburbs of Moravska Ostrava. Through Bohdanova, Aue was introduced to a man named Zeiler[13] . Zeiler told Aue that he was from the police and was aware of his money changing activities. Zeiler pointed out that Aue was breaking the currency laws and could go to prison, but then he suggested an alternative arrangement. Aue should work for him, to collect intelligence on the Polish border. Zeiler impressed on Aue that it was his duty as a true German to comply with his instructions. Aue agreed[14] .

Joseph Aue's first assignment was to travel to the area around Bohumin and gather reports of military activity by Polish soldiers and the installation of fortifications. Aue made a complete mess of his assignment. He couldn't read the maps Zeiler had given him, so he made up a story and when he met Zeiler the following day in the Cafe Plaza he gave him false information. Zeiler was now aware that Aue was not capable of this type of work and suggested that he would find other work for him. For some months Aue disappeared from the scene and was not to re-establish contact with Zeiler until October 1939[15] .

Zeiler was, in fact, Oskar Schindler[16] . Aue was not to know this until after the invasion of Poland when he travelled to Krakow with Schindler. From archive material Schindler also used the cover names of Osi, Schofer. and Otto.

The German High Command had opted for the invasion of Poland, but before this could be carried out, some pretext was necessary. This was conceived in the crudest melodramatic terms and was the work of Himmler's SS and Heydrich's SD[17] Operation Himmler was launched by Heydrich, who summoned to Prinz Albrechtstrasse one of his highly trusted associates, a veteran street brawler from Kiel named Alfred Helmuth Naujocks. Naujocks had joined the SD in 1934 and held the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer. Five years later, Naujocks had become head of a sub-section of Section 111 of SD Ausland, under the control of SS Oberfuhrer Heinz Jost and concerned with the fabrication of documents for agents working abroad[18] .

The events leading to the invasion of Poland were outlined by Naujocks at the Nuremberg trials after the war. His task, he was told by Heydrich, was to make a staged attack on the German radio station at Gleiwitz in Upper Silesia near the Polish border. The incident had to appear to be an act of aggression committed against the station by a force of Poles. Documentary proof of Polish aggression would be made available along with German convicts decked out in Polish uniforms. The man who was to supply the necessary equipment for this operation was Schindler[19] .

Schindler's apartment was filling up with large cardboard boxes. Uniforms, weapons, identity cards and even Polish cigarettes were being assembled. According to Mrs. Schindler, who was privy to her husband's activities, their greatest problem was with the Polish Counter Intelligence Services, who were paying attention to their apartment[20].

The role of the Gestapo emerged when Naujocks was ordered to Oppelin, a small Silesian town forty miles north of Gleiwitz. There, Heinrich Muller (Heydrich's SS representative) and SS-Oberführer Herbert Mehlhorn explained that the Gestapo had been ordered by Heydrich to provide a commodity referred to as “Konserven” (Canned Goods). The commodity in question turned out to be a dozen prisoners who were under sentences of death in concentration camps but had been identified by Muller as expendable in the interests of the Third Reich.

At Nuremberg, Naujocks testified:

“Muller declared that he had 12 or 13 condemned criminals who would be dressed in Polish uniforms and left for dead on the spot to show that they had been killed in the course of the attack. To this end they had to be given fatal injections by a doctor in Heydrich's service. Later they would also be given genuine wounds inflicted by firearms. After the incident members of the foreign press and other persons were to be taken to the spot. A police report would then be made. Muller told me that he had an order from Heydrich telling him to put one of these criminals at my disposal for the Gleiwitz action[21].”

The criminal in question, a Pole, was anaesthetized and brought to the radio station, where he was then shot. The body was photographed on the spot for the benefit of the press. The attack on the station then went ahead. A Polish-speaking member of Naujocks's team broke into a broadcast in accented German “This is the Polish rebel force radio station: Gleiwitz is in our hands. The hour of freedom has struck![22]

Muller had pretended to his Polish-uniformed prisoners in “Canned Goods” that they were taking part in a film and that, in exchange for their patriotic participation in the action, they would be pardoned and set free. The radio station secured, Naujocks and his men promptly retired. The dead bodies of the conscript “actors” were left on the scene. They were not the only witnesses to be disposed of, which goes some way to explaining why details of the affair did not leak out. All participating members of the SD who had been involved, with the exception of Naujocks, were liquidated[23]. The entire affair was a source of immense satisfaction to the Berlin SS Mandarins. This was a highly successful operation between the SD and the Gestapo, as well Canaris' Abwehr, represented by Schindler and his team[24].

Hitler's plan to invade Poland was disguised by the code word 'Fall Weiss'. At 4.45am on the 1st September, 1939, the war had begun. By the 6th September, Krakow was occupied by German units belonging to the 14th army of the Wehrmacht. General Sigmund List had secured the city, despite fierce opposition from the Polish forces.

On 17 October, 1939[25], Joseph Aue, who had been avoiding Zeiler, met him by chance in a street in Moravska Ostrava. Zeiler invited Aue back to the Cafe Royal to talk about possible work. At the Cafe Royal, Zeiler introduced Aue to his Abwehr associates who included his present woman friend, a Pole, named Marta[26]? Both Schindler and Aue had witnessed the rounding up of Jews in the city and then being marched to the railway station. The Jews were being deported by train to the Lublin region of Poland, initiated by the Nazis 'Jewish resettlement' policy.

'Jewish Resettlement' to the railway station 1940

It transpired that the Abwehr in Moravska Ostrava had been transferred en-block to Krakow. That same day, Joseph Aue, Marta and Zeiler (Schindler) left by car to join them[27].


Before moving on to the greater part of this documentation, I will reflect on the facts and circumstances surrounding Schindler during this period. What does it tell us about the man: his personality, his judgement, and commitment to the Nazi Party? I will disregard his letter to Ball-Kaduri and deal with his motives and actions afresh in the light of what was happening at the time.

From his early teens Schindler was a flamboyant personality. He was a drinker, gambler and womaniser. He was both sensitive and impulsive. He suffered a double blow when his mother died. Not only did he lose her, he also lost his father due to a massive row. In effect, when he was 28 years old he had lost both parents. Schindler had lost his inheritance due to the economic climate and for the first time in his life he was without insurance. His marriage to Emilie Pelzl proved a mistake. He had reverted to the ways of a single man living in the bars and clubs, reflecting on what might have been. His immoral nature, in the end, saved him and set him on course, albeit with a few disasters along the way.

His initial Abwehr experience exposed his character as naive, inept and impulsive. Schindler was a quick learner and, by the time he had been released from prison, his persona was well equipped for his new posting. The political circumstances at the time had allowed him a second chance. Schindler was well thought of by his superiors. He spoke German, Czech, Polish and some Yiddish. He represented the Abwehr at secret meetings and acted as interpreter for senior ranks. He was considered a bold and capable informer with the result he was privy in the most delicate and secret war decisions of the Reich.

What Schindler knew about the policies of Nazi Germany at that time is uncertain, but I conclude that Schindler's patriotism was in no way influenced by the Nazi racial ideology. For Schindler there was no 'Jewish Question'. He was a member of the Nazi Party[28], joining the movement on the 10th February, 1938[29]. He worked to support and prosecutes the war on behalf of his masters. In my view, the crucial point was that Oskar Schindler was non racial and a 'Canaris' man, and would remain so throughout the duration of the war. Herbert Steinhouse sums it up by quoting from a letter he received from one of the Kantor boys (Schindler's neighbours in Svitavy pre war) just after the war[30].

“He was a Sudetenland Fascist and a member of the Henlein party which was later absorbed into the Greater Germany's Nazi Party. Schindler was a true believer in everything but one. That was the racial policy. He was a friend of many local Jews in Svitavy. Schindler was friendly with our family, particularly with my father the rabbi. He would have talks with my father about sophisticated Yiddish literature in Poland and Czechoslovakia, about folk tales and the mythology and the anecdotes and the ancient Jewish traditions of the villages of Eastern Poland and Moldova”. Steinhouse continues:

”And what all that showed, of course, was unlike the portrait painted later by the Spielberg film.”

The Gleiwitz operation was acceptable to Schindler. It was all part of the prosecution of the war aims. But had the deportation of the Jews from Moravska Ostrava raised a doubt in his mind? We will see how Schindler reacts when he is confronted with the reality of the German occupation in Krakow and the bloody work of SS-Hauptsturmführer Amon Goeth and the SS.


  1. Mrs Schindler's apartment at 25, Parkstrassa, Moravska Ostrava.
  2. Return
  3. C.J. 7219/1946 - 11-1. Moravska Ostrava, 9.8.1946. Interrogation of Joseph Aue by the Czech Security Service after the war. A crucial twelve page document which deals with detailed information of the Abwehr in Moravska Ostrava and Krakow, Aue's involvement with Schindler and the Higher Officers of the SS, SD and Wehrmacht. Also included is official position of 'Treuhander' in the offices of the Jew Salomon Bucheister at 15, Stradon Street, Krakow. Hereafter Czech Security Document - Aue.
  4. Return
  5. The Abwehr also had offices in Oprava
  6. Return
  7. Up until the end of September, 1939, all the security departments of the Nazi State were working independently of each other. By decree of 29 September, 1939 all existing German police forces were merged under one umbrella organisation -the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Office.) There were numerous changes in the RSHA over the years, but essentially kept the structure until the end of the war.
  8. Return
  9. Jon Blair/Mrs Schindler interview, 1981, 166/1-8
  10. Return
  11. Ibid.
  12. Return
  13. Mrs Schindler: Light and Shadow.
  14. Return
  15. Ibid. See also Blair/Mrs Schindler interview note, Argentina 1982.
  16. Return
  17. SD Headquarters - Hohenzollern Palace, 102 Wilhelmstrasse, backing on to the Prinz Albrechtstrasse Gestapo building where Himmler also had offices. (After Heydrich's assassination he was succeeded by Dr. Kaltenbrunner. The bureaucracy had grown and the RSHA offices sprawled all over Berlin occupying no fewer that 38 buildings. See Butler, Gestapo, 131.
  18. Return
  19. SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr Werner Best.
  20. Return
  21. Rupert Butler, Gestapo, London, 1992, 77/8
  22. Return
  23. Czech Security Document -Aue. Joseph Aue, alias Sepp Aue, was the son of the Jew Emily Goldberger. Mother - German National nee Kamily. Parents were not married. Aue's mother married a Charles Lederera who died in 1937. Aue was brought up a Catholic German and was able to avoid persecution. His father died in Auschwitz in 1942.
  24. Return
  25. Ibid
  26. Return
  27. Ibid
  28. Return
  29. Ibid
  30. Return
  31. Ibid
  32. Return
  33. Sicherheitsdienst: the SD, on paper at least, was the intelligence organ of the Nazi Party, whereas the Gestapo was the Secret State Police. In fact, the two worked so closely together as to be at times indistinguishable. The SD laid heavy emphasis on pursuing ideological and racial enemies.
  34. Return
  35. Rupert Butler, Gestapo, London, 1992, 96-8
  36. Return
  37. Ibid
  38. Return
  39. (1)Mrs Schindler. (2) The Jon Blair / Emilie Schindler interview in 1981 makes interesting reading with regard to Operation Himmler. She mentions meetings at about this time, of high ranking SD, SS and Wehrmacht officers, at their apartment in Moravska Ostrava. She speaks of the Polish uniforms being delivered, and boxes which filled her rooms. Mrs Schindler mentions that her husband was paying cash on delivery for these items. The Schindler's main concern was the Polish Abwehr, who had been keeping their movements and apartment under observation. She stated that they had already been burgled. She concluded that whoever entered the premises were looking for papers but all they took was her wrist watch.
    Emilie Schindler was part of the
    Abwehr in Moravska Ostrava but only in a nominal role. She never undertook operational duties but remained privy to all her husband's activities. Mrs Schindler returned to Svitavy shortly after 1st September, 1939. Author's interview with Emilie Schindler. King David Hotel, Jerusalem 1995.
  40. Return
  41. Rupert Butler, Gestapo, 98.
  42. Return
  43. Ibid
  44. Return
  45. Ibid. I am not sure about this
  46. Return
  47. Jon Blair, Film documentary, Oskar Schindler.
  48. Return
  49. Czech Security Document -Aue. See also, Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust, London, 1987, 94/5
  50. Return
  51. Czech Security Document - Aue
  52. Return
  53. Ibid. The woman, Marta, was to become a 'trust administrator' for Schindler in the controversial 'Wiener' affair
  54. Return
  55. Jon Blair documentation: Schindler joined the Nazi Party on the 10th February, 1939 -Warrant Number 6421477
  56. Return
  57. Schindler's NSDAP record card shows his personal details including changes of residence. He is shown as Member No, 27 Zwittau/Svitavy (6,421,477). Residence on 28.3.40, Parkstra. Moravska Ostrava, 25, 6.3.40. 4.4.40 Westring, inner Stadt 23/111, Krakow.
  58. Return
  59. Fensch/Steinhouse, 13.
  60. Return

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