The story of German factory owner Oskar Schindler and the hundreds of Jews he shielded from the Nazis has been a successful novel and an award-winning film. Now his actual history is coming to the Petaluma Museum.
The images below are part of the Leopold Pfeffferberg-Page collection, which he donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993, explains Senior Historian Peter Black. There is also a summary of Schindler's story, provided by the Museum, at the bottom of this page.
Oskar Schindler (third from left) at a party with local SS officials on his 34th birthday. Schindler attempted to use his connections with German officials to obtain information that might protect his Jewish employees. Krakow, Poland, April 28, 1942. —Leopold Page Photographic Collection, courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
At Yad Vashem, the Israeli national institution of Holocaust commemoration, Oskar Schindler stands next to the tree planted in honor of his rescue efforts. Jerusalem, Israel, 1970.
—Leopold Page Photographic Collection, courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Leopold Pfeffferberg was one of the men on Schindler’s famous list, and was also instrumental in interesting writer Thomas Keneally in Schindler’s story. Keneally’s book, originally published as Schindler’s Ark, was a fictionalized account of his story which won the Booker prize in 1982. But Holocaust Museum historian Peter Black points out there is now a formal biography of the man, too.
In 1939, the year Germany invaded Poland and launched World War II, Oskar Schindler was living in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, a region with a high ethnic German population. He joined the Nazi party on February 10, 1939. He assumed responsibility for a formerly Jewish-owned factory in Poland and eventually established a second under his ownership. The new factory became a haven for its approximately 900 Jewish workers for much of the war.
Although he amassed a fortune exploiting their labor and trading on the black market, he protected them by insisting they be housed at his factory rather than the local labor camp, Plaszów, which was run by a sadistic SS commandant Amon Leopold Göth. In late summer 1944 as the German war effort was collapsing, Schindler, through negotiations and bribes from his wartime profits, secured permission from German Army and SS officers to move his workers and other endangered Jews to Brünnlitz, near his hometown of Zwittau, where he had been assigned to oversee a new munitions factory. Its workers were placed on “Schindler’s List” and were transported to the factory where they remained in relative safety throughout the remainder of the war.
Asked in 1964 why he had intervened on behalf of the Jews, Schindler replied, “The persecution of the Jews in the General Government in Polish territory gradually worsened in its cruelty. In 1939 and 1940 they were forced to wear the Star of David and were herded together and confined in ghettos. In 1941 and 1942 this unadulterated sadism was fully revealed. And then a thinking man, who had overcome his inner cowardice, simply had to help. There was no other choice.”